Let's get something straight regarding the notion that culture is something that, when shared, benefits everyone. Apparently, that's not always so, especially when something as innocent as a dress can be enough to launch a firestorm on social media, particularly when the wardrobe in question has some ethnic roots.
When 18-year-old Keziah Daum came upon a vintage dress that she thought would be perfect to put on for her forthcoming high school prom, virtual outrage over her selection was the last thing on her mind. She bought it and after donning it at home, decided to share her exquisite find on Twitter.
"I was looking for a dress that was going to be modest in the neckline but also unique," she says. "I’ve always admired the beauty and uniqueness of the Chinese dresses, so I went to that section. I saw that dress, and I was like, ‘OK, this is the dress.’".
Then came the social media backlash, which was brutal. After Daum posted an image online, captioned with the word PROM, one angry Chinese-American directed a comment at her, stating "My culture is NOT your [deleted] prom dress".
Other detractors chimed in, including one woman who declared "There’s a lot of history behind these clothes. Sad". Others poured more gasoline on the digital fire, claiming that the dress, called a qipao in China, was standard attire among upper-crust women during the 250-year reign of the Ming Dynasty, which ended in 1912. In short, it was a fashion artifact not to be trifled with.
Daum, who's not Asian, did have a lot of supporters online, as well as compliments from her school chums at her prom. But the sense of being bullied online was unnerving.
Ironically, there was one location in the world where tweets indicated that the fashion choice was no big deal. China. One blogger and fashion designer in the country indicated that there wasn't much sacred about the dress worth getting upset over. Others felt that the dress suited her and complimented on how nice she looked.
Daum's Twitter predicament is a testament to how sociopolitical thought has devolved into fashion faux pas. Cultural appropriation, which usually involves fashion, is simply an act of someone taking an item from a different culture. The uproar exists over whether a dominant culture can adopt something from one that's been marginalized.
And that's when discussions start going to extremes that border on ridiculous. In 2017, Katy Perry was forced to apologize when visible minorities objected to her fashioning her tresses in cornrows, a hairstyle that's more common among African-Americans. And two years earlier in Canada, folk festivals were banning anyone wearing headdresses similar to chiefs of First Nations populations.
But undaunted, even after receiving those ugly dispatches, Daum still likes the dress enough to warrant repeat visits to her closet.
"I would, in fact, wear that dress again," she says. "I would buy others like it, because I think it’s a beautiful piece of clothing".