Ning Jing Nguyen (Jay Nguyen) (z3332661) – Reading Journal 2

The study of politics of dress in Asia can be examined in various ways. These can include the use of dress; particularly as power tool for both political elites and other various people. The concept of ‘national dress’ will be

One example of dress used as a power tool is through Mao Zedong’s wife, Jiang Qing. She created the “Jiang Qing” dress to affirm her power, which was inspired by clothing from the Tang Dynasty of 618-907. This period of China is known to be an era seen by many as one where it was at the top of its cultural and artistic creativity. It was in the style of military dress, and while it would have seemed quite bland to an outsider, it embodied strong features that women of revolutionary China were to represent.

Aung San Suu Kyi (politician and chairperson for the National League for Democracy in Burma) is another example of a political elite who utilises the semiotics of dress as a power tool. In Kyi’s opposition campaign, she could and still can be seen wearing a traditional Burmese dress, often with flowers in her hair or around her neck. This is in stark contrast to the military rulers who were in power up until last year.

‘National dress’ can be seen a symbol of the nations they are supposed to represent; they are utilised often by various political icons to advance their causes and fashion themselves as icons of particular political programs or project an agenda. Of course, this can be seen in the previous examples involving Jiang Qing and Aung San Suu Kyi’s dress.

Some other examples of national dress include the Chinese ‘Qipao’ and Vietnamese ‘Ao Dai’. Through these we can discuss some of the transnational flows that have influenced the creation and/or design.

An iconic dress worn by women, the Chinese Qipao originated from the Manchu people sometime in the 1600s, and was much looser fitting than the modern day Qipao. Influenced by Western aesthetics, fashion designers in Shanghai  created a much more tight fitting Qipao that accentuated the figure much more so, with the length of the dress being shortened as well. This is the style that grew popular throughout China and is the origins of the modern Qipao we know today. Therefore, we can see the influence that the West has had on the Qipao.

In Vietnam, the design of the popular Ao Dai dress can be seen as a response to Chinese and French colonisation, taking influenc from both cultures and modifying them to create something now seen to be uniquely Vietnamese. In the 1930s, a Hanoi fashion designer Nguyen Cat Tuong premiered a more modern Ao Dai style, inspired by French fashion.. It blended traditional Vietnamese elements with Western tailoring and aesthetics.

These are just two examples of the transnational flows relating to national dress. Of course, there are also counter flows; that of dress of Asia on Western dress. Brief mentions of this influence include Diana’s adoption of the Punjabi suit in her wardrobe, and fashion designers’ Ralph Lauren and Giorgio Armani creating Ao Dai collections.

These are just some examples of dress used as a political power tool, as well as national dress and its transnational flows.

Edwards, L. & Roces, M. (2008). Trans-national Flows and the Politics of Dress in Asia and the Americas. 1-18.


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