SINGAPORE: A foreigner who loves Chinese traditional dresses mustered up the courage to post on Reddit a few weeks before Chinese New Year, asking whether it would offend locals if she donned one.

Living in Singapore for more than two years, she said she had always appreciated the clothes that women wore to Chinese New Year’s family gatherings. However, as a non-local, she never dared to wear one since it “might be offensive to local culture.”

She then asks at the end of her post on the subreddit r/askSingapore if it would be offensive to wear them in public as a white person.

When asked by one Redditor when she planned to wear it, the foreigner replied that she would “only wear it for the time of CNY only and for specific events, not as everyday formal wear.”

SG Redditors: ‘It’s not offensive’

Contrary to what she thought, Singaporean Redditors said that foreigners wearing their ‘qipaos’ weren’t ‘offensive’ at all, and in fact, they loved it.

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One Redditor said, “Cultural appropriation is not really applicable here. Wear whatever you want! Chinese people would love it (and I am sure my Indian and Malay friends would love it if Caucasians tried theirs too).”

Another Redditor added that it would be okay if she avoided using stereotypical gestures or poses, like bowing or squinting her eyes.

“It is not offensive at all! However, please note that if you make stereotypical poses/gestures (e.g. squint eyes, bowing) while wearing Chinese traditional dresses, it could be seen as doubly offensive.”

Another Chinese Redditor also chimed in on the conversation and said, “Not at all! As a Chinese I’m usually extra pleased when I see people of other cultures appreciating our qipaos <3 I mean, provided they aren’t doing some weirdass offensive actions of course”

After reading all the positive comments, the foreigner thanked everyone and told them enthusiastically that she bought a dark blue Qipao with light black floral and couldn’t wait to put it on.

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Do’s & don’ts when wearing traditional clothes of other cultures

Over the years, many people have gotten into trouble for wearing traditional clothing from other cultures.

For instance, during their state visit to India, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family drew criticism for wearing “over-the-top” Indian traditional clothes.

Many mocked him on social media, called him out for embarrassing Canada, and dubbed him “Mr. Dressup.”

Likewise, when Madonna performed at the VMAs, she received backlash for wearing an eclectic mix of accessories from the Amazigh tribe in North Africa.

Erich Hatala Matthes, an assistant professor of philosophy at Wellesley College who studies cultural heritage ethics, says, “If an individual is not wearing it as part of a cultural exploration or education, then they should be hesitant”.

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Depending on the situation and goal, wearing traditional attire may or may not be appropriate.

Donning traditional clothing, for instance, can be more acceptable when attending festivals and cultural events or when individuals from that culture are invited or advised to do so. 

However, wearing it as a costume for amusement or without understanding its cultural significance might not be appropriate.

It is also crucial to remember that although certain cultures might be open to sharing and appreciating their traditions, others might be more reserved or careful about how their cultural history is presented.

For this reason, the best way to ensure that you won’t be crossing any lines is to ask members of that culture about when and how outsiders should act when wearing their traditional attire.