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Friday, 17 June 2016

Call for participants! Researching samfu, or Chinese pyjamas


  

I'm a postgraduate student of fashion history at the London College of Fashion. I'm fascinated by periods when Asian styles were popular and fashionable in 'Western' fashion, especially the trend for chinoiserie in the 1950s. I'm currently researching the samfu suit, also known as 'Chinese pyjamas'. However, I'm finding it quite hard to find examples of this suit to study, and very little has been written about it. 

Help needed! 

I'm searching for people willing to participate in this research project! Do you:
  • Own examples of samfu/Chinese pyjamas, either your own or passed down from relatives?
  • Know about making or buying this suit?
  • Have memories of seeing this suit being worn, either in overseas Chinese communities, in non-Chinese circles, or in films or TV?
  • Have family photos of this suit, especially pre-1980? 

I am very interested by the overseas Chinese communities, such as in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Europe. However, I am equally interested in speaking to people who do not have Chinese heritage about this suit, which was very stylish in the 1950s. If you are able to contribute to this project in any way, please do get in touch.

Drop me a line!  
chinesefashion@outlook.com

I would love to speak to you at your convenience, either in person or online via e-mail or Skype. I'm conducting research during June and July. I am based in London, but will be in Singapore for 3 weeks from mid-July.

-Anushka Tay
chinesefashion@outlook.com

Below are some more images to give you a flavour of what I am researching:

   


 

  

Images sources (left to right, top to bottom):
1. Li Lihua at Clifford Pier, 1956 : two people. National Library Board Singapore. Source
2. Mrs Philip Isles wearing Chinese coolie pyjamas, 1948. Life. Source
3. A Chinese girl, full-length portrait. National Library Board Singapore. Source
4. Ah Kew, full-length portrait. National Library Board Singapore. Source
5. Vogue, 1953. Source.
6. Simplicity home dressmaking pattern, 1950s. Source
7. Hong Kong, Mong Kok, 2006. Ivar Hagendoorn. Source
8. Doris Day in Pillow Talk, 1959. Source.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Overlooked Taboos: when "depravity" gets more attention than the horror of rape




Recently (3rd June), I saw this headline in the Metro when I was on the tube: 'Monster has sex with his victim after killing her'. 

The journalist's fury here points to necrophilia, stirring up rage and horror at an extremely taboo act that is forbidden. However, this headline barely masks an ingrained cultural trivialisation of rape. The perpetrator did not 'have sex with his victim', he defiled her corpse by raping her. And I am quite frankly shocked that he has only been given a 26 year prison sentence. 

A quick Internet search showed me that several other newspapers have chosen to describe this heinous crime in a way that trivialises the act of rape through a sensationalisation of necrophilia.
  • The Telegraph: 'Violent fantasist strangled teacher, 23, he met on Plenty of Fish before having sex with her body'
  • The Mirror: 'Plenty Of Fish killer who had sex with teacher's body described himself as 'ordinary decent human' on Facebook'
  • Metro (online, headline slightly different): 'Man who killed a teacher and had sex with her dead body described himself as a "decent human" '

The Independent has chosen a less attention-grabbing headline, but one that is written more accurately:
  • Independent: Katie Locke murder: Teacher's killer Carl Langdell 'sexually assaulted her dead body'

BBC News omit the sex crime in this news article, but still stress depravity:
  • BBC News: 'Depraved' killer Carl Langdell jailed for first date murder

I am frustrated by this reporting because the outcry should be regarding the perpetrator's sadistic and violent assault on a woman. Headlines focussing on sexual deviance and depravity merely distract from the terrifying circumstances of the crime: the taboo of necrophilia takes precedence over the incidence of murder and rape. Reportage like this is sadly telling of our media culture's attitudes towards women, when an act of assault is still described as 'having sex', even against the tragic consequences of the victim's death. 

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Looking 'Chinese' in culture and fashion

Doris Day in 'Pillow Talk', 1959. Images via Clothes On Film.

The working title for my Masters thesis is: ‘Work to Pleasure: histories of the Chinese pyjama suit’. But dealing as it does with image-creation, representation and recognition of a ‘Chinese style’ and/or ‘Chinese identity’, it could just as easily be called ‘Being and Looking Chinese in the West’ (or should that be ‘Global North’?). My work researching the dress history of Chinese peoples in the diaspora is pointing more and more to a concrete fact: the image of unified Chinese identity is in fact a simplification; an amalgamation of multiple regional and ethnic groups with their own variations and differences. 

Chinese identities are hybrid: by region of origin in China (usually distinguished by the dialect spoken); by the geographic location of the Chinese diaspora, and the degree of local assimilations (think: food, climate, textiles, mixed-race marriages); by the class of the immigrants in the diaspora (were they gold miners, agricultural labourers, students or landowners?); and by their religious and political inclinations (Confucian, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Communist?) Globalisation is a concept that is becoming more and more proven each year; and so around the world, we must continue to acknowledge the complex and varied depths of non-European identities; not merely resting on stereotypes.

What has been promoted and recognised as being 'Chinese style' is a manufactured mix of patterns, motifs, shapes and silhouettes from a mix of classes. So-called 'pyjama suits' worn by the working class have been made fashionable and worn by the Euro-American elites. The Imperial Chinese motifs of dragons and phoenixes are distributed willy-nilly. The absorption of a style into a Westernised fashion system allows it to be democratised, reaching many; but also confines it, narrowing down its meaning and creating a specific narrative of representation. Seemingly 'Chinese' lounge pyjamas may have more in common with European modernity than Asian traditions. My study aims to trace the trajectory of the samfu suit, from ethnic workwear to fashionable leisure garment.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Race, Diaspora and Intersectionality: why I changed my Masters thesis from queer theory to postcolonial studies

Question: Who do you want writing your cultural history? 
Has your culture's history been written? Has it been discussed? Is it politicised, poeticised, used for profit? When was it written? Why, and by whom?

Through the first six months of study and research during my Master's degree in fashion history, all these questions are more started coming to me. We learnt about how couturiers no longer reign supreme, and argued for fashion's importance in academia. We learnt about theories of power and domination, as well as resistance and counter-culture. We combined philosophy and sociology with fashion and textiles.

Having written my bachelors dissertation on the drag device in film and television, I had originally planned on centring my masters thesis on androgyny and the absence of gender signifiers in queer subcultures (now going by the buzzword 'gender neutral'). Queer theory is having a bit of a moment right now - and deservedly so. Judith Butler is extremely popular in arts academia, and nearly everyone I know (myself included) has written a paper centring around her famous, much-misunderstood theory of gender peformativity. As the months went by and I became more familiar with academic publishing in my subject, I discovered LGBTQI+ identities are in fact fairly well represented. Tellingly, whilst students are flocking to gain academic recognition of counter-culture gender identities, the amount of new research and publications on non-Caucasian cultures within fashion and arts academia is lacking.

I had always had a nagging feeling at the back of my head regarding the ethics of studying a subculture that I am not part of, despite being a definite long-term supporter of queer lifestyles and politics. I now felt unsure in what way I would be making a contribution to knowledge in this area. Moreover, I found that many of the works written about the fashion and cultural identities of ethnic minorities were written by Caucasians. There is nothing wrong with that; it does not detract from their merit as writers and researchers. But I felt very strongly that within a subject (fashion theory) that has had to fight for academic recognition, where there is limited work written about Asian peoples and diaspora cultures, there should be some work published by writers who have the relevant cultural heritage.  

I realised that instead of just feeling annoyed about the lack of representations of Asian peoples in the Euro-American cultural industries, I was actually in a position to do something about it. Halfway through the degree, I changed my focus from androgyny to Chinoiserie, and from queer theory to postcolonial studies. I am simultaneously addressing an imbalance in published research, and making a concrete act of 'writing back' and de-colonisation, as a person with cultural heritage from an ex-colonial country.

Over the coming weeks, I will be sharing more about my study, and making a call for participants to aid in my research. For now, I'll leave you with some fun family snaps, demonstrating three British Chinese and Eurasian hybrid identites.

Me, 1996, aged 5

Me and my aunt, circa 1998, aged 7

My aunt's son, 2014, aged 7


Monday, 6 June 2016

London I longed for; back where I belong.




Dear Readers,

Silence online gives truth to a busy schedule. I stole out of Stockholm with little ceremony, slipping back into my London life naturally and with ease. This afternoon I saw a link to an article online called ‘the disease of being busy'. The title made me laugh, for all the while living in the ‘Capital of Scandinavia’ without my known networks of family, friends or the vastness of big-city life, I struggled with the stretches of open time I had on my hands. I popped home for a fortnight at the end of April, to do necessary errands and nice things too, like going to concerts and lectures and taking my sister vintage shopping. I found myself walking around the West End at a snail’s pace, corporeal differences demonstrating my absence. And now, even stronger than ever – stronger than working summers in London when I went to university in Bournemouth; stronger than stopping home for Sundays when I spent a year on the road – I feel back where I belong. London belongs to me, and I belong to London. Since leaving Stockholm and living back home, I have felt an ever-present joy that lingers despite tube delays, terrible pollution, even illness. This city is big, bad, sprawling, and sometimes sad. It overwhelms, engulfs, and draws you in. It is incessantly noisy, less than egalitarian, and nothing works properly; but it is peppered with colour and undeniably vibrant thanks to its wealth of cultures, languages, peoples, faiths. Multi-culturalism is something that I always miss when I leave this city, and something that I know now I’ll never be able to live without. It’s so good to leave home – but it’s even better to come back.

Till next time,
Anushka

P.S. British readers, don’t forget to vote in the E.U. Referendum. No, actually – don’t forget to VOTE TO REMAIN