Monday, 1 April 2013

A Modern Cheongsam


London report: still single digit degrees during the day and freezing at night, still wearing lots of black, still have furry trapper hat permanently attached to head.  Same old, same old.  Why don't I share some happier, warmer times with you instead?  I was certainly better dressed!

While I was in Penang I spent an evening out with Mr V. at the English and Oriental Hotel, which was historically Penang's luxury hotel where distinguished guests were received. When I was a very young girl the hotel was home for three months to my family whilst my father was working on a particular contract and I have very strong memories of being there. Whilst my Dad was attending a college reunion dinner here with my Mum, Mr. V and I went for dinner at the hotel restaurant so I could show him where I'd lived for a while.  I remember sitting with my parents and siblings on this wall watching crabs crawling on the rocks below and dolphins swimming out at sea.


We were only going for dinner but we thought we'd get dressed up anyway.  Nothing too formal, just like we'd made some effort.  We ended up being very overdressed compared to the other people drinking and eating in the hotel bar who had opted for flip flops, shorts, tee shirts and general "I'm in the tropics on holiday and feeling too hot, what's the point of dressing up?" type outfits.  Honestly!  Tsk tsk!  I understand people go on holiday to relax but what's the point of slobbing around and looking shabby in a nice hotel restaurant?  Dinner with a loved one is enough occasion for me to get dressed up and put on some lippie!

Here are Mum and Dad all ready to go to their reunion dinner in front of what I had built up from my childhood memories as being a very grand staircase - instead it was actually quite small!


We started with some cocktails by the pool. When we were staying here as children it was before I was old enough to go to school and my main memories are days upon days of swimming and playing in this pool with Mum and my brother and sister.


I bought this dress last summer because it reminded me of a modern cheongsam.  I actually remind myself of my grandmother in this dress in these photos.  I look very much like her, inherited her hair and she wore very similiar outfits to this one in the fifties. I have a thing for cheongsams because of my Asian roots and also have a rose printed, lace trimmed one I love (link here).


The eagle eyed amongst you may recognise the abstract digital floral print on this one here from a skirt I bought from Acne which I wore previously here with the same white lace jacket from Zara.  I actually bought the dress first as a birthday present for myself (yeah - I treat me well!).  I wore it regularly to work last summer with either a white or black blazer and loved the print so much I ended up picking the skirt up at the end of season sales.


The Eastern influence on fashion has been big news the last couple of seasons.  It wasn't always the case but these days I love having bit of my own cultural tradition fused into my clothing, however I do find it easier to wear if it has a modern twist.

I actually own a traditional cheongsam, picked up in, of all places, Florence Italy!  It is a red satin maxi with gold floral embroidiery and daring side splits and although I love it, I find it almost too traditional to wear out in London unless I happened to be going to a Chinese New Year formal dinner!  I've worn it once to an Indian wedding where most of the guests were in saris and sherwanis, so it felt appropriate then.  But I'd expect in most other circumstances if I wore it people would think I'm a waitress at a local Asian restaurant on my way to work!


Have you seen Vintage Vix rock a red satin cheongsam?  She looks awesome!  Put me in the same outfit and hairstyle and people would probably be asking me when dim sum is being served.  In a way I think people who are not from a particular culture but choose to wear it's traditional costumes get to have more fun - the result is unexpected and more of a fashion statement than a cultural one.   They are drawn to the beauty of the shape, the colours or prints.  There is none of the association of being forced to wear those garments as a mark of your cultural roots whilst growing up, a time when you perhaps wanted to identify with something else when getting dressed.  Particularly, if you are the child of immigrants growing up in a different culture to those of your parents, traditional dress can be an uncomfortable shackle to a cultural identity you may not feel is yours.

I was thankfully never forced by my parents to wear traditional dress while growing up in Australia but growing up we had friends and relatives who went through difficult times with parents from different cultures who wanted them to maintain their cultural values.  Sometimes that extended to dress but mainly it impacted how we socialised with strict rules imposed on what we could and couldn't do that our Australian equivalents didn't seem to have to trouble themselves with.

Some friends suffered their parents rejecting boyfriends, forcing breakups and I saw the ugly emotional fallout of an arranged marriage.  During my teens and twenties my girlfriends, my sister and I shunned wearing traditional garments.  Perhaps they subconsciously symbolised an infringement of our freedom to be ourselves rather than who our parents expected us to be.  More pertinently perhaps, growing up as an immigrant in Australia also meant sometimes being a victim of racial abuse.  Putting distance between yourself and anything that marked you out as culturally different was a survival mechanism as well as a form of emotional defence as you tried to fit in.


Interesting I really only rediscovered my love of the cheongsam and other forms of Asian traditional dress some years after I'd left Australia and having my family thousands of miles away.  A hankering for home perhaps?  Third generation immigrant syndrome brewing?  Possibly.

My continued reticence to embrace my more traditional red cheongsam as a fashionable option for myself still comes from an association of the cheongsam with formal, culturally significant events and seeing generations of my family's womenfolk in photos at these types of events.  For me it is a garment pregnant with cultural and ancestral associations as well as a reminder of internal struggles to find one's own way when displaced into another culture.  I find that an unexpected print or design detail like this Acne dress or my rose print version breaks down that link for me and allows me to embrace a cheongsam as just a wearable dress.

Here is Mr V doing his best James Bond impression!


And here is what we nibbled on after cocktails.  One of my favourite dishes - satay!


There was a massive storm brewing that evening, the sky turned a stormy blue grey, a wind started whipping the palm fronds around and the odd raindrop would ripple the water of the pool.  As the sky turned dark Penang treated us to an amazing thunder and lightning show with giant forks striking the mainland lighting up the night sky.  It was so exhilarating to be sitting watching it outdoors!  I even took a short video which I've posted at the end here for anyone who, like me, loves watching the drama of a tropical thunderstorm.


Linking up to Visible Monday over at Not Yet Dead StyleMonday Bloom over at DC in Style and Monday Mingle over at Glammamom!

Dress: Acne; Lace Jacket: Zara; Shoes: Aldo
Mr V's shirt: Full Circle; Jacket: Armani; Jeans: Uniqlo; Shoes: Clarks

30 comments:

  1. When I was a child I always dreamt of living in a hotel. The fun! Love that you made an effort - the dresses look absolutely beautiful.

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    1. It was fun! Though possibly not for my parents when we did things like draw all over the hotel room balcony with our crayon sets!

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  2. Wow what a gorgeous cheongsam style dress - I've always found cheongsams so dreamy and romantic (I have a classic red one too) and this one brings to mind the amazing ones in the film In The Mood For Love with its beautiful watercolour flowers and modern shorter style. You look wonderful, as does the place (and the cocktails!). I love that black dress too, and your smile is your best accessory my dear!

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    1. I do think that seeing In The Mood For Love played a BIG part in kindling a love for cheongsams - they were so beautiful weren't they?

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  3. I love a storm over the ocean too, V. So stirring. Your dress is beautiful, as is the setting. Thanks for sharing it with Visible Monday!

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  4. What a brilliant read, V! Loved the pictures, too. Your cheongsam is utterly wonderful and you've inspired me to dig mine back out after your kind words.
    I can totally understand migrants shunning their traditional dress in order to fit in but it is a shame, national dress is always so much prettier than boring old western clothes although I do feel for the lovely older Indian ladies in our town wearing silky sarees with wellies and a fleece on top! xxx

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    1. I think the appreciation that other cultures have for one's national dress can often help you appreciate it more yourself. The grass is always greener etc... etc... until someone points out the flowers on your side to be grateful for. Look forward to seeing you in a cheongsam again!

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  5. Love the dress, and especially love the story - thank you for sharing. I understand all too well not wanting to be seen as different and your post has inspired me to write a little something about it, too.
    Sending warmer Spring breezes your way ;-)

    Spashionista (Alicia)

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    1. Oh thank you Alicia - we need all the Spring breezes we can get! Look forward to reading your post!

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  6. My favourite part of this was the video LOL. I love a good storm. The surprising part was that although there was loads of lightening you barely heard the thunder.

    I have a cheongsam. I never knew that was what it was called though. I love it. I think it is sexy without being too revealing. Mine is quite a bit tighter than yours here though. I can see with your hair the grey, black and white would be lovely on you.

    bisous
    Suzanne

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    1. Strange isn't it? The lightning was really bright and there is just this low rumble in the distance. Would love to see you in your cheongsam!

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  7. That's a beautiful dress, it's one of those strang things how good grey can look. I have one of these dresses and confess never knew what they were called. Mine is purple and I got it for a cosplay outfit but it doesn't quite fit round my boobs anymore - I even have the awkward prestud bursting open. lol. Also - you have such awesome holidays. For me the best part sounds like the tropical storm! I absolutely love watching lightning and being warm when it is wet - I guess because that never happens in Britain.

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  8. Oh man, no more tropical storms! We get that here on the daily all summer long... At least they don't last too long. I do think it's fun to explore other cultures through their clothes and fashion. That satay and hotel look fabulous!!
    Becky :)

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  9. It's wonderful to get to know a bit more about your culture. It's a striking print on your dress and you look beautiful. I used to have a royal blue cheongsam dress but lost it in a move. I made a jacket with a mandarin collar and used to not like close fit collars, but as I grew up loved them so much! Gorgeous photos. xx

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  10. The print is striking on your dress, and looks beautiful on you. It was enjoyable to read more about your and your culture. I used to have a royal blue cheongsam, but lost it in the move. I made a jacket in the same style years ago and love it more now then I used to. I used to love listening to thunder storms just don't like being out in them in the rain! Really nice photos!

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  11. What a lovely dress. Love the pictures from Penang.

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  12. What an interesting post and beautiful photos! Love your floral dress and the lacy jacket. I too like to dress up for dinner in a restaurant, even when on holidays.

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  13. That is a really lovely dress - you look gorgeous. I have a cheonsam-style top in red satin that I love. There is a heavy Asian population (Thai, Japan, Phillipines, China) in my city, so I see real cheongsams all the time in vintage stores and thrift stores. They're mostly too small for me!

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  14. Although I think your dress and the setting is very beautiful here, I enjoy as much or even more your writing, especially your thoughts on the constraints and freedoms attached to wearing one's traditional dress. Your viewpoint was one I hadn't read before. Thanks for sharing that. For me, living in Canada, I struggle to find any sort of "traditional" dress. I miss history.

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  15. What a great dress- and a wonderful woman wearing it. You do add so much thought to my wardrobe when you write about yours. xo. Bella Q

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  16. I really admire the lovely way the cheongsam flatters your figure. The modern take suits you perfectly. I've always wanted one, but have always wondered about proportion and fit on my chunky little Irish-Scottish bod. I may get a chance, one day, as Asian inspired design is everywhere, and high time it is, too. Such a refined and often cerebral aesthetic.
    Your mum and dad look handsome ... runs in the family, doesn't it?
    So glad to see Mr. V ... that's a theme today.

    Third generation syndrome? Haven't heard of that, but I know exactly what you mean! That is clearly why we have ended up with the pub as our anchor.

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  17. I love this dress on you, the shape, scale of the print and the colours. It's a lovely dress! I identify with everything you say about the cultural difficulties and growing up displaced. For years I didn't wear anything buttoned up at the neck simply because it reminded me of fastening of the cheongsam! I mean, really! It also occurred to me that 'everyone else' looks so much better wearing traditional costumes of other cultures. Recently my eldest girl dressed up for school and she'd dug out from somewhere an old cheongsam top I'd bought in some flea market in London decades ago and she looked adorable in it, if I say so myself :-) So maybe there's hope for me to find the right version one day.

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  18. All your photos are stunning. I'm somehow missing the video post of the thunderstorm though... Such an interesting life you've led. I love the fact that you've switched channels to give us a glimpse of another chapter while London is still in a deep freeze. Who says you have to stay tuned?!

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  19. Hi my dear- really loving this dress, you look totally amazing. Such gorgeous photos too, it so makes me wish I could be there, sigh!! xx

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  20. Beautiful print on your cheongsam!

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  21. The pictures are so good and you and Mr. V look adorable! I love that you dressed up even though no one else does. I guarantee you at least one person saw you two and thought they should've made more of an effort as well. Thank you so much for joining us for 'How I Wear My: Everyday Bag'. I love the details of your Michael Kors bag! XO, Jill

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  22. Glorious!!!
    Gracias por no olvidarme.
    Te abrazo fuerte.
    XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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  23. A rich and evocative post, with some fun thrown in!! The clothes themselves are so pretty, yours and your mom's, with the sartorial splendor of the gents thrown in for good measure. Then delicious looking food, glamorous pool and palm tree shots, complete with a storm video!! AND on top of that, food for thought. I think cheongsam(s) are beautiful and incredibly sensuous, and I also love the untraditional versions. I appreciated your thoughts on the layers of meaning they can have, for the diaspora and for different generations.

    I agree that Vix looks amazing in hers, and wears it with great style. My body type doesn't look particularly good in a cheongsam, although I do own one simply because it's beautiful. I could live in salwar kameez, however. I don't mainly because it feels a little costume-y, with perhaps too much cultural appropriation going on, but I love the flow, comfort, and elegance. What I might need is the untraditional version. :-)

    Have a wonderful week. I'll be mentioning you in my next post!!





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  24. How wonderful to have lived in the hotel while you were young! That's like one of the children's books here in the US -- "Eloise" (I think) who lives in the Plaza Hotel in NYC. And I agree with you that it is easier to wear traditional clothes from another culture rather than your own. Unless you're very old (and traditional), people always mistake you for a folk dancer! But, I love getting traditional clothing from foreign lands - so alien and exotic! - J xxx

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