Utah Girl’s Chinese Prom Dress Sparks Global “Cultural Appropriation” Wildfire

Girl wearing Chinese prom dress

DISCLAIMER: If you’re looking for a fair and balanced report on this story, this isn’t it. Sure, I’ll give you the facts, but my opinion is written all over this. Be ye warned.

OK so by now you’ve probably heard the story, but I’ll rehash it for you just in case, and I’ll try to suppress as much sarcasm as I can.

Girl goes shopping for prom dress, looking for something modest. Girl finds cute dress in vintage Salt Lake clothing store. It’s a Chinese dress. Girl buys dress, goes to prom, takes pictures and posts this on Twitter:

And then all H-E-DOUBLE-HOCKEY-STICKS breaks loose.

It looks like it started with a Tweet by user Jeremy Lam, who said that “My culture is NOT your (expletive deleted) prom dress.”

One contradicting opinion isn’t a huge deal, but the negative tweet has since received almost 180 thousand ‘likes’ and almost 42 thousand Retweets. A lot of people seemed to agree with Lam, and the story took off.

People started picking sides. Some are defending Lam, saying the dress, called a qipao, has cultural value that renders it unwearable by someone that doesn’t share or fully understand that culture. Some are accusing Keziah of “cultural appropriation.” Others are defending Keziah’s dress choice, calling it “cultural appreciation.” Many others. Most others. A lot of others. Deseret News quotes Keziah as having said that “For everyone negative, there’s a hundred positive.”

Media attention

The story has gone viral. It’s been covered around the country and has even made its way around to China. What did the Chinese have to say about it? The New York Times did a whole story on it called Teenager’s Prom Dress Stirs Furor in U.S.—but Not in China. They interview one writer and fashion blogger, Hung Huang, who says that, “To Chinese, [the qipao] not sacred and it’s not that meaningful. Nowadays, if you see a woman wearing a qipao, she’s probably a waitress in a restaurant or a bride.”

Keziah recently appeared on Good Morning America where she defended her choice despite the public backlash:


Social reactions

In defense of Jeremy Lam (sort of)

Do I think this dude made a big deal out of something that shouldn’t have been a big deal? Yes. Has he brought an army of haters with him? Yes. But there’s been plenty of backlash towards him, too. Probably more than what Keziah has had to deal with, and for that reason, I feel sorry for him.

It is obviously my opinion that there’s no problem with Keziah’s dress, but in defense of Jeremy Lam, I can see how in some scenarios it would totally be inappropriate to wear certain styles of clothing. For instance, if someone wore our sacred LDS temple clothing to their high school prom, I’d definitely have questions. But for the thousands of people coming to Keziah’s defense, the qipao is far from comparable to temple clothing. This is not that, and I think Lam’s pointed finger is misplaced. But we can agree to disagree. He’s entitled to his opinion.

Another important factor to consider before grabbing your torch and pitchfork is the intent of the “offender.” Was Keziah intending to be offensive towards Chinese culture? Obviously not. Some people claim that the group photo where the pose seems to be an Asian-esque bow is culturally insensitive, but Keziah says the pose is actually a homage to a popular YouTube channel called h3h3Productions (which has since also come to Keziah’s defense).

At the end of the day, we live in a world where genocide, starvation, political instability, and countless other horrors plague our lives. Why are we worried about this girl’s prom dress?

But whether or not it should, the conversation is happening.

What do you guys think? Cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation? Let us know in the comments section.

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, FamilyShare.com and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.