The Important History Behind Some of Asia's Traditional Formalwear

This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re taking extra time to reflect on the region’s influence and cultural significance. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders—AAPIs for short—include anyone descending from the Asian continent and the Pacific islands existing within Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. That’s a lot of cultures wrapped up in such a tiny descriptor, and notably, many of these nations have proven to be powerhouses in affecting the tides of the fashion industry. The region has birthed an army of brilliant designers, been responsible for the pop-culture phenomenon behind the real crazy rich Asians (I guess we now know who’s buying couture off the rack), and has had its long history act as the source material for many of the clothing trends we see today.

In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re taking the question of where our clothes really come from to heart. More than just considering the ethics behind how your clothing is produced, investigating where your clothes come from also connects you to their design origins. In a political climate like the one we’re in now, and in a fashion market that grows in international scope by the day, it’s more important than ever to take stock of the heritage of our clothing. We could always use an extra primer for the purpose of understanding the difference between celebrating and referencing a culture’s traditions (clothing included) to avoid the misstep of unintentionally appropriating it.

We’ve shed some light on some of Asia’s most well-known traditional dresswear with a brief primer on how you can celebrate these looks yourself in a respectful way. Knowledge is power, so arm yourself with some newfound history below.

Up next: 21 Asian designers who have changed the fashion industry.

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