Namely, the chinoiserie aspect.
When I first got it in 1999 (the same day I picked up Adventure Garden), I loved the combo of frog closures with the sort-of faux Chinese art print.
Aesthetically, I still find something very appealing about this print and the East-West mashup of colors, themes and influences. But the more I think about it, the more problematic it has the potential to be.
Is this dress just another example of Orientalism, of Western culture cherry-picking aesthetic and design elements from other cultures while refusing to engage with them on a deeper level?
I don't think it's cool or cute when Urban Outfitters advertises the "Navajo Hipster Panty" or when Victoria's Secret does "Sexy Little Geisha." But is Chinoiserie basically just the same idea in a less grossly sexualized package?
And does it make it better or worse that it is 45 years old and the idea of cultural appropriation wasn't even on the radar back then?
This is mostly a debate I have with myself—I always get compliments on Chinoiserie when I wear it out and about. But I would love to hear what you think about it. Is it problematic for me, as a white woman with no real connection to Chinese culture, to be wearing a dress that uses elements of that culture in a whimsical, superficial way?
Or am I overthinking this, and the unexpected fusion of cultures, no matter the history behind it, is something to celebrate?
Actually, it was my second movie role. My first movie role had been filmed days earlier, also for The Singsations!, as a girl at a sleepover party who gets chased down the hallway (with her sleepover party friends) by a gorilla while "Yakity Sax" plays on the soundtrack.
The Singsations! was my friend Scot's student thesis, a movie about an on-campus a cappella group driven apart by the pressures of success and the machinations of a rival a cappella group. Also, the Emancipation Proclamation. Also, the sleepover party. It all makes sense in the movie, which I am looking forward to watching again. I'm going to have a watching party, by the way—you're totally invited.
My more-challenging second role was a real point of pride for me, because not only did I do my own costuming, I wrote my own dialogue. Triple threat! Let me see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense to someone who isn't already a Singsations! fan. The lead singer decides to quit the band and go to Europe, so he heads down to the Metrolink commuter rail station, where he meets a hobo magician (played by a real magician!), who ends up turning him into me. Unfortunately for my short-lived acting career, I get turned back almost immediately.
As far as I'm concerned, the "Glee" people and the Pitch Perfect people owe Scot mad royalties. He knew, somehow, that a cappella was going to blow up in a big way. He invented the whole idea of rival a cappella groups! I haven't seen Pitch Perfect yet, but if there is a hobo magician, I'm advising Scot to line up legal counsel.
All photos by Claire Loeb!