If you hang around Twitter, you may have seen the now-viral post from ASOS about their upcoming South Asian bridal line. I first saw the post with my sister – she looked confused and agitated as she held up her phone to show the photos to me. My thought was, “well, it can’t be that bad.” Initially, it didn’t make sense to me why my sister was so troubled over the photos, and it didn’t even really sink in what it meant for a brand like ASOS to be selling South Asian bridal lehengas.
Then I got a close-up look at the lehengas – it couldn’t be avoided as my Twitter feed was flooded with every South Asian person I know retweeting and sharing their opinions. As you expect, it wasn’t good. I know that living in North America, I should probably have lowered my expectations from the start. And besides that, fast fashion is never reliable when it comes to fair, cultural representation. I mean, look at Shein and the mess they stirred up when they marketed Muslim prayer mats as Greek carpets. So one can imagine the standards are already low.
But seeing my culture turned into, as said by the great words of my friend, ‘white girl prom dress core’, really hurts. Maybe it’s time we stop settling for this kind of appropriation, which is watered down to the white gaze.
So you might be wondering, what exactly did ASOS do wrong? And I could say everything, but that doesn’t cut it. For starters, the beadwork is too light. South Asian bridal dresses are known for the heavy beadwork and glamorous sparkle. The tweet below shows some great examples of dresses that would be on the higher end of the spectrum, but the concept remains the same even with affordable bridal lehengas and gowns.
Then there’s the actual design of the beadwork, which ASOS got wrong on both dresses. The pink outfit has the beadwork all over, but it’s an unstructured mess – the beads should not be dangling around. It would be a hassle to wear with heavy jewelry, another staple in South Asian weddings. The top on the grey outfit looks better in comparison, the beadwork is more structured, and there’s some semblance of a design, but when your eyes gaze at the skirt, there’s just nothing. A plain lehenga skirt might become the monster that haunts my nightmares.
The worst offense by far is the simple lack of a dupatta. No words can describe how important a dupatta is to a woman’s wedding look. Many women will choose to have two dupattas, one to match their outfits and the other to match the groom’s outfits. Honestly, these outfits are such a disgrace to South Asian bridalwear that it’s safe to say I would never wear them to any event. God knows that I would be the least stylish person in the room if I did.
But while all of that is enough to rile up anyone with a mild interest in fashion, it doesn’t hit the root of the issue. This all comes back to the western appropriation of other cultures. That grey dress with its more structured design? The concept is taken directly from more well-known South Asian designers like Élan and Sana Safinaz.
Of course, this isn’t the first time fast fashion has failed us by appropriating our culture. Some discourse went around a while back where Shien, Romwe, and Zaful all appropriated the traditional Chinese dress known as a qipao to make the traditional dress appear more western and “sexy.” And let’s not forget Kim Kardashian and the “Kimono” drama.
And yet, the appropriation of our cultures doesn’t stop there! Oh no, because you see, the west has been taking pieces of Asian culture for years now. We’ve had “chai tea” (that literally translates to “tea tea”), henna tattoos sold at stores like Claire’s, several different Victoria’s Secret shows which have appropriated many different cultures, bindis being turned into a white girl fashion trend, and more. I could go on for days if I were to recount every time white people stole something from another culture and then watered it down, threw out the cultural or spiritual significance, and then proceeded to mock us while using our stuff anyways.
Even if ASOS got this right and made spectacular South Asian wedding lehengas, we would have to question the legitimacy. Fast fashion aims to make quick money off the hard work of others who are never appropriately compensated. Their claims of representation are usually just sugar-coated lies. And it hurts to think that ASOS will get away with this. I mean, other fashion brands have done for years. They will either end up unscathed and make bank on these ‘exotic’ dresses, or they’ll make an apology after seeing the backlash and then move on as if it never happened.
If you care at all about South Asians and stopping appropriation, I implore you not to let this slide. When you see something like this happen, speak up. Explain this to your friends and make them stand with you. Choose local and authentic South Asian shops. Let’s finally make progress towards stopping cultural appropriation.
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