Paris Hilton Modern Take on the Qipao


Image Citation: Source: DailyMail. November 2007.

Above are two images of celebrity, Paris Hilton, taken of her on a visit to China. These images struck me as they are representative of the “modern” qipao and display a western influence. The qipao was traditionally viewed as the official national dress of China in the 19th century, but has since returned and evolved into a fashion that has even translated to the Western culture. I would like to discuss the deeper meaning behind these two pictures through the details of the dress and the symbolism behind who is wearing them. I’ll start with my immediate observations looking at the pictures as a whole. The first image shows Paris in an extremely sheer and see though black qipao. There are some aspects consistent with the traditional qipao, like the high collar, sleeveless top and neck cut outs. The dress is very tight, and fitting to her body showing off her feminine shape. In the second image, the color red jumps out at me. This qipao is far more similar to the authentic traditional qipao with its silk material, high collar and leg slit. Both of these images seem to be taken by a professional photographer and aim to display Paris as highly fashionable with an oriental twist to a western audience.

The two images illustrate the Western culture adopting traditional and meaningful Chinese wear and altering it for their own purpose. To support my claim, I would like to further analyze my first reactions of these images. As I mentioned earlier, the first image is quite revealing and it provokes a far more sexual perspective. The see through material shows off Paris’ breast and feminine shape promoting the idea that the qipao is something that invites the male gaze. In the mirror reflection we can even see a man looking at Paris. The second image appears warm and inviting through the dominant red, a color that is closely associated with romance, love, and sexual implications. The qipao that Paris wears is very short and has a high slight, once again over sexualizing this dress.

Through the semiotic analysis, I explored the controversial topic of appreciating vs appropriating another culture’s dress. Is it okay for a big western celebrity to be wearing something to special and specific to the Chinese culture? It is debatable, but to me, I worried whether the highly sexual aspect to both qipao’s was insulting to the traditional history behind the qipao. Knowing who Paris Hilton is, these images made me feel as though the qiapo was just a costume for her to wear for fun.

critical question raised: appreciating or appropriating, which can be used as thesis seeking question. strengthen the connotation part