East Asia Global Connections and Fashion Histories

Sarah Cheang, Elizabeth Kramer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Embroidered garments have played a key role in the global spread of Japanese and Chinese fashions. While the Japanese kimono and the Chinese robe have global influence as distinctive garment forms that have crossed over into many cultures, there is an important flexibility about embroidery as a locally-rooted practice that can be applied to any garment or set of motifs, and as a making practice that can be moved or transmitted from culture to culture and respond to technological changes. Embroidery has been a vehicle for the global circulation and embedding of Japanese and Chinese cultural elements within the sartorial signifiers of a wide range of other national identities.

This chapter explores how the categories of national, transnational and global can be readdressed using East Asian perspectives and object-led studies of fashion history and embroidery. By placing emphasis on ways to follow embroidery’s movements within East Asia, and between East Asia and other parts of the world, it explores the impossibility of grasping and defining globalization (a question that is often raised in transnational studies) and the ways that fashion cultures enable the presence of cultural hybrid and paradoxical elements within codes of national identity. Rooting the research in East Asia also provokes a series of rejoinders to on-going Eurocentric tendencies in global fashion studies and proposes new models for understanding fashion and postcolonialism.

The chapter uses two new examples of transnational fashion research to catalyze an active discussion of East Asian fashion histories as globally connected. A study of early 20th century Chinese embroidered shawls reveals the transformations involved in transmission between China, the Philippines, Latin America, Spain and England. This enables a new history of Asian-American-European interactions to be written that does not privilege Europe and North America, nor create a simplistic narrative of ‘exotic’ components in European fashion. Likewise, tracing the movement of the sukajan, or souvenir jacket from Japan, where it was first embroidered by the Japanese for U.S. occupying forces, to Vietnam, where it was reinterpreted during the Vietnam War, to its international appearance in popular films, where it marks out rebellious subcultures, to the high street, where it has subsequently become a mainstream fashion garment, demonstrates a complex but fluid and sustained transmittal dialogue in which Asian and North American players actively feature and interact.

By bridging the gap between cultural studies and the material evidence of museum collections, and centering the study of cultural flows of fashion on East Asia, more satisfying ways are found to challenge binary constructions of East/West, traditional/modern, which are an insufficient model for understanding the complexities of global flow but that continue to haunt fashion studies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRethinking Fashion Globalization
EditorsSarah Cheang, Angela Jansen, Yoko Takagi, Erica de Greef
ISBN (Electronic)9781350181304, 9781350180079
ISBN (Print)9781350180062, 9781350180055
Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2021


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