These journal pages are from a visit I made to the Museum of Chinese in America two years ago. In contrast to the exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute that is currently running, China: Through the Looking Glass which examines Chinese influences on Western fashion, Shanghai Glamour showed how Chinese women adapted aspects of Western dress to create a new style of dress in the early twentieth century.
After the end of the Opium War in 1842, the British victors were able to dictate the creation of “trade cities” in China. These cities were made to tolerate a Western presence and were forced to allow trade with them. Shanghai was one of the trade cities. By the twentieth century there were large British, American, and French populations in the city. It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place.
The exhibition showed how the women of Shanghai created their own distinctive style of dress, which was based on Chinese traditional dress but incorporated elements of the West. The look was feminine, but modern.
There is a lot of discussion about how Western fashion appropriates different cultures, so it was interesting to see how cultural influences flowed the other way. Sometimes we forget that culture often works on an exchange system.