Exhibition Journal: Shanghai Glamour

Click to enlarge


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.

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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.


Filed under Journal, Museums

4 responses to “Exhibition Journal: Shanghai Glamour

  1. What a wonderful idea to make your own journal for exhibits. I can’t draw very well, but I am going to try this. It would help me to remember details that I love.


    • I’m a firm believer that drawing is a skill that anyone can learn. It’s mainly just a matter of looking carefully and drawing what you see.

      I always carry a little notebook when touring a museum, and at the very least I take sketch notes. If I’m by myself and have more time, I take my exhibition journal and draw on the spot. Drawing is a great way to help store memories.


  2. It’s interesting that you post this. Since reading the reviews on the MET exhibit I have been thinking about examples of the reverse cultural adoption/adaption process. Your mention of Shanghai is a good one to start. Oddly enough, “theSartorialist” recently posted photos of archers in Bhutan, who wear English style men’s black socks to the knee and black western shoes with their regional attire. Another curious western influence. PS your sketches are wonderful, something we should all be doing, instead of those darn cell phone shots.


    • I really think it is more interesting to think about the give and take of cultural influences in fashion than it is to automatically think of it as just more ignorant appropriation. I love your sock and shoes example. And thanks!


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