By Marcie Everhart
I was sitting in my favorite dim sum restaurant in Houston a couple of years ago, watching wait-staff wheel carts in and out of the sunshine-filled dining room. They were all young Asian women with a curtain of long, glossy black hair, all wearing the same top – a firecracker of a red and gold “kimono” shirt.
The hamster wheel in my brain began spinning – I have one in there, tooo, Suzy! If this is a uniform per se…they’ll have stock in the back! I think they charged me $11, I tried on a few sizes in a supplies closet in the back, and I walked out with my very own firecracker shirt.
I already had a black, long-sleeved “kimono” jacket my husband had brought back for me from China, where he used to travel a lot for work. But, RED. The color of JOY, the color the hopeful Chinese bride wears for good luck and blessing. We all need more RED in our lives.
These are actually not even remotely like a “kimono” – which is Japanese and folds over like a robe then ties closed with an “obi,” a sash. These tops are the shortened version of the Chinese cheongsam dress that the modest, conservative, traditional Chinese woman wears. (If the top doesn’t fold across the bodice, but buttons in the middle instead, then it’s a Tang jacket, Tang being the throw-out-there word for any Chinese clothing.) It’s all fascinating and beautiful.
One of my Top 5 Movies Of All Time, “In the Mood for Love” (which has been named one of the top movies of the CENTURY by some important people I can’t remember), stars a woman with this entire wardrobe of cheongsam dresses, one after another in varying prints and colors and trim. The dress becomes a symbol for woman, for Chinese culture, for restraint, even repression maybe – and it’s the sexiest thing you’ve ever seen, as her body sways and undulates inside the constricting, straight lines of the sheath as she walks down the street. That’s got to be the origin and impulse behind our own version of the ever-classic sheath dress, right? Is it modest…or is it sexy? Or…modest-sexy. You can’t take your eyes off her.
There are 21 versions of the dress in the movie, chosen to match the vibe, plot, props, or even the wallpaper or window frame! When she’s wearing red, oh you know she goin’ to try to seduce the man she loves! We slowly begin to understand she is a Chinese Woman and will do what is expected of her til the day she dies. She will always conform to her surroundings and her society. Do we all? Conform, I mean? Clothing as Art – it doesn’t get much better than that for me.
The Real-Real Behind the Scenes
I knew I wanted to pattern-mix like a mad hatter for our first group shot here on the fashion blog, and I’ve been thinking about cheongsam + camouflage + leopard print for a long time. The group shot outfit isn’t as strong in retrospect, though (not enough camo on them-there shorts), and it was a thousand degrees outside that day so ix-nay the camo-print jacket. But wearing this shirt makes me look extra happy and vibrant in photos — it’s like a good luck charm!
My friends know I’m really into multiculturalism, which is a nice way of saying: I WILL re-appropriate anything! I’m drawn to the unusual and non-boring, and this outfit is like a weird love letter to Asia, lol, with Type 99 camo (for real, look it up), the Indochinese leopard, and Buddhist prayer beads. I invite you to make your own interpretations and connections in your mind, as long as it’s joyful.
Oh!!!! I almost forgot: The Cigar Box Purse! So, Mara is taking these incredible photos of me, and she stops and says this outfit really needs a cigar box purse. I have no idea what the heck that is, but totally agree, yeah, if I only had one. She says no problem, I think I have one in my car. YES. In the back of Mara’s car is an assortment of shoes, purses, jewelry, jackets, scarves, hats…this is how she rolls, because you never know when you’re going to need a CIGAR BOX PURSE!
A Little Background Music
This is an out-take of “In the Mood for Love” with Maggie and Tony finally getting down in the hotel room, but NOT in the way we were all hoping they would! (I sound crass, I know, lol…but seriously, we all want Maggie and Tony to have the life they could have with each other.) Maggie is ADORBS here dancing to the Ventures’ song “Walk Don’t Run.” She should have kept the cheongsam on, though.
Are you not willing to hit up your local Chinese restaurant? Okay, okay, but the Internet thing could be a total crap shoot… this is not gonna be mainstream.
And THIS incredible thing – a vest with an embroidered plate buckled to the bodice. I’d wear it over something. This is exactly the sort of thing I need! Vest, $17. I’m already imagining a crisp, white, button-up shirt under it and a black leather jacket over it.
Cigar box purse, an Etsy item if I ever saw one. :^)
One of the coolest art movies ever made, a masterpiece… a story of unrequited love… the thrill of the chaste.
*Most photos of Marcie by Mara Porter.