Cultural appreciation: Traditional wear rental places in Asia

Some countries in the Asian region can’t wait to teach you all about their culture. Source: Shutterstock.

LAST WEEK, American teenager Keziah Daum was harangued on Twitter for what they deemed to be cultural appropriation.

She had uploaded a picture of herself wearing a traditional Chinese dress, the qipao (otherwise colloquially known as the cheongsam), to her prom.

What’s a qipao? It’s a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women that originated from the Manchu0-ruled China back in the 17th century. It literally means “banner dress”.

Most of them are made of embroidered silk, with a high mandarin collar and thick laces trimmed at the collar, sleeves, and edges. It represents a woman’s modesty, softness, and beauty.

Although the style of the qipao has evolved over several thousand years, it’s still worn today. In Asia, it’s reserved for important occasions such as Chinese New Year, special dinners and events, and weddings.

The qipao or cheongsam literally means “banner dress”. Source: Shutterstock

Thousands of “social justice warriors” took to their Twitter to accuse the 18-year-old Utah high school senior, who has no Chinese heritage, of her apparent “fashion crime”.

“My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” wrote the now infamous Twitter user American Chinese Jeremy Lam, which led to an all-out eruption on the social media platform.

Throngs of people rallied behind him, backing his tweet up with more flak than necessary. “All you need now to finish off this pose is to tug the corner of your eyes and do a buck tooth smile. Not cool,”  Twitter user press_yellow wrote.

“I don’t see the big deal of me wearing a gorgeous dress I found for my last prom. If anything, I’m showing my appreciation to other cultures and I didn’t intend to make anyone think that I’m trying to be racist. It’s just a dress,” Daum posted in response to the negativity.

Daum has also appeared on local Utah paper Deseret News, FOX News, and Good4Utah to address the controversy.

Halfway across the world, South Morning China Post (SCMP), a news website headquartered in Hong Kong, described Chinese commenters as complimenting Daum’s prom dress.

“It is not cultural theft,” one person commented on an article by Wenxue City News. “It is cultural appreciation and cultural respect.”

It represents a woman’s modesty, softness, and beauty. Source: Shutterstock.

Some countries in the Asian region can’t wait to teach you all about their culture.

Here are destinations in Asia where you can get your dose of judgment-free, cultural-appreciating fashion.


The sampot is a long, rectangular cloth that’s wrapped around the lower body, length to foot, and tied securely on the waist. There are many variations of the garment and each is worn according to social class.

It dates back to the Funan era when a Cambodian king allegedly ordered the people of his kingdom to wear the sampot at the request of Chinese envoys.

Source: Shutterstock.

In some parts of Cambodia, such as Battambang, tourists can take part in a photoshoot wearing the sampot.

For as low as US$2 per photo (for a minimum of four or five photos), travelers can don the traditional costume and take part in a photoshoot, a common pre-wedding activity in Cambodia.


To fully immerse yourself in the Japanese culture, you need to play dress up in the traditional kimono.

A kimono, which means a “thing to wear”, is a full-length T-shaped robe with attached collars and long, wide sleeves. It’s wrapped around the body and secured by a sash called an obi at the back.

Source: Shutterstock.

From as low as JPY2,700 (US$24.78) in some places in Japan, you’ll get to take a stroll in a kimono and snap some pictures for the ‘gram.

You can even opt for a “kimono and tea ceremony” package, as well as other add-ons or upgrade options such as a rickshaw ride. If you’d like to take one home with you, some stores sell new and secondhand ones.


The Southeast Asian country’s chut thai, which means “Thai outfit”, consists of a pha nung (a cloth that resembles a long skirt) or a chong kraben (loincloth wrap), a blouse, and a sabai (a shawl-like garment or breast cloth).

It can be worn by men, women, and children.

Source: Shutterstock.

Thai Style Studio at MBK Center in Bangkok, Thailand provides services where tourists can rent traditional Thai costumes (including wedding regalia), get their hair and make-up done, and have a professional photographer take their pictures for a fee.

“They offer different packages and the cheapest one for couples cost THB5,700 (US$178.90),” Teesh of Adventures of Cupcake Girl wrote.


Said to be China’s “breakaway province”, Taiwan and China shares many similarities in terms of language, writing, and culture.

As such, there are boutiques in Taiwan at which travelers can rent an elegant qipao.

Source: Shutterstock.

For TWD800 (US$26.86), you can experience a bit of the Chinese culture when you put on a beautiful qipao.

You can also opt for a full day package which includes a day-long hire and ample time to take pictures with the amazing Jiufen town as a backdrop.

South Korea

Hanbok-wearing is one of the most popular activities for tourists in South Korea. Hanbok, which means “Korean clothing”, consists of jeogori (a blouse shirt or a jacket) and chima (a wrap-around skirt) for women, and jeogori and loose-fitting baji (pants) for men.

It’s characterized by vibrant colors and simple lines without pockets and usually worn as semi-formal or formal wear during traditional festivals and celebrations.

Source: Shutterstock.

Hanbok rentals cost anywhere between KRW13,000 (US$12) to KRW15,000 (US$14) and usually run for four hours. Accessories are included in the rental price.

Play dress up in a hanbok and admission to Gyeongbokgung Palace, the home of Kings of the Joseon dynasty and the largest palace in South Korea, is free of charge.