Fashioning Gender in Asia and Beyond



How to Cite

King, E., & Winarnita, M. (2022). Fashioning Gender in Asia and Beyond. M/C Journal, 25(4). (Original work published October 5, 2022)
Vol. 25 No. 4 (2022): fashion
Published 2022-10-05 — Updated on 2022-10-07

Walk, walk, fashion baby
Work it, move that b***h crazy — Lady Gaga, “Bad Romance” 

There's a brand new dance but I don't know its name
That people from bad homes do again and again
It's big and it's bland, full of tension and fear
They do it over there but we don't do it here
Fashion! Turn to the left
Fashion! Turn to the right — David Bowie, “Fashion” 

Piece by piece
My emotions are glued together
You’re a new pattern
Sent towards one another:
We have a secretive and thrilling motion
Ooh ooh ooh, you are my fashion — TaeYeon, “Fashion” 

The word ‘fashion’ conjures images of glitzy 90s supermodels stomping down a catwalk, a flock of Victoria Secret Angels flying in formation, or a crew of K-pop girl and boy bands sporting the latest looks and setting trends in hair, makeup, and fitness. In an age of Instafame and TikTok influencers, it is easy to view ‘fashion’ purely as something trivial or fleeting. We might talk of the latest fashions, or the ‘centuries old’ traditions of regional and folk garments. Fashion can mean the manner in which something is done or a fashionable way of thinking. It can also be used to discuss how things are created or fabricated, from heavy metals used in technology to lightweight garment fabrics and trims.

Much of fashion studies focusses on Europe and North America, with the Fédération Française de la Couture (French Federation of Fashion and of Ready-to-Wear Couturiers and Fashion Designers) still holding sway over haute couture houses. If East Asian and South East Asian fashion is mentioned, it is usually in terms of textiles and manufacturing rather than couture or innovation. However, Japanese designer Hanae Mori (1026-2022) was the first Asian woman to be admitted as a design house to the Fédération in 1951. Mori notably had the patronage of Empress Masako, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Reagan and Grace Kelly. More recently, Chinese designer Guo Pei (b. 1967) was the first Asian designer to be invited as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (Trade Association of High Fashion) as part of the Fédération. We started this editorial with lyrics to pop and K-pop songs that reference fashion, but anyone familiar with Guo Pei will be aware of her rise in the popular zeitgeist when Bajan singer Rhianna attended the 2015 Met Gala in a 2008 yellow fur gown that weighed 25 kilos.

However, fashion is also a place of protest and resistance. We need only look at the current protests in Iran which have seen women burn their hijabs in public after 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested in September for allegedly breaking the country’s dress code, and mysteriously died in custody. At the time of writing, at least 83 people, including children, have been killed in the protests which are, above all, about a woman’s right to control her body and her clothing choices.

The theme for this issue is drawn from the 2021 “Fashioning Gender in Asia” Women in Asia conference, convened by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) Women’s Forum by Dr Emerald L. King, Dr Wendy Mee, Associate Professor Kerstin Steiner, and Associate Professor Sallie Yea. With much of the world’s textile and clothing production located in Asia, the theme for this issue lends itself to a wide interpretation of ‘fashion’ such as the slow fashion movement, garment construction, haute couture, cosplay and ‘bounding’, and gender expression through clothing. In this issue, we consider how bodies are fashioned and re-fashioned through social pressure, protest, resistance, and illness. We also consider how fashion and fashioning the body across time and space have become contested symbols not only of persona, gender, or sexualised bodies, but also of national identity or of how the nation is embodied through fashion.

We begin with a feature article by Monika Winarnita, Sharyn Graham Davies, and Nicholas Herriman which looks at how Indonesian policewomen’s bodies are clothed and controlled in their role as border control and symbol of the nation. This article was based on a plenary talk by Sharyn Graham Davies for the 2021 Women in Asia Conference described above.

Kathryn M. Tanaka discusses the importance of maintaining individual identity through dress and makeup in the face of institutionalisation and loss of self after a diagnosis of Hansen’s disease in turn-of-the-century Japan.

Michelle Aung Thin reveals how secret fashion shoots in 70s Myanmar were an act of resistance and rebellion that is mirrored by current-day campaigners during the 2021 coup d’état.

Carmen Sapunaru Tamas draws back the curtain on the glamourous world of Taisu Engeki in Japan, positing that this relatively unknown form of performance is just as valid as its more respected cousins kabuki, noh, and drag.

In stark contrast, Robyn Gulliver discusses how ordinary tote bags and t-shirts have become a space of everyday protest in Australasia.

Arnoud Arps looks at the performance of memory by Indonesian re-enactor groups who create modern-day interpretations of key moments during the turbulent and violent war for independence between 1943 and 1949.

Megan Catherine Rose, Haruka Kurebayashi, and Rei Saionji return to Japan, where they investigate the affective potential of the ensembles created by Harajuku and decora street style practitioners.

Moving from the streets of Japan to China, Amber Patterson-Ooi and Natalie Araujo look at how designers such as Guo Pei can use haute couture to interrogate and explore specific cultural imaginaries as well as the nature of gender and the socio-political climate in contemporary China.

We close with an excerpt from Denise N. Rall’s 2022 edited collection, Fashion, Women, and Power: The Politics of Dress, which traverses the globe in its critique of power dressing and gender.

Author Biographies

Emerald King, University of Tasmania

Interested in most things dark and twisty, Dr Emerald L. King is Lecturer in Humanities at University of Tasmania. Her research interests include violence in text, masochistic theory, kimono in Japanese literature, costume representation in anime and manga, and cosplay in Japan and Australia. Her work ties these disparate areas together with an overarching interest in costume and word.

Monika Winarnita, Deakin University

Dr Monika Winarnita lectures in Indonesian Studies and is an academic affiliate at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation Australia. Active in the Asian Australian Studies Research Network, her research focusses on gender, migration, and (digital) cultural performances. She published extensively in Asian Studies, Anthropology and Cultural Studies journals.