By: Ashley Yang
Growing up as a little tomboy tucked away in the comfort of my baggy jeans and hand-me-down t-shirts, fashion was never a topic that appealed to me. Instead, it seemed to be more of a nuisance than a pleasure having to spend hours deciding what patterns to mix up, what colors match, or fretting over what was in style. To me as a child, fashion seemed unnecessary and a waste of time, having to get dressed up every day. Although, living in a house full of women I was bound to venture into fashion at some point. Watching my sisters quarrel over clothes was one reason I promised myself I would never get into fashion. Even when I was forced to wear dresses for events I would cry because I never felt comfortable in my skin, even leaving me feeling vulnerable when I wore them. It sounds dramatic but there was a sense of dread when it came to wearing dresses.
Like many other little girls thought, being girly and wearing pink was lame because tomboys like me valued comfort over looks and wanted to seem “different” from other girls, especially since being edgy was more in trend at the time. – fifth grade came around. My older sister started watching Korean dramas and out of curiosity, I joined her. I would find myself focusing on their clothes instead of the plot, simply admiring their sense of style because it was so unique. In the Korean dramas, the girls would be dressed in a very modest and cute style, wearing collared shirts under baggy sweaters or lace dresses with ribbons with their hair styled with neat curls in hair accessories. The Asian style opened up my sense of interest in fashion because it was something new I had never seen in American fashion which gradually pulled me in.
Slowly I immersed myself into fashion, exploring the “cutesy” style, influenced by Asian streetwear. I began to explore the concept of styling and what purpose it had by stepping out of my comfort zone and trying out new styles. Soon my closet looked as if I was hoarding a rainbow, consisting of colors in different hues and items I would have never seen myself wear, even skirts and dresses that used to make me cry. I was taunted by classmates for trying out new styles and looking “even more Asian” whilst being categorized as the stereotypical Asain, but it didn’t matter because I felt confident in what I wore. When I moved schools I was still mocked for my sense of style but the bullying felt worse this time since it came from people I didn’t even know which made me feel insecure, but instead of being discouraged it motivated me to try other styles such as a sporty, edgy, chic, preppy look; only increasing my love for fashion. While exploring different aesthetics I noticed a pattern that Asians were subjected to look and style themselves a certain way. They were expected to be modest and neatly dressed, just like the actors I had seen in the Korean Dramas. If not there were only two stereotypes of Asians, that being the ABG/ ABC (Asian baby girl/-Asian Born Chinese, respectively) following the Western-style by wearing revealing clothes and heavy makeup or the FOB/-Koreaboo (fresh off the boat) who are dressed neatly, meeting the American expectation of an Asian. I wanted to break those expectations because of the idea that Asians had to meet the American standard when it came to the idea of Asians, so I opened myself up to trying even more different styles to break out of the stereotype. Fashion was a gateway out of boredom and allowed me to expand on my creativity and see how far I could express myself through style as a sense of comfort and building my confidence.
As years went on I began to feel comfortable with who I was and gradually built my confidence by watching well-known fashion/-makeup gurus such as Michelle Phan, BubzBeauty and even learning how to style myself from the K-Pop industry. I realized that becoming a fashion designer and moving to New York was my dream, it was a career that I was passionate about, but living in a typical Asian household, my dreams quickly were shot down by my family who told me that it was impossible because I wouldn’t be able to find a well-paying job, and that the fashion industry was too competitive, and I could never get a chance to pursue fashion, especially as a minority. That sudden realization was a wake-up call to reality, forcing me to abandon my dreams and focus on a more practical career and following a path into politics.
At the start of my Freshman year in High School, I began to notice the increase of Asians in the fashion and beauty industry. Finally being exposed to the Asians in fashion made me feel relieved, knowing that there was a possibility that if I just worked hard enough I could make it into the beauty and fashion industry somehow. Learning that the probability of succeeding in my dream career would be possible has created a sense of hope since I could have a chance at pursuing a career that I am passionate about. Being open to different styles and understanding what the artist was trying to convey in their design was something I grew to understand. The child me finally understood that fashion was not simply just about clothes and trends but about expression, confidence, personality, and comfort. You could have both comfort and style as long as it created a sense of confidence.
Many famous Asian fashion gurus such as Jenn Im, Chriselle Lim, BestDressed (Aka Ashley), IamKareno, and Joan Kim have broken the stereotype that Asians can’t pursue their dreams, and only focus on traditional, professional jobs like being a doctor, lawyer or judge; proving that anything is possible with a strong mindset and work ethic and not all Asians decide to follow a path of an uncompromising lifestyle. These strong, independent Asian-American women have broken boundaries and proved to other minorities that being an influencer in the fashion and -beauty world is possible. The fashion industry is meant to be diverse, welcoming people from unique backgrounds, providing opportunities to express creativity in the form of fashion and beauty, expanding the definition of beauty by being inclusive, even helping people find their identities. Diversity is a necessity in business, working on and behind the stage to develop a deeper sense of communication and teamwork proving that combining ideas can be the birth of something extraordinary.