Can an Asian American Dress Up as a Geisha for Halloween?

With Halloween less than a month away, I knew what I wanted to write about this month: Racist Halloween costumes. Even though I don’t dress up and haven’t since I was a kid, I understand that Halloween is really important to a lot of people. There have been a lot of articles about racist Asian costumes already, including this evergreen one by my esteemed 8Asians editor Moye, Top 8 most offensive Asian Halloween costumes.

Of course, racist Halloween costumes are not just limited to dressing up like a slutty geisha or in yellowface. Every year people seem to make the bad… err racist… choice of dressing up like a Native American princess or in black face. Here is a good rule of thumb, if you’re going as a person from another race then you’re either close to the line or went over it. For some do’s and don’ts on Halloween costumes, here’s a great article on GQ.

that helps break it down.  Some of my favorite rules they listed are:

  • Don’t Change Your Skin Color to Any Shade Found in Humans
  • Choose a Subject Identifiable by Name

But what if you’re a person of that race? Is it okay to dress up for Halloween as a member of your own group? In other words, as an Asian American, can I go as a geisha? Or a ninja? One part of me thinks it’s okay. Similar to the old adage that I can make fun of my own family but no one else can. But a bigger part of me thinks that it’s not a good idea. It would just reinforce stereotypes.

I imagine some of this debate has to do with what the costume is. I mean there is a big difference between going to a party as a geisha than as a ninja. Or is there? And also, if I’m going as a specific person, that’s probably okay, right? I mean, I could be Bruce Lee, Genghis Kahn, or some other Asian/Asian American.

I decided to ask my friends on Facebook what their thoughts were. Some of the answers surprised me and others were enlightening.

First, I was surprised that not everyone agreed with me about non-Asians dressing up as Asian.

  • I do not find it ‘racist’ for anyone dress up as a geisha, ninja or whatever stereotypical ‘asian’ as long as your intention is to celebrate the spirit of Halloween.
  • Mickey Rooney portraying Mr. Yunioshi was racist. But non-Japanese adults and children trying to dress up in Japanese clothing, or what’s imagined to be Japanese clothing, for Halloween, it’s not the same thing. The skimpy geisha costume is silly, frivolous, funny, tasteless, just like the Queen Nefertiti and other costumes in the same ad. But someone who actual sees a cultural or racial insult in these must have an inferiority complex deeper than the Grand Canyon. It’s Halloween, no need to take any of this seriously, nobody else in the world is doing so.
  • Personally, I don’t really care if people dress up in outfits that are of other nationalities, probably because I’m old, and everything wasn’t so PC when I was growing up. I think if it’s in the spirit of being a “character” and not just “being Asian”, it should be okay. For instance, a samurai or ninja, I think is fine. I guess geisha is okay too. I think I went to a party once in kimono but with a gigantic Japanese doll bobble head on. As a little kid, I dressed up as Mary Poppins, who is white, so was I being racist?
  • Once in a dating relationship with an African American woman, we both wanted someday to show up at a Halloween party dressed as Genghis Khan and Chaka Khan, but we couldn’t agree on who would be GK and who CK. Halloween is not supposed to be historical accuracy, where did anyone get that stupid idea? People want to dress up as ersatz Asians, I got no particular problem with that. I can tell between when someone is trying to be insulting from when someone is just having fun.

Some people schooled me that it was all about intention and really up to the viewer.

  • It’s all about your intention, in my opinion. If someone is going to wear a mostly authentic Japanese kimono to showcase the beauty of the Japanese culture, then that is totally fine with me. I probably wouldn’t be ok with the “slutty” version of that though… which seems to be the direction most Halloween costumes go.
  • I am guilty of wearing a kimono for Halloween in college before. I recently attended a party and a friend of a friend asked me if I was offended (bc I am half Japanese) that she was a geisha and wore a kimono-ish dress and hair up with chopsticks, I said no, but I know plenty of people who would be, it just depends on the person and how PC you are. I have also seen friends who dressed up as specific black rappers and used tanning stuff (like blackface) and that made me uncomfortable, but some black friends thought it was hysterical so it all depends on the people and the intent. As mentioned before by someone else, I think being a specific character or person is different than being an offensive race stereotype for Halloween.

Most people confirmed, it was about being someone specific from a race… as opposed to just being anyone from a race.

  • I feel like that’s different. She’s dressing up as a specific individual/character. If someone just put on Chinese clothes and said they’re dressing up as a Chinese person for Halloween, that’s kind of offensive. If they dress up as Bruce Lee or Genghis Khan, I don’t mind, because they’re paying tribute to a person/character rather than generalizing a whole group of people.

But as far as is it okay for Asian Americans to dress up as Asian for Halloween, it seems most people didn’t have a problem with it:

  • Every year I see a lot of adorable little Korean American girls wearing their hanbok and Chinese American girls wearing their qi pao that they presumably already had for new year’s — so at the elementary age it’s hard to fault ethnic pride and immigrant mom frugality (and a friend of my boy’s just carried around his big brother’s calculus book lol)

But there’s a warning. The same commentor added:

  • Although when my kids were little, they always dressed as specific people– Chang e (the moon lady) and Michelle Kwan and mulan and Sun Wu Kong the monkey King– but no one but they ever knew that, and even when people asked they never knew the reference and would say instead “oh you’re dressed as a little Chinese girl”

So what did I learn? Asians can wear Asians costumes. Great. I’m going to try to get my six-year-old to dress up as a ninja because I think they are pretty cool. But just to be safe, I’ll tell him he’s Fujibayashi Nagato, one of the most famous ninjas of all time or just that he’s Rain from Ninja Assassin.

Follow me on Twitter @Ksakai1

Asian American Commercial Watch: Men’s Wearhouse – BLACK by Vera Wang

According to Men’s Wearhouse’s YouTube channel, their commercial starring Vera Wang about her first collection of formal wear for me has been around (or at least hosted on YouTube) since March 2015 – but I just caught this it on TV recently.


The last time I think I blogged about Vera Wang was when I saw her promoting her LOVE collection at Zales. I still mostly think of Vera Wang as a fashion designer for wedding gowns, popularized – at least for me, through being mentioned in Sex in the City.


Asian American Commercial Watch: Jason Wu for Cadillac in “The Daring: No Regrets”

Last November, at the Los Angeles Auto Show, I noticed something different about Cadillac. They seemed to be on the eve of a re-invention.

These new ads, with the tagline “Only those who dare drive the world forward” seems to confirm my observations. Cadillac seeks to reinvent its 112-year-old brand as one The ad, features “those was dare,” innovators Jason Wu, Anne Wojcicki, Njeri Rionge, Richard Linklater, and Steve Wozniak and the song: Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien performed by Edith Piaf

We’ve written a lot about Jason Wu in the past, including when his design was selected by Michelle Obama for her first and second Inaugural Ball gowns.

In addition to the ad which features all the innovators, there is also a video specific to Jason Wu:

8A-2015-03-27-Cadillac-JasonWuJason Wu came to the US as a boy of 9 with a love for dressing dolls. He dared to follow his passion and went from fashion intern to an arbiter of style tasked with revolutionizing one of the world’s most iconic fashion brands.

Here is a message from the President of Cadillac, talking about what today’s Cadillac is about:

Continue reading “Asian American Commercial Watch: Jason Wu for Cadillac in “The Daring: No Regrets””

Michelle Obama Wears Another Jason Wu Dress for Inauguration Ball


Four years ago, Michelle Obama’s decision to wear a Jason Wu gown for the President Obama’s 2009 inaugural ball brought Taiwanese American designer Jason Wu into the world’s spotlight.

On the occasion of her husband’s second inauguration, the First Lady chose another custom Jason Wu design, this one a ruby-colored chiffon and velvet gown, and in the process, securing her spot as Jason Wu’s biggest fan. In fact, Michelle Obama was also the first person to wear clothes from Jason’s contemporary label ‘Miss Wu.’

The New York Times reports on the First Lady’s inauguration fashion choices:

All day, designers were glued to the television to see what Mrs. Obama was wearing, hoping it would be them, but she ultimately chose the same one who made the first inauguration a fashion success. The dress was persimmon-colored with cross-halter straps and a loose fit similar to the ivory one-shouldered gown she wore in 2009. Her shoes were from Jimmy Choo, and the dress design included a handmade diamond ring by Kimberly McDonald.

“I’m still floating,” Mr. Wu said from his design studio, where he was watching the ball with his staff. “It is a big surprise. The White House kept me pretty clueless until five minutes ago.”

The bright red color, which a White House pool report described as “ruby,” was also shocking, especially after a weekend of events when the first lady wore a series of streamlined dresses in dark colors. Many designers thought she would wear blue.

“As a designer, you have to drown out all of that noise,” Mr. Wu said. “You have to think about the client, and I felt like red was such a perfect color for her. It’s such a confident color for her and it really was my first instinct.”

Over at 8Asians, we’re fans of commenting on his personal life and the Jason Wu Target Collection which debuted during the Super Bowl in 2012.

h/t: John

Photo credit: Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

Guilty Pleasures T-Shirt

Everyone has their own personal musical guilty pleasure. Whether you’re a metalhead who loves Lady Gaga or a techno-junkie with a soft spot for Kenny G. With this Guilty Pleasures T-Shirt ($18.25 + shipping), you can show off how those tastes can actually be pretty cool. It includes popular guilty pleasures like Abba and Sir Mix-A-Lot, all designed in the form of stylish headphones. It’ll go great in any music lover’s wardrobe.

What The Pho T-Shirt

Start up companies have been a recent phenomenon with the ease of promoting and advertising products using today’s website technologies.  ASN Clothing, a small online clothing shop, produces t-shirts with cute panda prints and phrases.  The one pictured above is a “WHAT THE PHO” shirt ($19.99), a creative play on words, using one of the famous Vietnamese dishes to visually emphasize the phrase.  Although the design is simple, it’s also very cute and eye-catching, something us Asians adore!

Ninja Rider Threadless T-Shirt

Just because you’re a ninja doesn’t mean that you can’t be efficient. This Ninja Rider Threadless T-Shirt ($12.95) shows that not all ninjas just run around and and throw shuriken–they can go on a pretty mean bike ride, too. Since ninjas can’t be seen, for all we know they’re all on bikes.

Maneki Neko Tee

Ever feel like your day could use a little extra luck? Maybe you spilled your coffee, broke the heel off of your shoe, or just feel like something isn’t right. Now you can brighten up your day with this Maneki Neko Tee ($25). With this lucky cat on your side (screenprinted onto an American Apparel tee), you’ll be able to battle the little evils of your day. Also available in pink.

XIII Moon Shirt

If a three-wolf moon shirt could give you wolf-like powers, surely a shirt with three XIII’s could give you super-human powers. This XIII Moon Shirt ($11) features everyone’s talking wolf from Final Fantasy VII in the style of the now-famous empowering shirt. This may or may not give you all the courage of a wolf, while still leaving you the ability to talk and occasionally use magic spells and limit breaks.

A Bathing Ape x Play T-Shirt

Comme des Garcons, a department store business created by a Japanese female Rei Kawakubo and her husband, continues to be known all over the world, with stores located in France, Singapore, Thailand, and New York.  The fashion company has also released specific clothing lines like PLAY, which portrays a pair of eyes and a heart as its main logo.  The simple design is found on many shirts, like the PLAY Shirt (£73.00) pictured here, which is a collaboration between PLAY and another Japanese clothing brand, A Bathing Ape.  Japanese fashion has also hit us in the U.S., and many fashionistas like to rock this simple shirt casually to represent the brand and its design.  Currently, Kanye West has also fed into the PLAY trend, and has been seen wearing PLAY cardigans.

“Let’s Plant” T-Shirt

Godzilla, of all monsters, should know how important it is to treat the environment well. After all, he was the byproduct of nuclear fallout and waste. It must feel bad for people to run away from you all the time, which is maybe the reason why Godzilla is helping the cities now in this “Let’s Plant” T-Shirt ($24.00) from Threadless. Instead of chaos and destruction, here we have a happy Godzilla planting trees, perhaps preventing more of his kind from being born. Buying this shirt would not only help you look cool, but help the Earth’s environment, too, since 25% of the sale will go towards Earth Day Network’s efforts to promote environmental awareness.

Staple Apparel Spring/Summer 2012

This week we are excited to present a look at New York City company Staple Design’s Spring/Summer 2012 apparel collection. “Theology” is the theme, centered around bible verse Mark 8:36, which is printed on a hidden label inside every shirt. Staple’s iconic pigeon, a symbol of perseverance and strength in numbers, can also be found on the short sleeve tees (which are redesigned this season with updated construction and new material) and snapback hats, along with more artist collaborations that the company is famous for. One such shirt, featuring the work of photographer Jonathan Mannion, recalls the Staple Design founder’s previous work at Rawkus Records. The collection officially launches today and is available online at Reed Space.

The white open-plan office could easily be the headquarters of any successful design agency in New York. Looking closer into the tidy clutter, you’ll register sneakers on the shelves and pigeons (plastic) roosting in the corner—realizing this is the home to a company named Staple Design. And in control of this creative coop is none other than Jeff Ng.

Better known as jeffstaple, Jeff presides over a small empire that boosts a retail space cum art gallery (Reed Space NYC and Reed Space Tokyo), menswear collection (Staple Apparel), and quarterly magazine (Reed Pages) in addition to the internationally known creative agency. Staple Design is the driving force behind many well-received projects and collaborations, the most infamous being the 2005 Nike Pigeon Dunks, whose launch caused a consumer frenzy immortalized in news headlines and police reports. The company’s work is impressively diverse, spanning from high-end, like a 2008 project with British car manufacturer Lotus, to the widely affordable, like a sold-out sneaker collection with Payless Shoes. Recently, Staple Design has used its prominence in streetwear culture to launch a humanitarian initiative called truth1585, an effort to “outbrand” and take down the big tobacco industry.

Staple x Jonathan Mannion

Jeff’s success is an inspiring story of entrepreneurship. From humble beginnings as a hair salon sweeper and double college dropout (first from NYU and then from Parsons), Jeff attributes everything to hard work, though it might be interesting to note that he hasn’t had a drop of alcohol or bite of pork since 1993. But with a penchant for quality desk chairs and an extensive collection of letter openers, there is no doubt about his work ethic. His mantra is simply “work harder” and he strives to perfect every detail, even if it meant pushing back the publish date of his magazine. To young entrepreneurs, Jeff says he wishes he had more business education and encourages traveling in order to meet people and “see the bigger picture”. Ironically, to this day, Jeff, keeping to his salon boy roots, shaves his own head and has taught courses at both his almost-alma maters.

Follow jeffstaple on Twitter: @jeffstaple
Check out the Staple Design blog here.

Images courtesy of Staple Design