You know, I wear these all the time and I have to say this is the first thing I've ever knowingly done or worn or even said that has been linked in any way to racism. I'm kind of stumped on that one...
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Somewhere between the multitude of sexual-harassment suits against owner Dov Charney, the sleazy advertising (some of which you'll probably see not too many pages away from these words) and the increasingly horrific clothing, American Apparel recently put up for sale a $15 rice-paddy hat. That is, a straw "Conical Asian Hat"— you know, that triangular headgear you see impoverished Asian laborers wearing while working the rice fields in the movies—being hawked to wealthy (in comparison, at least) first-worlders. For $15.
Once upon a time, American Apparel filled some kind of sartorial void, with soft T-shirts in a wide range of colors with good cuts and fits. They were nearly impossible to track down not too long ago, with Hanes and Fruit of the Loom providing the closest thing to a decent white, cotton tee. But now, the perfect T-shirt fit and feel has been perfected by even Target, Forever 21 and Sears for $10 or less. And then there was that business with Charney whipping it out in front of journalists and the $260 million lawsuit filed by a former employee who claims she was forced to perform sex acts. And etc.
Anyway, back to that conical hat: Is it racist? Some might say it is. The headgear obviously conjures up imagery of the coolie, thrown in with a dash of that good ol' Orientalism. Forbes has pointed out the same hat has ducked in and out of fashion since the 1940s. It's not exactly a rare occurrence when the Western world decides to appropriate a piece of clothing from a culture without first realizing the deeper meaning behind it—remember when the keffiyeh scarf, a Palestinian national symbol, hit it big a few years ago with the Urban Outfitters crowd? Ignorant and absolutely fucking stupid, yes. Racist? Maybe not. Shallow? Most definitely.
I, however, think anyone who actually forks over $15 for a "Conical Asian Hat," wears it out and thinks they look good—well, that's punishment enough. Third World fashion: so hot right now.
This column appeared in print as "Hatful of Hollow."