Emily Wang is a dual-degree sophomore in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and the Bienen School of Music studying Statistics and Violin Performance with a minor in Asian American Studies.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
What are you involved in on campus?
I’m involved in STITCH, a fashion publication on campus, APAC (Asian Pacific American Coalition), and CSA (Chinese Students Association). Although, I would like to add that, due to my schedule this year, I have been a horrible member of these groups!!
Could you describe your personal style?
You could probably predict my style based on three factors in order of importance: comfort, fit, and my mood that day. Because I prioritize comfort, sometimes I do look like a potato sack and that’s because I feel like a potato sack. Fit comes next because it can make or break an outfit. Oversized, snug, too loose, too tight — these are all style choices that sneak in subtly with fit. Last, my mood that day matters because it’s a wild card. Sometimes I really do just feel like I wear WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT because I can. And actually, that’s really cool. So thank you to decades of activist work that has allowed me to look at a closet, from pants to skirts to mini-dresses to ripped jeans, and be able to just choose. Here’s to progress!
How does your cultural background play into your style?
I think cultural background plays more into the way I think about style more than my style itself. That’s a somewhat roundabout way of saying, yes, it does play into my style. Ultimately, cultural background is an ingrained way of how I think, act, speak, and perceive the world and myself — in concrete terms, it means that I look at Lululemon leggings or sorority sweatshirts and I’m like, hmm, not for me.
Being Chinese-American, I have a certain meager idea of style in China versus style in the US, and while I don’t necessarily straddle the line between the two, I definitely am drawn to non-American aesthetics sometimes. Especially with formal wear, I like to channel my cultural background more with accessories or even the outfit itself (I wore a qipao to my high school graduation). I’m more particular about choosing pieces that have certain cultural connotations, like dresses that have a dragon print or reference — cough cough rip off — qipao fabric, because it has a more significant connection to my heritage. That’s why I would never want to wear something that seems “Chinese” — oh boy you could really unpack that — but is made by people trying to capitalize off and exoticize China.
I also really think that my identity as Chinese-American, not Chinese, is really important — take the white girl who wore a qipao to her prom. Chinese-Americans, who are more acutely aware of the struggles Chinese people went through and continue to face in America, strongly criticized her clothing choice. Chinese people in China, who don’t know about the Chinese Exclusion Act or were not subjects of Anti-Chinese sentiment from Yellow Peril, didn’t really care and were even glad that someone was sharing their culture. I’m not criticizing Chinese people in the mainland, I just mean to emphasize that there are complexities to identities, and that people can’t be easily grouped into one-off categories.
How did you figure your style out; what was your style journey and how did you settle on what you wear now?
I had a very non-linear style journey shaped by my mom when I was growing up, then an unfortunate period of rebelliousness fueled by the advent of Forever 21, then a period of adjustment when I began the cocoon process of my style, and now, where I hope to still be in the cocoon process (because how sad would it be if now is my final evolution). I think my style journey reflects a lot of my personal journey with self confidence, since WHO I let influence my style was a big factor into my style itself. Annoying middle schoolers, the stylists who worked on Justice, and later, Forever 21 ads, Instagram fashion bloggers, Tumblr girls, sometimes even friends — they all influenced my style and helped produce a truckload of embarrassing fashion choices. Once I started to let myself control style the most, I began to feel more myself. It’s still a work in progress!! Now, my fashion is very much shaped by the way I shop — I mainly thrift, for price and sustainability. I’m a lot more conscious about how the fashion industry creates waste and oppression, and I don’t want to be a part of the toxic mess.
Do you think your family has influenced your style at all? What did you know about style growing up and did they influence anything about what you wear?
My mom definitely influenced my style! She influences my whole family’s style, because she basically picks out outfits for my dad, and makes spontaneous purchases for my brother, who started being more conscious about his fashion only a few years ago. Growing up and even now, my mom always had a chic, classic style that pushed the boundaries a little -- her outfits are never boring, but they’re rooted in a recognizable silhouette, print, or piece. People are always commenting on how put together she is, but she also has a side of her that massively prioritized comfort, so our family jokes that she either looks like a million dollars, or really doesn’t. In many ways, I think I’ve been inspired by her fashion taste, but our opinions on specific pieces and outfits are unique.
Do you think fashion to you is a form of individuality?
Absolutely! Someone’s fashion is the physical manifestation of their individual journey — what they saw on TV or in magazines when growing up, what types of clothes their parents wear, what pieces they are attracted to, even the question of whether they care about fashion at all is related both to individuality and fashion. You can make a lot of assumptions about people based on their fashion choices, and although those assumptions can be incorrect, they are indicative of the way fashion represents a person’s life in some way. Even people who don’t give a rat’s ass about fashion are making a statement: that they don’t give a rat’s ass about fashion. Maybe it’s purposeful, like I Don’t Give a Rat’s Ass About Fashion! Or maybe they just don’t think about it too much, maybe their friends or parents didn’t care that much, maybe they just want to wear the first thing they put their hands on. That’s spontaneous! That’s individual!