by Guest Contributor Alex Jung, originally published at Fashion Mole
The good women from Disgrasian have pointed out that American Apparel is selling a rice paddy hat for $15. I’m a little surprised it has taken American Apparel so long to get on with this “trend.” I remember first seeing it on whipster (white hipster) fashion student Nora from the first season of Project Runway, and that was like 8 seasons ago. Anyway, AA is really scraping the bottom of the PBR barrel with this one.
The Disgrasian bloggers let the hat speak for itself and instead eviscerate the would-be wearers as fashion victims. Fair enough. Wearing it would make you look like an asshat. But is it racist?
The hat brings me back to the sweet times of my youth when Abercrombie & Fitch was the hip brand (hey, I’m from Florida). A&F stirred controversy for their excessively racist t-shirts, that depicted caricatures of Asian men wearing – yup, you guessed it – rice paddy hats with slogans like “Two Wongs Can Make It White.”
Rice paddy hats have a long history in the American imagination stemming, most directly, from the Vietnam War. Movies like Oliver Stone’s Platoon, and other Vietnam War movies, often depict desperate, fleeing Vietnamese in rice paddy hats. The hats are also a common trope in editorial cartoons.
The hat itself isn’t racist, but it has a deep, Orientalist history that subsumes multiple nations, histories, and billions of people, under one big coolie hat. What is truly offensive is the ability of the West to take something like a rice paddy hat, something that has actual meaning and substance and shape and turn it into a cheap symbol of the Orient. If I drew a head with that conical hat on it, a viewer would immediately know to reference: Asian person.
I’m trying to think of a time and place where I would welcome the coolie hat, that is not mid-summer on Bedford on a whipster or traveling in rural Asia. It would be Halloween. The wearer would be an Asian American female, dressed like a Vietcong guerrilla fighter with a sniper rifle slung around her in a reference to Full Metal Jacket. The hat would look pretty badass.