Does American Apparel’s Ching Chong Hat Offend You?

by Guest Contributor Alex Jung, originally published at Fashion Mole

American Apparel Hat

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.”

Abercrombie Racist Tee

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.


Editorial Cartoon

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.

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  • Anonymous

    I don’t like the whole idea of “ethnic” clothing being worn by predominantly white people who don’t actually like the people of the culture that the item comes from. It’s like those jackasses who eat sushi and pad thai eight days a week, but still have disdain for actual Asian people. And the name “conical Asian hat” just adds injury to insult. It’s like naming an item “baggy negro pants” or something equally horrendous!

  • Alcpollard

    So as an thai american, if i wore such a hat to represent my culture what would you think? I have very fair skin as does my mother (who is full thai). Thus, would you go up to every single person wearing this hat and ask for a full description of their heritage? If they had no East Asian ancestry would you berate them for being so “inconsiderate”? How can you judge “hard” based on looks alone?

    The reason this hat is most likely being produced by AA is because of its recent rise in popularity in Australia among cricket fans. Designers most likely saw that westerns would  wear the hat, and jumped on a (would-be) fad. 

  • Lady Shasha

    While I would not buy this hat or anything else from American Apparel because their CEO is a sexually harassing prick and they have made other racially insensitive products, a rice paddy hat in of itself is not a racist item. People are free to ear whatever hat they want to. If garments could only be worn by people from which that garment originated, then only certain people could wear plaids associated with Irish/Scottish clans, gold bangles and bamboo jewelry could not be worn by a westerner etc. etc. 

  • Alcpollard

    Question: How is this offensive but the marketing of Buddha at malls and discount stores across America does not? If it does, how is this hat a surprise?

  • Kari

    I think it just depends on context. As a side note, sort of unrelated…I am Native American from the Pacific Northwest and our people wear woven conical hats similar to this one discussed above. I recall once I was sitting on the beach waiting for canoes to come in and wearing my mothers woven cedar hat when this Non Native man came up to me and said “You have a nice hat, you look just like a Chinaman.” Needless to say I was shocked into silence. I kind of just mumbled a “yeah okay” while thinking, did he just say chinaman? seriously, who says that anymore.

  • Kayle

    It’s definitely exoticism. But probably retro exoticism, mostly. I’d think it’s really only certainly racist when it ceases to be functionally necessary. But if it’s a “style” to wear it as opposed to something else that works just as well, I guess that puts it over that line, doesn’t it?

  • rose l. chou

    I would argue that the hat itself is indeed racist, because it is created and produced by the fetishist company American Apparel.  Rice paddy hats in general are not racist, but this specific item is.

  • Cleo Hines

    Oh, and just to say , it wasn’t the hat so much that killed me, but the NAME of the hat

  • Cleo Hines

    OMG!! I saw the ad for this on some banner on a webpage and my eyes bugged out on first reaction. Then I remembered that it was American Apparel and ceased to be surprised

  • Ay-leen the Peacemaker

    Quote: “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.”

    Granted, that as a Vietnamese-American female whose family fought against the VietCong, I would be actually more offended to see anyone dress like one of them for Halloween, whether the person is AsAm or not.  Because y’know, it’s not like we’re celebrating a victory by dressing up as the enemy in this case…

    But I’ve seen some cool Asian steampunk outfits using the coolie hat, including Nai the Spiderlily:

    • Darin Rey

      “dress like one of them”?  They -dressed- as Vietnamese would dress. They fought for Vietnam.  You actually think the U.S. invaders were heroes coming to “liberate” Vietnam?

  • j.

    I was discussing this on another forum and was amazed at how so many people didn’t seem to understand why this hat could be offensive. I guess people really are ignorant of its historically Orientalist associations.

    • Kayle

      It’s “invisible” to them is more like it. They still have them all the time and well, Tibetan stuff..