Some Asian American Style Imperatives

Sure, let’s all dress like willowy, small-headed, blue-eyed blondes with fair pinkish skin. And long waists. And thighs that are thinner than our calves. And while we’re at it, let’s slather conditioner in our hair to create the illusion of fullness.

Sound scary? But that’s exactly what too many Asian Americans do without thinking about it. It’s aesthetic agony, stylistic suicide, fashion faux pas.

Style and aesthetics are about working with — and not against — physical reality. The reality is that we have thick dark hair (though often dark brown, not black), dark eyes (though quite a few northern Asians have not-so-dark golden eyes), slightly bigger heads (adapted for cold climates and bigger craniums), shorter waists, thicker, proportionately shorter thighs and longer calves, skin that ranges from pale to dark but never pinkish. That’s because our Asian skin tones are a product of two types of melanin — eumelanin and pheomelanin. The eumelanin imparts brownish hues that mix with the pinkish-yellowish hues of pheomelanin to produce shades ranging from pale golden to dark brown. But never pink. Caucasian skin contains only pheomelanin, allowing skin commonly in the pink range.

So there are distinctive physical differences. And they dictate certain strategies to set our features off to advantage. Or we could just keep dressing like northern European runway models and look perpetually off-brand.

Here’s what I’ve learned to avoid. Oranges and browns (except dark brown) because they make our skin look dingy, downscale. Stiff fabrics because they make most of us who are of average Asian height look stubby. Long hair because it makes most of us look like munchkins — cute but hardly glamorous. Generally light-colored ensembles because they make our overall presentation too top-heavy and our facial features look too strong and severe. Blue denim because they don’t flatter our hair and skin color.

Here’s what I’ve learned to lean on heavily. Black because, let’s face it, black is the new, old and forever black — the color of glamour, power and hip. Unlike most other colors, black is strong enough to balance out our biggish heads, dark hair and dark eyes so they seem less overbearing. Best of all, other people don’t look as good in black. For most Blacks it’s just too much dark. For Whites, the color overpowers the coloring of their faces and hair. Latinos look good in black too, but then their coloring and proportions are very similar to us Asians. In fact, they’re really Asians who took the long way to the New World, picking up some South European/North African blood along the way.

I also like hot pink, green, yellow, purple, dark gray because they enhance, rather than fight with, our coloring. White is good if you have a great tan but not if you’re a sallow all-day-in-the-library type. Camel also requires a good tan to pull off. Taupe works pretty well even if your tan is weak. And instead of blue jeans, try jeans in black or gray or even jewel tones if you’re on the tall side. If you’re a pocket rocket like me, better to stick to softer fabrics.

And unless you’re a teen giantess with long, long legs, please don’t wear your hair long. I blush when I see Asian women who look like those long-haired dolls that come boxed with toy hair brushes. It says, Play with me, please! A stylishly modern cut could so move them up a few big notches on the socio-economic scale.