Talk Around Town

July 4, 2008

Talk Around Town

(05-12-2007)

Dress up or as: youth shock in two styles

by Tran Thu Van

The miniskirt and its use by young girls to rebel against traditional fashion never swept Viet Nam in the swinging sixties, but today youngsters in HCM City and Ha Noi are increasingly using their wardrobes to express their individuality and shock their parents.

While the miniskirt does play its role in the latest fashion trends sweeping Viet Nam, young local trendsetters are looking for inspiration from Tokyo not London.

Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, a 12th-grade student at Kim Lien High School in Ha Noi, says she can’t imagine a life where she wasn’t free to express herself through her clothes, however bizarre they may be to her parents.

Thuy started following Japanese street fashion a few years ago, finding inspiration in the harajuku style, which is named after a trendy shopping area in Tokyo. Dressed in a motley mix of urban threads that mix aspects of the do-it-yourself punk movement with Japanese streetwear, Ha Noi’s harajuku exponents would certainly turn heads on the streets of the capital.

Despite, or maybe in spite of, older people’s disdain for the style, harajuku followers have found joy in the individuality and creative freedom of the trend, swapping their ao dai for a short, pleated schoolgirl’s skirt and a pair of saucy stockings, augmented by a carefully put together grab bag of accessories.

“Having one’s own style makes harajuku interesting,” says Nguyen Lan Anh, a 10th-grade student at Gia Dinh High School in HCM City.

“Everyone wants to make themselves distinctive from others.”

Everyone except the old folks.

“While we young people love to dress like this, our parents definitely feel shocked at seeing us in such weird clothes,” says Minh Vu, a student at Van Hien Private University in HCM City.

Move over, Sailor Moon

But as parents continue to cast disapproving eyes on harajuku, another trend from Japan is taking hold among Vietnamese youth. Cosplay, a combination of the two words costume and play, involves people dressing up as their favourite characters from Japanese manga comics or video games.

This fad, which arrived in Viet Nam in 2005, allows for much more elaborate costumes. Paying attention to minute details, cosplay enthusiasts try to look just like their idols and even try to pick up some of their mannerisms.

Many girls dress like the dashing, pretty nubiles that fill the pages of manga books, while their boyfriends take on the guise of action heroes and video game warriors.

While the harajuku style can be easily translated into casual streetwear, cosplay is reserved for special occasions, such as cosplay festivals or competitions. With recent cosplay festival in both Ha Noi and HCM City, the movement is gathering force.

A competition organised by Kim Dong Publishing House was a playground for hundreds of manga lovers recently, while the Night of 7 Festival in HCM City and the Active Expo 2007 Festival held in Ha Noi last September also attracted the participation of many cosplayers.

It is easy to understand why cosplay has such a strong attraction for teenagers, who want to be like their idols.

“What can be more wonderful than becoming a character you love for one day?” says Thuy. “And what can be better than people saying that it looks like you’ve just stepped off the screen?”

The fad has become so popular that more and more businesses selling special cosplay costumes are opening up.

Depending on the cosplayer’s creativity and the character they want to become, a costume may cost as little as VND300,000(US$1 8) or as much as several million dong. The average price for an outfit is about VND1 million ($62.50). This is no small amount for Vietnamese teenagers who are still studying, so cosplay for many is still a luxury pursuit.

While some are lucky enough to be able to splurge on costumes, other manga fans on a shoestring budget have to get a bit more creative.

Nguyen Dieu Linh, who studies at the Ha Noi College of Arts, buys cloth for her costumes and takes it to a tailor with the cosplay design of her choice.

Cosplay can be a harmless type of entertainment. Dressing up is a part of Vietnamese culture, and it’s up to each individual cosplayer to choose which character he or she becomes, as long as they don’t dress up as Godzilla on the day of their grandmother’s birthday party. —VNS

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