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Look of the Week: Mulan's silk bomber jacket in Ralph Breaks the Internet

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Aug 19, 2018

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

Disney princesses don’t all the dress the same, but a version of formal wear is part of their attire. A hoodie is not the standard look for someone with a royal title unless that person is name is Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman). This Thanksgiving in the Wreck-it Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Vanellope end up in the internet trying to find a part for their game. However, it is not as simple as dropping the item in a shopping cart and paying for it.  

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) only featured briefly in the Ralph Breaks the Internet trailer, which was released in June, but fans will be pleased to see she is very much part of this hangout scene. Vanellope is not particularly thrilled at having an opportunity to spend time with this group of women until she realizes they actually have a lot in common.

As Silverman noted when talking to Entertainment Weekly, “The princesses and Vanellope learn a lot from each other, but what happens in that discussion is acknowledging the… I don’t want to say just blatant sexism, but the kind of dated, antiquated idea of princesses and bringing it up to a feminist — meaning equal — code.” Mulan is no stranger to this as she was told by Chi-Fu (James Hong), “She’s a woman! She’ll never be worth anything.”

It also looks like Vanellope is about to embark on a new career as style influencer, which feels like a natural career progression after spending this much time in the internet.

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Entertainment Weekly released an image featuring some of the Disney princesses in casual attire; Vanellope encourages them to embrace clothes that are less restrictive — switching out ball gowns with a cinched waist for pants and T-shirts. Sarah Silverman spoke to the magazine about this scene explaining, “I’m very proud of my character being a Disney princess with a human waist. I love that she is a princess but wears, like, a hoodie, and she inspires them all to wear comfortable clothes.”

Each ensemble is custom to the character mirroring some aspect of their classic outfits so Snow White (Pamela Ribon) is in an off-the-shoulder top with an image of a poison apple, Elsa’s (Idina Menzel) tee reads  “Just Let it Go” and a “Shiny” slogan on Moana’s (Auli'i Cravalho) tank.

The jacket that looks like it could have come straight from the runway is Mulan’s. The silk bomber dates back to the 1940s, but it was the Gucci spring 2016 collection that brought this garment back into the fashion forefront. The last three years have seen numerous takes on the embroidered silk bomber from high-end brands to fast-fashion retailers. You can even buy a Mulan inspired version from Hot Topic that was available before the Ralph Breaks the Internet image was even released.  

Ralph Breaks the Internet
Mulan’s red and gold silk bomber features dragon imagery — a nod to both the emperor’s crest and Mushu — is paired with skinny black rolled up jeans and red Converse high tops, for that super chilled vibe. A lot of the outfits in this shot will sell well; however, the silk bomber is undoubtedly the most sartorially pleasing of the looks.

A quick note on the history of the silk bomber that definitely did not start with Gucci or Ryan Gosling in Drive, instead its origin is far murkier than that. As with a lot of outerwear, the silk bomber originates from military attire — see also the trench coat and capes — and is also known as the souvenir or Sukajan jacket. The A2 Bomber jacket was introduced by the Army Air Corps as standard issue in 1931 because temperatures at a high-altitude were so low. Airman would decorate their jackets by hand-painting images often mirroring the nose art or adding squadron patches. Some even wore insignia designed by Disney artists, which brings this full circle in a somewhat eerie manner.

In the U.S. occupied Japan after WWII was over, one soldier took his bomber jacket to a local tailor to give his jacket a makeover featuring an embroidered symbol from the local culture. Japanese brand Tailor Toyo has been making these jackets since the 1940s and legend has it that they were the tailor this soldier visited. Servicemen mixed East and West choosing traditional images such as tigers, cherry blossom, and dragons with their unit names.

As the Tailor Toya website states this “is not merely a temporary trend, but a representation of the culture that has been passed down for generations and the essence of originality and authenticity.” This garment has a complicated history; a souvenir of war that has been transformed into beautiful jackets worn over 70 years later.

Mulan has been to war; she has worn armor so putting her in a piece of clothing steeped in military history makes sense. But Mulan is Chinese, the jacket is Japanese (and American) in origin so this does read as somewhat tone deaf if Disney were hoping to nod to Mulan’s heritage in her updated outfit. It is a super stylish ensemble, but its complicated origin cannot be ignored.  

Playing dress-up in pretty dresses is fun, but I am very much looking forward to seeing kids (and adults) wearing these casual looks, which will no doubt be available in some form at the Disney store when Ralph Breaks the Internet is released at Thanksgiving. By having Vanellope interact and impact the outfits of 14 different princesses there is something for everyone; now with the added option of casual and fancy attire. Ralph might be the one breaking the internet, but Vanellope is undoubtedly the influencer of the pair.