We all buy clothes, but no two people shop the same. It can be a social experience, and a deeply personal one; at times, it can be impulsive and entertaining, at others, purpose-driven, a chore. Where do you shop? When do you shop? How do you decide what you need, how much to spend and what's "you"? These are some of the questions we're putting to prominent figures in our column "How I Shop."
"If we're talking about what's most important: I love buying cases of Meiomi wine and bringing some of my favorite rosés, Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs to my friends, because it's important to support the brands that you love and also spend time with people that you love," the prolific actor — who's IMDb credits range from HBO's "Lovecraft Country," Comedy Central's "Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens" and ABC's "Once Upon a Time," to the 2009 Disney Channel Original Movie "Princess Protection Program" (an underrated classic, IMO) — says.
This is as true for her wine as it is for her fashion. Chung's made it a point to back brands that align with her values, as well as to back those that have backed her over the years. "We're coming to this new stage of being socially conscious about how you spend your money and your time, realizing, 'Oh, what's most important? What businesses do you support? Are they POC-owned? Are they women entrepreneurs?,'" she says.
Plus, Chung recognizes that she has a valuable platform and is eager to use it. For instance, amid a wave of racist attacks against the AAPI community, she carried a clutch that read "Stop Asian Hate," while wearing a dress by an Asian designer, to a virtual awards show.
Ahead, Chung shares the brands she's been into lately (and why), what about her style has changed — and what hasn't — over the years and how she manages two closets on different coasts. Read on.
"I would say my personal style is quite relaxed, and I think that comes from being born and raised in California. But I do love a good fashion moment. I love bold colors. I love prints. I guess if I had to use one word, it would be laidback fun — I mean, that's two, but there you go.
"There's this really cute dress from Self-Portrait, and the material is really quite fine and nice. It's a really bold, bright blue. What I love about it is that you just throw it on, but you can throw on heels or you can throw on sneakers. I have a lot of dresses like that, that have interesting cutouts or colors but that I can just throw on Birkenstocks or sneakers or sandals.
"I've been gravitating towards leopard pants. A bold pant will really help round out any outfit. Most of my stuff is easy, slip-on gear. I like the zero fuss of [not dealing with] buttons or zippers. A slip dress, that's kind of my go-to.
"I've always had an obsession with sneakers. When I was like 15, 16 years old, I started working at the mall, at The Athlete's Foot; the only reason why I got a job there while in high school was because I wanted — needed — to feed my obsession with sneakers, to wear sneakers and have a closet full of sneakers. I do [still have sneakers I bought in high school]; they're actually these 97 Air Maxes, the metallic ones that look like a wave. I brought them all the way down with me to L.A. They were still in the box and they fucking disintegrated. Now when it comes to fashion, it's like: You're supposed to wear it. It's not supposed to be precious. You can't just leave things in a box — they're meant to be worn and used and lived in.
"I love a good heel, but I feel like I've regressed in terms of my tolerance for wearing heels because of the pandemic. I have quite the collection of sneakers. I have multiple pairs of Jordan 1s. I love a good Air Max. I love NMD. They're just comfortable and cool. I'm so glad that they're back in style. All my heels are packed away; the ones that are three-and-a-half, four inches are on the very top shelf, because I barely wear them anymore. If I do have to wear a heel, it's a kitten heel or, max, an inch and a half.
"The way I think of fashion is very much ease and functionality. Can you do multiple activities in them? Is the outfit versatile? Can you switch it up and dress it up or down? My style became a little bit more sophisticated in my late twenties and thirties. I found what was most comfortable for me, the cuts of dresses and jeans and tops that really help accentuate any kind of figure and that I feel good in.
"We have a lot more warm months in California than we do in New York, so all of my heavier coats — my parkas, faux teddy bear jackets and coats — are in New York, unless I'm skiing on the west coast. If I'm going back and forth and there's a pair of heels that I love that go with everything, I usually take them with me; for staple pieces, like the Stuart Weitzman Nudist, I have a pair of black ones and a pair of nude ones in New York and a pair of each in L.A. I have four pairs of J1s here and four pairs there. I split my obsession up in two different cities, so it doesn't make me feel guilty.
"I love Farm Rio, which has a program where it plants a tree after every purchase. I also love this company called Frame, based out of Los Angeles. I always gravitate towards its clothes because everything is just really cool, but not trying too hard. That's always a fine balance that I'm trying to navigate. It's also socially-conscious — though it's a higher price point, everything is made with proper planning. I love this brand called STHR, owned by a Korean-American woman. Everything is made to order. You can just look at the material and see that so much love was put into it, in terms of the design, the materials picked, the actual sewing. Everything is meticulous, and it's really beautiful.
"I like both [online and in-person shopping.] I also like doing the research on anything, whether it's a steamer or a dress or shoes or accessories. I always try to read the reviews, because I hate to send things back. I mean, talk about a carbon footprint. I'm trying to be mindful of that. I will read as many reviews as I can before pushing that 'buy' button. I do love shopping online and if I can get to a store, great — I'll stop by and pick it up.
"I love a good Bergdorfs field trip, but that's not a frequent place to shop. I still love Rag & Bone. It's still one of my go-tos. I still love Uniqlo, for essentials or hoodies. I love Muji. I can't not go into a fucking Muji store, wherever we go in the world. Excuse me for the F-bomb. I love Jacquemus. I love Zimmerman. Again, these are bold designers, but they're still, in a way, kind of laidback. It's elevated fashion that can still be worn on a daily basis, dressed up or dress down.
"I just got back from Paris, and I've been hunting down this super cool Chanel necklace forever on Instagram, just seeing it everywhere, calling all the stores... I walked into the Chanel store in Paris and was like, 'I doubt you have it, but it's this piece of costume jewelry. No way you have it.' And they had it! It was my one big purchase that I wanted to treat myself to, and it's really special because I found it in Paris.
"I do think these days it's quality over quantity [when packing for work]. I will always bring stuff [on location] that I love throwing on casually, outfits that I will live in for a couple of days before washing. It could get quite stressful, but you have to become a really good packer. The best packing I did was for my last gig in New Zealand. I was like, 'Okay, I might need a floral dress, a solid pair of jeans, a pair of boots, some sweaters.' Just knowing that multiple outfits could be made with what you have. Lately, it's been Zoom meetings, Zoom award shows and Zoom interviews, which really helps with the amount that I pack: Usually, it's just really nice tops and bold colors, things that I would wear out regardless. It's versatility, but gravitating towards forever pieces that I really love.
"In terms of red carpet, I think the grass is always greener on the other side. There are always designers that don't want to dress you and there are always designers that you want to wear, right? Recently, it's aligned in a way where I really made it a point to support Asian designers and people that I've known for a long time. Han [Chong, of Self-Portrait] is a great example of that. Most of his items are at an attainable price point, which I appreciate, but it doesn't affect the quality of his looks and of his design. At the [2020 SAG Awards,] it was Oscar de la Renta; they have two co-designers at the moment and one [Laura Kim] is Asian. Those moments are very special and they're few and far between. It's important that you represent."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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