For quite sometime, I’ve always wondered about the state of Mainland Chinese fashion. I mean, I’ve a grasp on both Japanese and Korean fashion but hardly anything on Chinese fashion—and to think, I’m practically half Chinese! So I tried my hand at researching the topic a few months back but to no avail—it was either I wound up with some dated material about oriental collars or practically something that I wouldn’t be able to understand (I’ll chalk it up to knowing only first grade conversational Mandarin).
So I figured, the only way for me to get a smidgen of understanding was to immerse myself in the country and the society. Thankfully, for this year alone, I was able to visit Guangzhou during the first quarter, and Shanghai during the second. It allowed me to be more critical and observant of the Chinese person’s way of dressing. See below photos of myself in Beijing Lu, Guangzhou, and then People’s Square, Shanghai.
Aviator leather jacket: H&M | Scarf: Forever 21 | Leopard Skirt: Debenham’s | Boots: Promod | Bag: Louis Vuitton Damier
White Button Down: Lanvin | Necklace: Forever 21 | Pink Belt: Anne Smith | Bag: Louis Vuitton Monogram Speedy | Loafers: So Fab
Before I share my thoughts with everyone, I just want to make it clear that my observations are in no way accurate. Please take my “being a foreigner” and a “third person partial observer” into account: as is with most things, no amount of interview and research will allow me to state my findings as completely factual.
I am still in the process of understanding the way fashion works to the Chinese individuals and I don’t think I’ll ever stop. It’s a rather fascinating subject.
ONE: CHINESE WOMEN LOVE JAPANESE FASHION
First-hand experience: While shopping in Guangzhou, an army of sales ladies formed outside the aisle, apparently stepping out of their boutiques in mid-transaction as a Japanese foreigner, dressed to the nines in the midst of the five degree weather, passed by. They all started gushing in unison, choruses of “she’s so pretty” and “she’s so slim” filling the air. I reckoned that her hair extensions, falsies, and contact lenses contributed a lot to her over-all look but I decided not to point that out to the sales lady attending to my queries as I wanted a huge discount on my purchases—wouldn’t do so well if I challenged her sensibilities, now would it?
As evidenced by: The original Japanese VIVI magazine being sold in various public newsstands, Chinese publication of Vivi and Mina magazine all over Family Mart or Buddy, the influx of BB Creams, falsies, and over-the-counter circle lenses, our Chinese liaison saying that Japanese fashion is so “trendy” and “hot” to both the male and female market.
Upside: The bright side to this is that, they’ve only really taken semblances of Japanese fashion and worked it into their aesthetics—something that holds true for all societies. I think it’s hard to emulate a society’s fashion 100%–there are too many hindrances: available resources, environment, and what not. Take it from the Chinese! It is important for everyone to be open-minded in this respect and take in whatever it is that we can about another society’s fashion and learn to integrate!
TWO: CHINESE FASHION IS HEAVY ON THE TRENDS
Thoughts: My dad thinks of the Chinese fashion aesthetics as “kitschy” and “garish”—pointing out their partiality towards strange color combinations, cheap-looking fabrics, and fake handbags. I told him his input was invalid seeing as he wasn’t really fashionable to begin with and was pretty much being hypocritical and racist (is that even possible). Although to some extent, I understand where his observations are coming from, I think that the Chinese are so bent on being avant-garde that they tend to wear various trends all at once—and we all know what they say about too much of a good thing, right? Plus, they don’t really care much for brands, a good portion of women sport “designer-inspired” handbags to high-end malls and they don’t really mind the quality or the price of clothing for that matter, evident with teens buying thin cotton shirts from obscure Chinese shops that price their goods twice than a high-street boutique like Zara would.
Chinese determinant of being fashionable: As per my interviewee, the Chinese judge a person’s taste based on how they are able to integrate trends into their wardrobe. The more, the better!
Positive side: The Chinese being “trend conscious” pretty much solidifies the fact that China is a hotbed for budget-friendly fast fashion. It’s not the best quality ever but if it’s something you’re planning to wear for only a month, you can bet that China has it at whatever corner, if you know where to look. But just because they’re known for producing fast fashion doesn’t mean that their goods have entirely poor quality. It’s the law of averages, sure, if you want something extremely cheap and extremely trend, chances are, it’s of low quality but if you’re willing to pay, then you’ll get something that will last you a lifetime.
THREE: MAKING A LIVELIHOOD OUT OF SILK FABRICS
Among the number of things the Chinese invented, the production of silk fabric is a noteworthy contribution not only the fashion industry should take into account but the entire world as well.
My visit to the Silk Museum in Shanghai recently was one of my trip’s highlights. I was fascinated by the entire process of creating the fabric and was fascinated that this was something China had been cultivating for god only knows how long, for probably n number of centuries.
The process, correct me if I’m wrong, is called “Sericulture.”
The Process: Basically, a silk worm takes around 25 – 29 days to mature on a standard. It is only then that it is read to create a cocoon for itself in preparation for metamorphosis. Once the cocoon has been fashioned, “reeling women” will have to harvest them and submerge them into hot water in order to kill the pupae. The thing is, if you allow the moth to emerge, it will create a hole that will prevent the spinsters to reel the thread. When the silk is unwound, it is approximately 1000 meters.
Trivia: Around 600 meters are needed to create a woman’s blouse.
Status: The silk industry in China is still thriving. For most, it is still considered a “luxury” item.
FOUR: EVEN THE MEN ARE FASHIONABLE
At every corner, you have men of all ages being fashionable, especially in the main cities. I guess this is mostly because I hung out in business districts and so, dressing sharply is mandatory. However, once I traipsed along the province, I was surprised to see old men on bicycles on the way to the local market donning maroon velvet blazers paired with tapered olive slacks with loafers.
On one occasion, I saw a straight man with his girlfriend wearing a leopard print cardigan.
FIVE: THEY’RE NOT ALL THAT DIFFERENT FROM US
Yes, you’d be surprised to know that the way the Chinese people perceive fashion is in no way different from each one of us—whether you’re like me, living in the Philippines, or from the West. Fashion is a collective product from an amalgam of local and international traditions and cultures; it is something deeply rooted and entwined in a society.
Sure, externally it is different—the output is different, aesthetics is different, size is different but the way in which fashion is perceived, it is pretty much intrinsically similar.
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly when asked, Fashion tells a story. In this case, Chinese fashion tells a rich history of how Fashion has come to be in China, how it has evolved through the years, what it symbolizes across various classes, and how the society deals with it now.
Just in case you’re all wondering, the photo above is of me and my friend Weesa. No, she’s not a Chinese local but she can be mistaken for one, haha! We are standing in front of Guangzhou’s shoe city, with the faux fur coat she purchased just the day before (and regretted).