urban fashion trends

While different Chinese cities display dissimilar configurations of fashion cultures and different regional urban centres have developed distinctive fashion cultures, it is still possible to identify some of the common contours of fashion among young women in the largest Chinese metropolises.
A small number of young women pursue brandname high fashion. They come from disparate social backgrounds (e.g. children of high-ranking officials or successful businessmen, hostesses of expensive nightclubs, members of the fashion industry, and the girlfriends, mistresses and wives of the rich), and tend to gather in certain consumption spaces in the city—exclusive malls, restaurants and dance clubs. Other women prefer ‘professional wear’ (zhiyefu) for its fashion-neutrality and propriety, in contrast to trendy or sporty casual wear. Worn not only in the context of office and work but on all kinds of leisurely occasions as well, ‘professional wear’ wasoriginally composed of matching suit-like jacket and skirt (or trousers) in plain colours and style, but has gradually come to incorporate a variety of fashion elements. A large number of urban young women subscribe to ‘casual wear’ (xiuxianfu). Made up mainly of T-shirts, sweaters, jeans and sneakers, casual wear is not dissimilar to that found in the West. However, foreign-trained designers notice that Chinese consumers display certain local preferences in casual wear such as bright colours and the crowding of features. Hip-hop influenced ‘street wear’, offering a conspicuous and affordable stylistic alternative to elitist high fashion, has captured many Chinese teenagers in the past few years. Koreanized ‘street wear’ is more stylistically radical and is popular in northern cities, whereas Japanized ‘street wear’ centres more on brandnames and is popular in the south. China has not yet generated a very distinctive local version of ‘street wear’. Finally, there are at least two commercially successful and interesting contemporary local urban fashion trends: the ‘hostess look’ and ‘ladies’ wear’ (shunufu). The ‘hostess look’ juxtaposes high fashion with feminine, gaudy and erotic elements. ‘Ladies’ wear’ combines Chinese traditional and Victorian sartorial features with whatever is currently in vogue in the West.
Although the clothes that most contemporary urban Chinese normally wear contain few traditional sartorial elements and should appear largely familiar to Western observers, they display numerous local features upon closer scrutiny. Many of these features developed out of unintended local mutations of Western dress.
The most widespread is probably the exposure of the neck of stockings beneath the hemline. Exposing the neck of stockings may evoke images of untidiness, eroticism or indecency by Western conventions, but it assumes neutral or positive meanings in urban China, not to mention the warmth it provides. Exposed short stockings emerged in the early 1980s and are still often seen in urban China, but the social profile of their wearers has changed. Young and fashion-conscious metropolitan women have abandoned the practice as they internalized Western sartorial conventions (through the globalized fashion media in coastal metropolises) or as they were stigmatized for wearing exposed stockings (through personal contacts with globalized people and institutions in the coastal metropolises). Another widespread local fashion practice involves retaining brandname labels on, for example, the sleeve of men’s jackets or the limb of sunglasses. Like exposed stockings, the display of brandname labels gradually retreated to older and provincial patrons as they came to be regarded as low-status fashion symbols in Chinese metropolises of the 1990s. Other local fashion practices that show signs of going through similar stages include handbags on successful middle-aged men and ponytails on fashionable young women.
Chew, Matthew (2003). The Dual Consequences of Cultural Localization: How Exposed Short Stockings Subvert and Sustain Global Cultural Hierarchy’. positions: east asia cultures critique 11.2 (special issue).
Hua, Mei (2000). Fushi qinghuai [Sartorial Impressions]. Tianjin: Tianjin renmin chubanshe.
——(2002). Dingwei Shishang [Positioning Fashion]. Tianjin: Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House.
Zhang, Jingqiong (2002). Xifu Dong jian: Ershi Shiji Zhongwai Fushi Jiaoliu [Eastern Diffusion ofWestern Dress: A History of Sartorial Exchange between China and Foreign Countries in the Twentieth Century]. Hefei: Anhui Arts Publisher.
MATTHEW CHEW

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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