Fashion Takeover

China’s desire for self-identity is present more than ever. According to Lizhu Fan and James Whitehead, “At this stage in China’s history, middle-class Chinese are consciously endeavoring to interpret their lives for themselves” (Lizhu and Whitehead 2011: location 546). Having been here three weeks, I am realizing that mainland Chinese citizens, at least those in Shanghai, are expressing and interpreting their self-identity through fashion.

Recently, I visited Xintiandi (新天地). This affluent area is filled with designer boutiques and expensive western restaurants. While strolling along the cobblestone streets, there are no cars allowed, a group of university students studying fashion design stopped me. They asked me about my home country and my perception of fashion. Each smiled when I told them I live in America. After a further inquiry about their second question, I compared American fashion to Chinese fashion. To me, the Chinese are more outlandish and daring with their outfits. According to many Americans, any outfit that includes more than a tshirt, jeans, and shoes is considered outlandish. Of course, that is not my opinion. I want Americans to be more outlandish and daring with their clothes, add some spice. In this case, I used those two words with a positive connotation. These Chinese students had no idea what I meant by outlandish, and I enjoyed explaining it to them. They asked me about my favorite designer and one word I would use to describe fashion. Miuccia Prada was the first designer that came to mind and individuality, true yet cliché, seemed to be the right word.

During the conversation, the students remarked that my outfit (shorts, a button down, and sneakers) looked comfortable, a term I usually apply to sweat pants. They suggested that Americans always look so comfortable. I was unsure how to react to their statement, so I smiled and thanked them. My outfit intrigued them so much that they wanted a picture, and I obliged.

This afternoon I had the opportunity to attend Shanghai’s biannual event called the Design Art and Fashion Fair (DAFF). Along with a few runway shows, music, and vendors, many well dressed and on-trend people attended the event. The vendors offered anything from cheeses to custom-made vans, but the people are the ones to watch. The photos used in this blog post are from the event.

Clothing is the best form of expression, especially for the Chinese. Even though China lacks many of the freedoms enjoyed by Americans, more and more Chinese citizens are determined to define their identity through personal choice. Determined to distance themselves from the message behind the Mao suit or their school uniform, this personal choice can include having or lacking religion, deciding where to eat, deciding what to eat, job choice, or even the simplest task of deciding what outfit to wear. After years of blending in, China is ready to stand out.