Thursday, October 25, 2007

Fashion Trends

(NB:Bear with my descriptions, I'm no fashionisto either.)

Styles of dress in China easily identify various socio-economic classes. The poorest people in China live in the countryside. Other than Tibetans, and the women of a few other minorities, China's peasants don't usually wear traditional dress. Today, plastic flip-flops, army surplus jackets, and bland t-shirts are the norm. Hair worn up in a pink towel may sometimes be substituted for a traditional headdress. The next rung up the ladder (barely up the ladder, and on a precarious and dangerously overstrained rung at that) are migrant labor that have recently come to the city. Their attire is about the same as their cousins in the countryside, because they probably shop at the same second-hand clothing markets.

Soon after arriving in the big city, however, the lower class tends (oddly) to dress in a full business suit, usually black or charcoal grey. True, the suit jacket is almost always too large, the slacks stained. The shiny black shoes of the would-be social-climber must be the main source of income for all those street shoe polishers. Seeing immediately identifiable over-dressed plebs, I can only liken them to the (perhaps cleaner, but not better dressed) Communist Party dinosaurs that often found hawking a loogie at all the finer resorts and tourist traps of China. I suppose that mimicry is the truest form of flattery, as they say.

The middle class, by contrast, can be more accurately described as a fashion zoo: all the strangest clothing ideas that Chinese fashion designers can shove out the door are displayed each day on the average urban teenager or blue-collar folk. Polka dots and candy stripes, crimes against the English language printed proudly across the front and back of T-shirts and on the seats of pants, absurb copyright infringements (Mickey and Spiderman conspire to switch identities), clothy tentacles that apparently serve no practical purpose, kitsche and glitter taken to new vainglorious dimensions. You get the idea. China's domestic clothing industry relies on this daring (or tasteless) demographic.

The upper class (that is the young pampered spawn of dinosaurs as well as the new industrialists) are by far the best dressers. I'm no great judge of such matters, in fact, but Asian friends in college always used to joke that the easiest way to tell a Chinese from a Korean or a Japanese was the tasteless manner of dress. I would suggest to them now, that they might have difficulty telling the difference with this new, cosmopolitan uppercrust gradually moving radpidly away from its nouveau riche baby years, much less the more distant, mao-suited past.

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