A Sense of Style

One of the first things I noticed, when I arrived in China, was that people here have a different sense of clothing style.  Growing up, I learned the norms of my own society about how to put together an outfit of clothing.  This includes a sense of what colors go together or clash, what colors are worn where and when, what styles are reserved for what occasions, what textures match well together. 

I remember in the USA one time helping an Indian friend shop for clothing appropriate for an American funeral.  We were looking at black suits.  My friend told me how difficult it was for her not to wear white, because white is the appropriate color for an Indian funeral (it represents "going beyond" the material world into the lightness of the spiritual world, she said). 

I also remember one time putting together, during high school, an outfit that had a pattern on top and stripes down below.  My mom informed me that even though the colors and textures went well together, the two fabrics didn’t go together because the patterns were considered, in combination, to be too busy.  These ideas about color and texture are just the most fundamental culturally based considerations about style.  Beyond these rules (which are sometimes deliberately broken by fashion designers), Fashion adds another layer of complexity in style.    

Here in Asia, in my experience, people are much less concerned about color than they would be in the West.  But in fact they are just as particular.  They are concerned about different things — more concerned about fabric textures and shapes.  People, in general, seem to be more liberal about what they think goes together and when it can be worn.  Basically, if a woman thinks something is pretty, she will probably wear it even if in another culture it might be considered too dressy.  For example, just yesterday I saw a woman out shopping in a black satin dress with lace sleeves.  In another culture, such a dress might be considered out of place anywhere but at a cocktail party.  It would not have been worn during the day on a shopping excursion.  But she liked that dress and she didn’t know that rule.  She looked very pretty. 

(On the other hand, I rarely see variations toward being more casual in
the grand scale of what is acceptable, but then Americans can be about
as casual as they get.  Case in point?  You will virtually never see a
conservative Chinese woman wearing spaghetti straps, more likely a
blouse will cover all the shoulder.)

Over time, I’ve become more Chinese in my own visual taste, as well.  The other day Munchkin dressed herself for school in a perfectly nice, well matched outfit. Well matched from a Chinese viewpoint, that is.  I thought it looked nice.  But from an American viewpoint, I knew that the colors and patterns didn’t go together.  So, I had her revise her outfit in such a way that it would comply with both American and Chinese ideas of what looked nice. 

Anyway, occasionally I see something striking and take a picture of it.  The whole purpose of this blog entry is to illustrate the photo, attached. 

The photo says something else about fashion besides just the fact that the colors are "mismatched" by American standards.  If you think this outfit looks odd, just wait, because before long this will probably be in style where you live.  When I first came here, I first saw some really, really long, pointy toed dress shoes.  These shoes had such long, pointy toes that they looked like a cross between ordinary western dress shoes and some long, curled slippers the genie might have worn when he popped out of Aladdin’s lamp.  I thought to myself, "Boy, the Chinese styles are really odd."  I also saw Chinese girls wearing multiple layers of lightweight, gauzy, frilly fabrics.  I thought to myself, "Boy, the Chinese styles are really different." 

But the next summer when I went back to the USA, I noticed that the styles in the USA had shifted to be more like those I had seen in China.  The world was following Chinese style, not vice versa!  I developed a theory that the shift in style was because buyers for stores are coming over here to shop.  They’re being influenced by what’s available in the Chinese market. 

Well,  back to the photo.  I ran across this photo in an old photo album tonight.  It’s about a year old now.  Has this style made it to your neck of the woods yet?  I have some more photos of unique clothing buried here and there.  When I find them, I’ll post them.  This girl was conscientiously dressed so as to be (in her world anyway) the height of fashion.  I’d say its a knockout for sure! 

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1 Comment

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One response to “A Sense of Style

  1. Molly

    We called them Wicked Witch of the West shoes when we first arrived for our summer camp 5 years (5 years!!! how did that happen!) ago. What I had found interesting though, was that the angling to a point part of the shoe didn\’t begin until after where your toes would be . . in other words, the pointy-toed shoes of my youth attempted to maintain the same length of shoe as a normal one, and consequently crammed toes into an ever-narrower space. Whereas the Chinese ones allow room for the toes and then add on the pointy part. While my first reaction had been, "how funny looking" after consideration I thought it was pretty clever.  What I\’ve noticed now in the past year or so, is that the fashion here is tending to a nicely rounded, boxy style that I would call a "pump." And since the shoe is now the length of the foot, it really emphasizes what tiny feet most Chinese women have! While they look more comfortable (and to my Western, baby-boomer eyes, more "professional") it also makes me feel even more Gulliver in Lilliput.

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