Thanks to globalization and the internet, fashion has changed quickly around the world.
Gone are the days of traveling to most parts of Asia and seeing traditional clothes worn day to day, and China is no exception to this.
In fact, these days you can walk down a street in China and see the same clothes as you’d see back home!
But this doesn’t mean that everything is the same. China still has its unique fads, fashions, and trends, some of which can seem a little strange to western eyes.
So, let’s take a look at what Chinese people wear.
There aren’t many strict rules when it comes to kids’ clothes in China.
So, you’ll see kids dressed in the same outfits, weather and climate permitting, as you would in any other country.
However, there are a couple of unique trends that you may see, such as:
Split pants (kaidangku)
One thing you’ll see in China is toddlers wandering around with an open seam in the crotch of their pants.
Known as split pants or kaidangku in Mandarin, the pants allow toddlers to go to the toilet without messing their clothes or fussing with buttons or fastenings.
Chinese parents simply hold their children over a grate in the street, or even a garden bed, so they can go to the toilet.
You’ll see the pants and toilet routine fairly often as you travel around China, and they’re both comical sights.
However, it’s also good for the toddler and for the environment as it both encourages earlier potty training and helps cut down on disposable diaper waste.
In China, these split pants have been an accepted child-rearing tool for years, especially in smaller cities.
And, although they’re becoming less common with the growing popularity of diapers, you’ll still see kids wandering around with half of their butt hanging out of their pants.
Luxury children’s clothing is one of the fastest growing markets in the world.
In fact, dressing a child in designer wear is a sign of the parents’ social class among a segment of China’s middle class.
This is why you’ll see lots of top luxury brand labels on kids in China, with some of the world’s top brands bringing out children’s lines.
Some of the brands you might see are:
- Stella McCartney
The outfits you’ll see on children in China are usually either mini-me copies of the latest adult fashions or original fashions designed for children.
While face masks are more a healthcare ‘accessory’ than à la mode clothing, it’s worth pointing out that parents put fashionable face masks on their kids when they’re not feeling well.
The masks are always fabric ones and, from what I’ve seen, are quite stylish with little patterns including animals and polka dots.
There’s nothing cuter than a Chinese toddler wearing a teeny-weeny face mask.
Teenagers in China are just as fashion crazy as they are in any other country.
And they especially love certain parts of western fashion. So, you can expect to see Chinese teenagers wandering around in clothes that would look at home in almost any major city in the world.
The outfits they choose tend to be:
- Loose fitting (you’ll hardly ever see teenagers in really tight or short clothes)
- Emblazoned with English words
- Modest (you’ll rarely see teenage girls in very short dresses or skirts).
And this brings us to a couple of other trends you’ll probably see in China, including:
Teenagers in China love to wear clothes with English writing on them.
Unfortunately, the writing is translated from Chinese and often isn’t translated well. This is known as Chinglish, and it’s been responsible for countless fashion faux pas.
All across China, you’ll see teenagers in clothes with writing that ranges from unintentionally funny to strange, outright obscene or even rude.
The funniest t-shirt I’ve seen someone wearing said “FAILED AT HIGH SCHOOL” (yep, it was in big capital letters). It’s not the kind of thing I’d be proud wearing!
If you see some of these clothes, just remember that the owner probably doesn’t fully understand what their clothes are saying and doesn’t mean it.
Over the years, Japan and Korea have become known for some of their extremely cute TV shows, foods, and fashion.
And lots of Chinese teenagers absolutely love these fashions. That’s why you may see teenagers wearing sailor outfits, cat ears, sparkly accessories, and all sorts of adorable items.
If teenagers don’t have the things needed to complete their cute look, they’ll simply use one of the countless apps to digitally add things like bows, pigtails and whiskers to their face.
This is that in-between age, where you’re a bit older than a teen but don’t have a family or commitments (yet).
Or, as Britney Spears sings it, “Not a girl, not yet a woman”.
Chinese girls like wearing traditionally feminine clothes – things like lace and delicate fabrics.
In summer, they wear a lot of white, soft pink and pastels, but they tend to have a preference for traditionally ‘girly’ colors year-round.
In some cities such as Xi’an, especially near popular tourist attractions, you can pay a few hundred yuan (about US$40) to dress up in Chinese clothing called Hanfu.
It’s decadent, traditional clothing that the Han Chinese wore in dynasties gone by.
Along with a fancy hairdo and a full face of makeup, you basically walk around for a few hours taking photos of you and your friends.
Most people who rent these costumes are older female teens and those in their 20s.
I never had the guts to do it, but I can really appreciate the girls who do.
(And in case you’re wondering, Chinese people do not wear traditional clothing like this on a daily basis.)
Middle aged men and women in China tend to be right in the middle of the very fashionable teenagers and the more traditional older generation when it comes to fashion.
What this means is that they dress in modern clothes most of the time. They might choose to wear red or even traditional clothing on festival days.
The outfits chosen by this age group tend to be modest and often focused on darker colors, especially in winter.
In fact, they tend to look almost as if they’re wearing uniforms, which fits perfectly with China’s collectivist culture where no one wants to stand out.
This generation also enjoys wearing foreign brands, although they’re often knock-offs.
One thing I found quite strange in China was that hardly any adults wore sunglasses, especially outside the big cities like Shanghai.
When the sun’s out, middle aged Chinese women prefer to wear frilly sun visors than sunglasses.
Older people in China are particularly disconnected from fashion trends.
In fact, there are very few senior-dedicated fashion brands in China, which may be at least partly why older people very rarely, if ever, wear name-brand clothes.
What most older people in China do wear is clothing that looks like it comes from another time. Most often, you’ll see them in dark colors like black or dark blue and they usually wear fabrics that are tough and rough to the touch.
They also like to cover up from the top of the neck all the way down, with high collared tunics and long everything, no matter the temperature.
Women like to wear red when they dress up or go somewhere special.
Another slightly odd tendency is for men to wear the old communist hats, which usually looks very strange next to neon signs and fashionable teenagers.
Swimsuits in China are typically a bit more conservative than most western countries.
You’ll see Chinese men in shorts and swimming trunks, usually in dark colors. Hardly any guys wear Speedos.
Parents will put their children in the cutest little swim outfits that you can imagine, often with matching hats and shoes.
And then you have the women’s swimsuits. These are usually a little more conservative. It’s rare to see bikinis on China’s beaches.
See also: Nice beaches in Shenzhen
Chinese women usually wear the one-piece suits with skirts instead. In fact, when you go to the shops you’ll be stunned at the extensive range of swimsuits in this style and may even want to take a few home with you if you’re a woman!
This fashion for swimsuits with skirts was a bit of a shock to me. You see, I come from Australia, and bathing suits here are either bikinis or one pieces.
Only little girls and elderly women wear swimsuits with skirts in Australia, so it was really weird to see the young Chinese women wearing this fashion!
The trend for matching outfits in China, Korea, and other places gets a lot of attention, as it deserves to.
Lovers and even friends in China often wear outfits made from the same fabric, often with hilarious results. Or they’ll wear clothes with a saying across the front that concludes on their partner’s outfit.
To westerners, this can look a little strange and even comical. But to Chinese people, it’s a sign of their close bond and a fun way to reflect their allegiance. And after all, isn’t having fun what fashion is supposed to be all about?
Color is very important in China, and this is often reflected in the outfits chosen for special occasions.
Most of the time of course, people will wear whatever color is in fashion. But there are some colors that have deeper meanings and may even be worn on special occasions such as:
- Red for weddings and festivals as it signifies beauty, good fortune, luck and happiness, though the bride often wears white
- White for funerals (immediate family) and dark colors for everyone else, though funeral customs differ throughout the country
- Almost any bright colors for festivals or special days.
Some colors are also associated with negative meanings, such as green for infidelity, and should be avoided in certain social situations.
See also: Strange Chinese customs
Surprised by what Chinese people wear?
So, what did you think about what Chinese people wear? Did it surprise you that the fashions seemed similar to what you’re familiar with back home?
Fashion is just as tied to status, age, and gender in China as it is in any other country, so it may not be as unfamiliar to you as you might think.
One piece of advice I would give you about traveling in China is to do as the locals do. Wear what you want in China and if you’re female, avoid wearing tight low-cut tops.
The locals tend to be very forgiving of visitors’ fashion sense, and as long as you don’t reveal too much skin or wear anything too weird, everything will be fine.
Next, read more about what you shouldn’t wear in China. It’s an interesting read, especially if you’re heading to China soon.
Main image credit: Shaomin454 on Pixabay.
FAQ about what do Chinese people wear
How do Chinese people dress?
Chinese people wear modern clothes. The kind of fashion depends on the age group, and people in the big cities tend to wear more on-trend clothing. Chinese people are a bit more conservative than westerners, and the women prefer flowy, loose-fitting clothes over revealing or tight-fitting garments.
Is there a business dress code in China?
Not really. Chinese office workers and businesspeople generally wear smart, semi-formal kind of clothes in the workplace. For example, a woman might wear a blouse, trousers and low heels, while a man might wear a shirt, trousers and black leather shoes. The men don’t usually wear ties.
What do people wear in Shanghai?
Shanghai is the fashion capital of China, and clothing tends to be more cosmopolitan and westernized than other Chinese cities. People in Shanghai usually wear modern, casual and fairly loose-fitting clothing.
What do people wear in Beijing?
People wear modern, casual clothes in Beijing, though arguably the city is not as fashion-forward as Shanghai. Much of the older generation still clings on to the Mao era in terms of fashion. You’ll see old people wearing tunics and high-collared, buttoned jackets.
Is Chinese clothing fashionable?
It depends who you ask. Generally speaking, Chinese fashion is modern and casual yet fairly safe and conservative.