Here’s a guide to help you figure out what to wear in China.
Are you heading to China soon, and wondering what you should wear there?
Well, I can help with that!
I’ve traveled to most corners of China, and I know what you’ll need to make you feel comfortable and look the part.
Alright, let’s get into my ‘what to wear in China’ guide.
(By the way, make sure you read to the bottom for helpful resources like my China packing list.)
Tips on what to wear in China
No matter where you’re going in China, here are the most important wardrobe tips:
- Wear the clothes you normally wear
- There’s no need to dress up – China is a relaxed place
- Casual and loose-fitting clothes are easiest when traveling
- Jeans or trousers work well in China as they’re durable and you can dress them up with a nice top if you go out at night
- For the upper body, wear layers which you can take on and off as temperatures change
- Pack a ‘smart’ outfit if you’re going to the opera or a special event (but don’t stress about it – I’ve worn black sneakers to the opera!)
- Bring a lightweight waterproof jacket that can double as a rain coat.
Extra tips for girls
- Avoid wearing low-cut and exposing tops or you may be leered at
- A one-piece swimwear is better than a bikini (for the same reason above)
- You don’t need to cover all your skin (but be respectful if visiting mosques)
- Ditch the heels unless you plan on going out partying.
Extra tips for guys
- Sweat pants and tops are fine – again, wear what you would normally wear
- Swim shorts are preferable to a speedo (the Chinese are opposite to Europeans when it comes to showing their junk)
- Cover up if you’re visiting mosques
- Chinese businessmen generally don’t wear ties, so you shouldn’t either.
Whether you’re a girl or a guy, you may be stared at no matter what you wear in China, especially outside the biggest cities.
The Chinese are curious about foreigners and some will literally look you up and down. No shame! So honestly, don’t worry too much about your wardrobe.
I’m currently living in a small city in northwest China, and I’m stared at all the time. As an introvert, I struggle with it. But as a tall expat in a small city, I expect it and accept it.
Also, whether you wear jeans, trousers, a skirt or a dress, just make sure there’s enough give in the garment for you to be able to squat down.
Why? You may have the ‘pleasure’ of having to use a Chinese squat toilet while you’re out traveling.
My advice – try to save your bathroom business for the hotel!
Wearing shoes in China
- You’ll probably do a lot of walking in China, so make sure you bring a good pair of walking shoes
- Girls could also bring a pair of flats or boots, and guys some boots
- The roads and even the sidewalks can be very dirty in China, especially if you get off the beaten track or you’re traveling solo. My advice is to bring shoes that are dark (preferably black) and can be easily cleaned
- If you’re brave enough to use public squat toilets, don’t wear fancy shoes because you’ll be standing in pee
- Unless you plan on spending time at the beach, don’t bring flip-flops. Your feet will get super dirty and, because China is so crowded, it’s safer to wear closed-toe shoes at all times.
What to wear in China in summer
Southern China (e.g. Shenzhen) is humid in the summer, while northern China (e.g. Beijing) is hot and dry.
Regardless of your holiday destination, make sure you:
- Wear light clothing that’s appropriate for warm weather, such as cotton
- Wear shorts, skirts and short-sleeved tops
- Bring sunglasses, and an umbrella if you’re really anti-sun.
What to wear in China in winter
If you’re in the north of the country during winter, it can get extremely cold.
In these chilly places, make sure you:
- Bring a warm winter coat
- Layer up with zip-up tops, jackets and sweaters
- Wear thick shocks
- Bring a scarf, beanie and gloves which you can easily take off when you go inside warm places
- Wear thermal underwear (tops and bottoms) in super-icy places like Harbin. You might also need snow boots there.
In the south of the country (like Shenzhen), winter is mild and there’s no snow. You’ll just need trousers, long sleeved tops, and sweaters.
And don’t forget your umbrella!
Note about the photo above: You can’t get this close to the Terracotta Army, but for 10 yuan (US$1.50) you can get your photo taken with some fairly realistic looking warriors. Read more about famous places in China here.
What to wear on The Great Wall of China
The best clothes to wear on the wall depend on the season and weather.
In summer, wear a t-shirt and shorts. Some of the steps on the wall are gigantic, and you’ll start sweating pretty quickly.
But as the weather can change quickly, it’s worth bringing an extra layer in case it gets windy or a bit cool.
So, bring a backpack which you can put your extra layer in, as well as your water bottle, hat and sunscreen.
In winter, layer up for the Great Wall. It can get bitterly cold and windy in Beijing.
So, if you’re a sweaty person like me, you’ll appreciate the option of unzipping some of your layers as you build up a sweat.
No matter the season, wear good walking shoes on the wall.
Temples and religious sites
As I mentioned earlier, China is a fairly relaxed place.
But if you’re visiting a mosque, it’s worth covering up with pants and a long-sleeved top.
What to wear in Shanghai
Shanghai is undoubtedly China’s most cosmopolitan and best-dressed city.
(You can see the Shanghai travel guide here.)
However, don’t let that influence your choice of fashion. There’s no need to pack extra-nice clothes just because Shanghai is on your itinerary.
Just wear the clothes that you would normally wear and feel comfortable in.
What to wear in Beijing
Again, wear what works best for you.
Just remember that Beijing has extreme temperatures – it gets bitterly cold in the winter and scorching hot in the summer.
So, if you’re unsure about what to wear in Beijing, simply pack for the season you’re going in.
What do Chinese people wear?
The younger generation in China love Western fashion.
They generally wear casual, loose-fitting clothes that have English words. Well, Chinglish mostly.
See also: Funny Chinese pictures and photos
They also like the ‘cute’ element of other Asian countries’ fashion like Japan and Korea.
Middle-aged people’s fashion is more muted than the younger generation. There’s not much creativity or flair.
Red is a popular color to wear in China because it’s deemed lucky. But apart from red, middle-aged Chinese usually wear darker colors.
They’re also into foreign brand names, though in many cases they’re knock-offs.
When it comes to the much older generation, they usually look like they’re still living in the Mao Zedong era!
They wear dark colors like navy blue and black (no brand names of any kind), high-collared jackets, and some men still wear the old communist hats.
Generally speaking, Chinese people – including the younger generation – want to fit in and not stand out as individuals. It’s not part of the collectivist culture.
For more on this, I recommend you read Gayle’s article, which is aptly called What do Chinese people wear?
What not to wear in China
I’ve written an entire article about what not to wear in China.
It’s worth reading, but if you don’t have time, here are the main things you should avoid wearing in the country:
- Revealing clothes
- Delicate clothes
- Flip flops
- White shoes
- Jeans in southern China in the summer.
Amazing China travel resources
I imagine you’re about to leave for China, so here are some last-minute things to help you:
- Refer to my China packing list for a full rundown on everything that needs to get thrown in your suitcase
- Read the what to bring to China page for the most important items
- If you want to do a crash course in Mandarin before you leave, I recommend LTL where you can enjoy a 20% discount
- Don’t forget your China travel insurance which is super-important in China where medical costs can be very high
- And, download a VPN on your phone, which I’m about to explain.
Psst! An important travel tip
If you want to use Wi-Fi in China, you won’t be able to survive without a virtual private network (VPN) on your phone.
The Chinese internet is censored and without a VPN you’re not going to be able to access all your favorite sites and apps like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Gmail, Google, all the major news sites, and many more.
Just remember to download the VPN before you arrive as VPN sales are blocked in China.
Looking good and feeling fabulous in China
Outside of the big cities, you’re probably going to be stared at no matter what you wear in China.
So, my advice is to wear the kind of comfortable clothing you normally wear back home.
Layer up with some smart tops, which you can take on and off as temperatures change. Jeans or trousers that can be worn during the day, and dressed up at night, work well too.
Also, wear comfy black walking shoes as Chinese streets can be pretty dirty.
I know you’ll have an amazing time in China. Just don’t forget your VPN!
I hope my article on what to wear in China has helped you take some stress out of your trip. I highly recommend you also read my packing list for China before you fly out.
Main image credit: Supplied by Mike Cairnduff.
FAQ about what to wear in China
Should I wear jeans in China?
Jeans are a good idea in China as they’re durable and you can even dress them up at night if you go out. However, they’re not a good idea in summer in the humid southern provinces.
Do I need to cover my body in China?
Chinese girls are a bit conservative and don’t show as much skin as Westerners. But you can wear shorts, skirts and short-sleeved tops in China. If you plan on going to mosques, you should cover up.
What size do I wear in China?
Whatever size you normally wear back home. If you plan on buying clothes in China, remember that they have small sizes and it might be hard to find your size.
Are there any special colors to wear in China?
No. Although red is considered a lucky color in China, you can wear whatever colored clothing you like.