The first real “argument” of one relationship I had was about which city was more stylish: Beijing or Shanghai. My female friend insisted that she and many of her foreign friends felt that Shanghai way outclassed Beijing. Me, on the other hand, with my pride as a Beijinger, insisted that this simply wasn’t the case.
Shanghai, the “Whore of the Orient”, that plucky rival down south, has long been considered China’s capital of style, yet its also a city where middle aged people consider pyjamas as the en vogue relaxed walking around clothes, something I’ve rarely, if ever, seen in Beijing. Shanghai’s reputation as the style city is more talk than reality. It dates back to its more glamorous days in the 20s and 30s where its location and cosmopolitan nature drew people from all over the world. Nowadays, while it boasts gleaming skyscrapers, high end restaurants and bars, and a lot of interesting early modern architecture, the city’s style and the style of its people are wrongly fused into one.
Having spent a lot of time in Shanghai and Beijing, I really don’t think that Shanghainese are any more stylish than Beijingers, for the most part. Get on a subway in Beijing or Shanghai and look at the 10 people standing closest to you (who aren’t migrant workers), out of the 10, you’ll probably find 4 or so dressed “Chinese style” or badly, 3 who are dressed in casual attire that wouldn’t be out of place in most other parts of the world, and 3 who could be deemed somewhat stylish (out of the 3, usually 1 will stick out). If you’re roaming around Guomao or Lane Crawford in Beijing or the Kerry Center/Shanghai Center/Plaza 66 area in Shanghai the style quotient is sure to go up. Too much of the “Shanghai is stylish” talk isn’t really backed up by reality. Sure, you walk into Jean Georges or Jade and you’ll see a pretty stylish set of people, but it’s the same thing if you go to Courtyard or Lan. Sure, Shanghai has Changle Rd, but I’ve yet to find anything that can match 3.3. Upping the ante, mall for mall, would you actually choose Shanghai over Beijing? Wangfujing vs. Nanjing Rd? Seasons Place vs. Plaza 66? Guomao vs. Jiuguang? Xidan vs. Huaihai Rd? Times Square vs. er...Times Square? Legation Quarter (soon to be opened) vs. Xintiandi? 3.3 vs. ...? Come on, it’s pretty much a wash, the nod goes to Beijing.
One of my biggest arguments against the “Shanghai is stylish” discussion is that it’s a monotonous style that can be referred to as “chic casual” for the most part (and I'm sorry Shopgirl, China's not an inspiration, but simply biting styles from major Euro designers before H&M does) . Beijing has that look too, but there is also a far more diverse range of styles, somewhat driven by the fact Beijing is far more artistically inclined and with a much better music scene than Shanghai. You have indie chicks (which has me thrilled, because in Shenzhen I cam *this* close to writing a post about the disappearance of the indie chick), hip hoppers, nerd chic, punk rockers, skateboarders, and crazy artists. It’s not simply one look, but a little of everything.
For examples of the wide range of great looks you can see on the streets of Beijing (or if you're just into fashion), you must check out Stylites in Beijing, he's fast becoming the arbiter of style in our fair city. And although I have a feeling he’d disagree with my assessment, overall both Shanghai and Beijing have a long way to come before they can match really fashionable cities like New York, London, and Paris.