Why Are Chinese Lacking Style?

A few weeks ago a discussion was started by a friend (and popular blogger) regarding style in China. We here a lot of critical comments about Chinese (especially the men), some deserving, some not so. Even in white collar work settings in Beijing and Shanghai, you often see a lot of questionable choices among Chinese coworkers and it only gets worse when you go into 2nd, 3rd (and on) tier cities. So what's the problem?

1. "Style" in Communist China has only been around for 25 years. Before that, everyone was basically dressing the same way and touches of style that made you stand out were a negative. But look at the recently released Life photos or images from the pre-Communist era, those people had style and they were Chinese, there is definitely hope.

2. Asian business people in general tend to dress very badly.

3. "Style" is usually not cheap, especially without any second hand stores around the city. Guys in China have a lot of pressure on them, if they want to get married, they basically must be able to buy an apartment and often aren't from rich families or even the big city to begin with. The people around us and many that we know work insane hours and don't have much time for shopping. Even if they did, the majority of money is either saved or sent to their parents.

4. Nobody wants to stand out in the workplace for anything other than his work and when the boss(es) rarely wears a suit, its hard for his underlings to do so. The casual nature of the Chinese workplace makes it hard for someone who wants to be stylish to fit in with the overall office aesthetic. Even in the US or UK, if you go to a major international law firm or i-bank, the style is very conservative and a lot of people would fall short of "stylish", perhaps expectations are too high.

5. Street style is extremely diverse and relatively fashion forward here, because people who are in fields that allow them to wear street wear to work aren't usually faced with the limiting issues 3 and 4 mentioned above.

So be a little more gentle and encouraging towards Chinese style. And by the way, with the example many expats in China set, can you blame the Chinese?!? We're fighting the good fight, though, in our Thom and Tom suits, Churchs shoes, and oxford cloth button downs.


Ben said...

I would disagree your assertion that Asian business people don't dress well. Ever been to Tokyo? That city always reminds me how out of style I am. Mainland Chinese out of style, yes, but the Japanese blow most other folks out of the water. Hong Kongers aren't bad either. You can always pick out the Hong Kongers from the mainlanders by their belt buckles.

Anonymous said...

Having spent time in both cities, I disagree. Yes, there are far more rich in both, so you tend to see some better dressers (though having lots of money doesn't necessarily mean you have style). There are still a large class that dress the same generally in Asia, be it HK, Beijing, Seoul, or Tokyo. Too many in Tokyo start out with style, but then get beat down because they don't want to stand out too much in the workplace.

Cam89 said...

I have to agree with Ben... as soon as I read this, I objected to point #2. I live in Hong Kong, and the business people here dress impeccably -- often much better than their counterparts in the United States. Having spent time in Tokyo, Osaka, and Singapore, I'd say it's the same quality (if not higher) there. I've learned that in many respects, Asian business people have a thing or two to teach westerners about how to dress stylishly in the workplace.

Nick said...

As others pointed out at least among "Chinese" the style issue is reasonably limited to the Mainland. I also wouldn't necessarily agree that it's tied to frugality. Chinese men are among the worst conspicuous consumers in the world, but you can't buy taste. To see this you just need to take a walk around your local department store and check the price tagsin any of the local label's stores. (look for anything with "Boss" or "Polo" in the name)