Androgyny, Shanghai

I’ve been wanting and meaning to do a post about sartorial androgyny for forever… But I never had the right pictures to correctly portray the manifestation of this sartorial trend in China, which seems to be more inherent here than anywhere else for a number of reasons, until recently.

One such reason for androgyny being more inherent to Chinese sartorial culture is because throughout Chinese Fashion History Chinese men have worn one-piece robes/gowns (today people would refer to such a garment as a dress, or a “mress” for the kind a man might wear). This kind of garb was donned by some of the greatest men in Chinese history, but now such a garment would seem unfitting for men in most contexts. But do you think it looks strange given the context of 1920s China?

It’s interesting to note that the man is wearing one piece, while the women are actually wearing two pieces. And after the founding of the great People’s Republic of China, there was an abrupt change for women from slinky, fashionable Qi Pao’s to a homogenizing, unisex uniform (girls did have a little bit of option at the beginning, but it soon became more and more homogenous).

So how does this unique sartorial history manifest today? This sleeping beauty I found at the Xujiahui Post Office is the perfect example. Look closely…

Did you notice she’s simultaneously rocking a strand of pearls and a necktie? Of course the tie is part of her uniform, but regardless I think this combination really works; however, such a combo probably only looks natural in a context like China… But I’m all for mixing and matching, particularly sartorial goods that tradition dictates are either strictly masculine or feminine.

But women are not the only ones who get to cross gender boundaries in China… Some youthful men are going back to their ancient roots and daring to wear stuff that has been considered “dated” for decades. I spotted this young man on Fumin Lu between Jing An District and the French Concession on his scooter in this pink and purple number.

Granted these clothes look like they are actually the uniform of a restaurant or something, but it was still daring of him to be out in public like this. I hope more youth become aware of their unique sartorial history though and reference it in a subtler way, experimenting with different silhouettes and gender-bending a bit… It would do China some good to have some aesthetic diversity, especially since most young Chinese today are all about ruxury.

But I think it was after reviewing the two picture below that I really wanted to do a post on androgyny… In this first picture, this guy looks like another victim (?) of the murse, and thus a bit feminine:

But from this second perspective, you can’t see the murse and he looks completely not-emasculated by his girlfriend’s bag. It was also after seeing this guy that I questioned my first impression, which was that Chinese men simply just wanted an excuse to carry around a purse, and the girlfriend came with the purse… So they tried to pass it off as chivalry.

But maybe this trend is really the result of both impulses though… Maybe Chinese men really are doing it to be chivalrous, but I’m sure they also get a kick out of carrying around a purse and not being too judged for it (because of the girlfriend). Do you think a murse is awkward given the context?

Anyway, keep experimenting and gender-bending, Chinese people!!