One of the most beautiful and unique aspects of fashion, is how different it can be from city to city, and country to country. Some fashion is dictated by cultural trends carried out by influencers, designers, and celebrities. Other changes and adaptations to fashion are almost subliminal, directly impacting our decision to buy and wear certain clothing, without us realizing. It can be jarring to experience an entirely new world of fashion after moving to a new country and settling in, but the differences can be really fascinating to observe.
We spoke with three ex-pats from Korea, Taiwan, and New York to hear their perspectives on fashion and how they’ve observed the changes around them after moving to China. Read on to learn about each of their observations on fashion.
Soyeon Park, Korea
I often find myself thinking about the fashion differences between China and Korea. There are a few features I think worth calling out, which will help me explain what I’ve observed. There are trend leaders and trend followers. In Korea, the people most aware of fashion can be anyone from teenagers to adults in their late 30s. In China, anyone who has time and money to look after themselves, wears whatever they want. I think that’s why we sometimes tend to see middle aged adults wearing outfits that look like they’re made for teenagers. But I think it’s great in a way, that everyone can wear their own style, allowing lots of styles to be actualized in real life, not only in magazines.
The fashion itself in Korea tends to be modern and basic, sometimes too simple. You might feel a bit dull because everybody’s got similar style. Korea is such a small country that it’s rather easy to turn a trend. When a Louis Vuitton tote became trendy, so many girls had it — I remember this happening while I was in university, seeing several girls wearing the bag in one subway car at a time. The internet and K-pop stars have taught younger generations (~early 20s) so much about major makeup styles and outfits. Another funny significant trend I’m remembering now was the North Face jumper amongst teenagers — it actually became part of their uniforms because so many teenagers wore them.
But Korea is a very conservative country, and when you reach a certain point in your life (get a job, get married, have a baby) you definitely belong to the ‘adult’ group when it comes to style. People don’t expect you to wear unique styles. Adults keep to a very modern and basic style, no bold colours and nothing that reveals skin. Style is even simpler for guys.
In China, style is usually very basic, but population-wise, people seem to like fancy and showy things. Lots of shiny letters on outfits, gold jewelry, lots of fur, etc. Luxury brand knockoffs are popular as well.
When it comes to weddings, Korean girls wear calm colours, a one piece dress, or modern styles. Guys were suits or semi-casual suits. In China, there’s a lot of variation depending on how developed the region is. I’ve heard of and seen everything from flip-flops and shorts to evening dresses.
To sum it up, I’d say Korea has nice styles in general, but those styles are not going far. In China, lots of bad taste and mass production exists but the quality and design spectrum is very broad.
Jessie Tsai, Taiwan
When it comes to differences between fashion in Taiwan and China, I reckon that Taiwan’s fashion trends are pretty impacted by Korea and Japan, in both male and female markets. Due to proximity, people from Taiwan often travel to Korea and Japan, and a lot of young people run their businesses by purchasing apparel, footwear, and accessories from Korea and Japan. So, home fashion apparel is close to Korean and Japanese styles. But for China’s fashion trends, female consumers are more “feminine.” They like lace, pinkish, and bright colors to show their femininity.
Korean style is a bit more delicate and intellectual when it comes to beauty. Young ladies, for example, can wear shirts, skirts, or pantsuits to the workplaces. It’s proper and still looks profession, and they won’t look too office-lady/average. From the makeup perspective, Korea style’s base makeup is more natural and emphasizes the eyes. However, for Japanese style, it’s cute, soft, and more floral with something like a flounced skirt and flounced sleeves. Japanese girls like to emphasize blush on the cheeks with more of a whitish base for makeup.
Renata Storino, New York
When I first landed in Guangzhou about 6 months ago, I noticed a lot of difference in the way people dress. I’m sure focusing on the differences instead of the similarities, is part of human nature. There was a sea of pleated skirts everywhere I went. I had to ask myself if it is and has been part of Chinese womens basic wardrobe for ages, or if a global trend started overnight, during my long flight to China. I also noticed a lot of monochromatic looks, which is pretty common in New York especially with black or all white outfits, but in 8 years of living in New York, or actually, never in my whole life had I ever seen someone wearing an all lilac outfit with lilac shoes and bag to match, before landing here. It was a beautiful sight! I’ve seen many monochromatic looks, most in very light pastel colors.
I was also surprised by the amount of people in black and white. Black and dark colors in general are pretty much the most abundant color on streets of New York, but the pairing with white blouses, the length, style and proportions of most pieces I saw here were very new to me. It is also worth mentioning the bigger occurrence of oversized/asymmetrical shirts, clothes with long yellow tags/ribbons hanging down (not sure if they are all from the same label) and lots of quotes/words stamped or stitched on the clothes in a kind of more-is-more approach. The quotes seem to be mostly in English and they always make me smile because they hardly ever make any sense. Once or twice I saw young men wearing college hoodies with a typical medallion logo that read “Chocolate University.” I had to think about the winter hat I bought in Chinatown in New York that I hope says New York in Chinese, but who knows…
I haven’t yet had the time or felt the need to change my wardrobe since moving to Guangzhou. Most of the pieces I own might not be similar to what is current or offered in China, but are by no means inappropriate or strange to this market. There is a noticeable difference in design between the apparel produced by local and foreign brands, but there are also a lot of foreign brands present in China, especially the fancy ones.
I definitely think that some of the styles I am used to wearing are not a hit on the mainland. New York is all about vintage, worn out, mixed and matched clothes that compose a grungy look. It is the land of distressed jeans and lived in t-shirts, but in China most people seem very put together dressing with impeccably new apparel. There is a passion for vintage and an abundance of thrift stores in New York that is not really seen in China.
I am used to buying plain shirts and blouses, which makes shopping at local stores hard. There is so much typography on the clothes here, even on places where you would not expect… I‘ve seen it even on the back of a classic wool overcoat. Brands like the GAP, PiNK (by Victoria Secret) and Abercrombie & Fitch put there stamp on most of their apparel, but in China, this real estate on clothing seems to be occupied by random words like “Happiness” or “Celebration” rather than the brand’s name, as is typical back in New York.
I can‘t speak about trends, since I’ve been here for such a short period of time, but in 2 seasons, I’ve noticed a couple differences, like bright and bold patterns. I‘ve always loved large scale, out-there bright patterns, but a lot of Chinese fashion takes it to the next level. Some are not afraid to dress, top to bottom, in bold patterns in broad day light. Outfits I’ve seen here worn by regular people on the streets I’ve only ever seen before in music videos. They wore what I would refer to as stage clothes. It is quite amazing! I‘ve already seen two different people in silver puffy winter jackets! It almost looked like they were decked out in tin foil. I‘ve seen many 60-year-old ladies at the park wearing flower patterns and stripes without a clue how cool they look. I often think about the late New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham and how many interesting pictures he would get on a simple stroll through the park.
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