I prefer to read when I’m on an airplane, but as I sat 30,000 feet above sea level, I found myself totally ensconced in the television programming on China Eastern Airlines. I also generally avoid television, especially in China, but these little segments were too fascinating to pass up: there were a couple travelogues of passing interest, and an entire segment on Haibao that featured a mind blowing video of a stage show with around five thousand people in Haibao suits dancing and running through the theater (I’ll try and find that later, it’s worth seeing). But best of all the segments has to be a retrospective on fashion in China.
The entire short was a slideshow review of fashion in China from the 60’s onward, and was perhaps one of the most interesting unintentional social commentaries I’ve seen in a while. The best part is that each decade’s fashion sense was compared to what was going on in the west. I don’t know about you, but when I look at photographs or videos from the Cultural Revolution, the last thing on my mind is what they’re wearing.
Nonetheless, it’s interesting to see the ways the video portrayed the differences between cultures through fashion. For instance, the sixties in China is starkly described: “People wore very similar styles of clothing. The most popular colors were grey, green and tan.” Comparatively, we get this description of the same period for the west: “in the west, the hippie and mod movements were very popular. People learned how to enjoy themselves, and express themselves through clothing.”
Moving onto the seventies, it seems that while punk clothing and synthetics were quite popular in the rest of the world, China was just beginning to open up to fashion. Of course, it’s all relative: some of China’s fashion highlights from that era include flair jeans, the introduction of western fashion, and that “women began to wear colorful shirts.” Oh, plus Pierre Cardin came to China in 1979, and blew everyone’s minds with his French girls in high heels. Though I’m pretty sure it was the models that fascinated everyone, it’s entirely possible that some people noticed the clothing they wore.
The eighties brought more fabulous style from the west: pictures of pleather jackets and bug eyed sunglasses abound, all contributing to a Michael Jackson lite aesthetic, if you will. Of course, with the great opening of China underway, it’s inevitable that China’s hunger for the new and exciting world outside its borders would latch on all sorts of disparate and interesting fashion. According to the video, China’s success in volleyball at the Olympics led to a huge fashion trend in sportswear that looks exactly like the iconic Adidias tracksuit. Though I’m not sure if they’re correlated, I would bet that it was right around the time that tracksuits became the universal dress code for public school students.
And, of course, the last two decades were pretty much identical, but with more breadth and depth: as China increasingly opens to the west, high fashion becomes more about brand names and runway shows. The resulting fashion is just a stone’s throw away from what you’d find in a copy of Vogue anywhere on earth. And so it goes: the world becomes increasingly interconnected as the cultural time delay becomes less prominent, which means we’ll only have more head turning fashion to gape at around town.