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!!


About chinesepeopledoyoustyle

The emergence of style in China
This entry was posted in Androgynous, Chilling, Chinese People, Context, Fashion History, Historical, Homogenizing Forms, Interpretive, Jing An District, Just for Fun, Masculine vs. Feminine, Uniforms, Xu Hui District and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Androgyny, Shanghai

  1. kuhlmann says:

    I confess I was searching for articles describing the androgyny of Chinese society, but these are some poor arguments (if it’s not satirical). Androgyny is the combination of masculinity and feminity within a society. Don’t judge Chinese men against Western sexual symbols

    • Actually, the type of androgyny I’m talking about in this post is of various individuals within Chinese society, as this trait is typically understood on an individual basis, manifested by a single person who contains both masculine and feminine characteristics… I’ve never heard of your definition of androgyny, as it’s usually not applied to a society as a whole because basically every society around the world has a “combination of masculinity and femininity” because there are generally both males and females in society.

      Also, I’d like to know what your definition of “Western sexual symbols” are… I do compare Chinese sartorial tradition with the standards of the West because that is the most “objective” scale against which I can judge it to make my readership understand my point, as they are mostly Westerners because the blog is in English. There is no entirely objective way to judge sartorial practices in society, so by using something that my readers understand (Western sartorial tradition) and applying the standards to the Chinese case, this helps people better understand the situation and see a different point of view.

      If I compared Chinese men to Chinese norms, then everything would be normal and this wouldn’t be much of a blog, now would it?

      So if you have a better way for me to frame my post, please do enlighten me… But judging by your comment, I’m betting you don’t because 1 – you don’t understand androgyny and 2 – you don’t understand why I compare things to the West (and you incorrectly identified “Western sexual symbols” as my standards by which to judge Chinese people). I hope that my response helps you better understand what you previously misunderstood.

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  3. DeborahV says:

    Not surprising–Asian men have had a penchant for murses for a long time. Maybe “helping the GF” purse-carrying is really a symptom of how much the Chinese male market has been underserved? In fact, this is a situation Coach will exploit as part of its Asia (and specifically China) strategy by expanding offerings to include murses in its assortment.

    Looks like this will provide you even more opportunities to snap some ruxury gems on the street.

    • Thanks for the articles, very interesting!! I think Coach is smart to capitalize on this trend, especially since it’s probably going to be around for a while… I’ve always said Asian people are more androgynous, and I don’t mean only physically… They dress like it too! But I actually think a guy wearing something what Westerners would call feminine is actually more masculine in a way.

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  7. Lisa Lin says:


  8. Lisa Lin says:

    The word I associate to chinese people style is easy, literally.

    So they are open to use bags, including the “business men’s ones” which are putted under their armpit, really beacause it’s easier, the western, the masculine ones carry evrything in their pockets, purses?to feminine for them. (not easy and the reason why after a day of music festival, my friend is there to search for cell phones:P
    I also think chinese are more open and willing to wear skirts again one day, they search for easy and even though caucasian are more open in other ways, they don’t want skirts to blow with their masculinity. Marc Jacob needs to try harder.

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