Unfortunately I don’t have many pictures from this period so I can’t really illustrate it as well as some other periods, but I was able to find a movie called La Chine 中国 Chung Kuo by Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni (I could only find it available for purchase on Amazon France). He was invited in 1972 by the Chinese government to create a documentary of the country, which was perfect to get a sense for what sartorial culture was like during this time of political and ideological crack down. Here are a few images from the movie (I highly recommend it if you can find it) and my understanding of China’s sartorial changes and conventions during this period:
Society felt a sartorial push towards homogeneity and androgyny, which was supposed to be a manifestation of the Communist ideology through clothing… It would make everyone in society equals, so it’s not that bad of an idea in theory I think. But in actual practice, it meant that everyone ended up looking the same, even though I’m sure many of them still had a sense of individuality. However, any differences were frowned upon in public space such as sartorial practices (more during the 60s and 70s than in the 50s), as it was all about cultivating the group mentality even if it meant making everyone dress the same.
So as you can see, it was a lot of Mao Suits in army green, navy blue, and grey. I actually like all of these colors personally, but when everyone is wearing the same color palette, it starts to be a bit too repetitive for my taste. However, children seemed to be the exception, as this little girl is lucky enough to stand out in her China Red dress:
But it wasn’t only red that children wore… There was a wide range of color in childrenswear, as these adorable little girls demonstrate:
But the older you got (and the further China got into the Mao Era), the more fully assimilated you were expected to become… This meant preparing your mind, body, and clothing to reflect the Communist ideology, like these older male students.
But on the streets, it seems like the locals felt relatively free… They still could practice Tai Chi on their bikes, even if it was a very grey bike ride.
And it’s not like the streets were totally devoid of character… Chinese people always liked to carry crazy things around on their bikes, and it looks like their clothes are not all Mao Suits… Granted, it’s still a bland palette, but these people definitely have character.
Bike style has always been my favorite, particularly because of the gloves and hats that Chinese people wear when on their bikes and scooters. 1972 was no exception… I love the shape of this hat, as it’s very natural, functional, and aesthetically pleasing.
Actually, the head has been a site for experimentation in Chinese sartorial culture throughout the centuries (mainly hats and hairdos), and I love seeing Chinese people don various things of their heads or work insane hairdos. I really like this guy’s wrap thing, it’s much more rare to see men wear things on their heads nowadays (older men wear hats), but I would prefer it to the people wearing wet rags on their heads during the summer (post to come).
The only picture I had from 1960-1980 from Maleonn was this picture, which may be a bit of a shock at first…
As uneasy as it may make you feel, this picture accurately reflects a large part of Chinese mentality at the time (probably taken around 1965-1975, around the same time as the documentary “La Chine”). Everyone was preparing themselves as soldiers for their country, and this conceptualization of the self was reflected heavily in China’s sartorial culture and practices at the time (all the Mao Suits and military-wear). Previous aesthetic values were temporarily “postponed” during this period, but China has a long sartorial history that can’t be erased permanently in just a few decades.
I think China is on the right track to finding its own inherent style, especially because it is really cultivating its domestic fashion designers. China has had a lot of education by Western luxury brands (which it needed after no conspicuous consumption for decades), but now these brands are so prolific that they are “postponing” the return of China’s native sartorial heritage. They are once again homogenizing society, but this time it’s through monogrammed and logo-ed “luxury” products which usually end up looking more like ruxury products in China… It’s the counterfeits and imitators that are the worst and are perpetuating this trend, but there needs to be support for diversification through native designers in the market so that they can re-interpret China’s long sartorial history through the eyes of China and make it modern again; this will allow Chinese style to develop, which is a more natural way for Chinese people to dress rather than just trying to wear “Western” and thus “modern” (or vice verse?) clothes.
The more sartorial diversity in the world the better, right?