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Individual style is the new uniform

By Jules Quartly | China Daily | Updated: 2012-05-16 13:56

Individual style is the new uniform

Uniformity appears to have given way to individuality on the capital's streets over the past 30 years.

Where once there were just unisex blue, green or gray suits, today a hundred fashions bloom on the sidewalks.

Every year in the nearly five years I've been here, there's more flesh, flash and style. As each season turns a fresh page, women, in particular, have upped the fashion stakes, and there's more color everywhere you look. Especially in Beijing, following a long and gray winter of identikit dark coats.

This summer we are seeing lots of wedged heels, following in the footsteps of Lady Gaga. The usual breezy hippy-chic dresses and sandals get an airing on hot days. And while hot pants paired with tights in the Japanese style seem to be quietly fading away, they still get an occasional outing. There's also more jewelry.

But the overall look, to my mind, right now, is coordinated.

This wasn't the case when I first arrived, as mix-and-match seemed to be more hit-and-miss.

While style had come, not many people knew what to do with it. So, they would just add elements and hope it worked. The result was what you would expect, if you just throw money at a problem.

No more.

Clearly, a glut of fashion magazines, TV shows and websites have brought the masses up to speed on the do's and don'ts of what goes with what. So, thankfully, we don't see so many Gucci bags being paired with Puma tracksuits and platform sneakers these days.

And the local fashion police are no longer old ladies cutting off the legs of bell-bottom jeans, but celebrity bloggers instead.

Importantly, it's not just Western fashions that are being followed.

The biggest trendsetters are Korean, Japanese and TV or singing stars from Taiwan, and their slightly otaku (geeky) take on coordinating outfits based on whatever's hot at the time, tricked out by some equally talented Asian fashion designers.

Haircuts, so important, seem to be moving away from the need for an almost unnatural symmetry toward layering, asymmetric cuts and even color.

For me, it's slightly more interesting than Western fashion, which seems to be in a distressed state, still suffering from an economic downturn, with lots of grunge street wear - artificially worn jeans paired with T-shirts that have artfully contrived holes.

Here, such a look is unlikely to succeed, since the fashionable and rich (not necessarily the same) will do their level best to avoid looking like they have no money to burn.

The outcome is some obvious Western elements but a lot of Asia and creativity on top.

Since the ideals of beauty change, and this is called fashion, I expect the following in the foreseeable future.

Chinese women in particular and Asian women in general will be more in tune with the cult of cute than their Western counterparts and more in touch with the feminine.

Again, it's the anime (otaku) influence of cartoons and a coquettish rejection of militant feminism. So, Hello Kitty rules, whatever the age of a woman, and pink, in its many incarnations, is always right.

Size-wise Chinese women are keeping to the thin-is-in approach, which seems to be fading slightly in the West with the focus on Kim Kardashian's curves and the bubble butt envy that follows Nicki Minaj around.

As for cosmetics in China, there's been something like a 15 percent annual increase in sales for a decade, at least, the bulk of which are foreign brands that make the skin seem whiter. That's an issue for most Asian women. And I don't think this is going to change any time soon, either. Or tans for pale-skinned Westerners. Odd, isn't it?

Meanwhile, men are buffing up in the gym, shelling out on beauty products to keep themselves moisturized and coiffed. They are busting out of their suits, if they are migrant workers, and trying to develop a look that shouts personality - without actually shouting, so far.

Obviously, the arty crowd has its style, as do the rich, but there isn't much give in the kinda macho look of Beijing's men. Here, black is always right. And the odd, young peacock standing out in baggy jodhpur pants, an expensive T-shirt and with attitude in Sanlitun, or in the club, is hard to find elsewhere in the city.

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