My encounter with the Beijing fashion police

The bass was thumping loudly and the air was filled with the energy and excitement of a Friday night— ahhh the weekend had finally arrived! I was in line to enter one of Beijing’s popular night clubs and just as I stepped up to the door, I was flatly denied entry! The lady bouncer looked me up and down and waved her finger, speaking to me disapprovingly in Mandarin. Despite my limited language ability in this country, I understood clearly that I was not allowed to go inside the way that I was looking. Perhaps it was my geometric patterned tank top, or maybe it was the skinny leg pants, or was it my strappy sandals? Whatever it was, Beijing’s fashion police were on patrol that night and I was being accused of having no fashion sense. Ouch. After a few minutes, the lady bouncer finally let me in. She probably felt really sorry for me and figured the darkness inside the club would cover up my unsightly appearance.

That night I promised myself that by the end of my time here, I would learn from the ladies of Beijing to save myself from future embarrassment. I’ve been taking diligent notes and seeking guidance from the women at work, on the street, and on the subway. In general, I am finding that women’s fashion here may serve both functional and aesthetic purposes. Behold a catalogue of my collected data in progress…

  • Sun hats or parasols: On days when the sun decides to peak through the thick layer of pollution these accessories seem to provide extra protection and shelter from the heat.
  • Loose fitting clothing: I have observed countless women prefer a loose fit. This seems to be a strategic choice for allowing air circulation that can help the body regulate temperatures.
  • Light weight fabrics: It can be unbearably hot in the summer time and I have noted that the women also tend to wear breathable fabrics. It makes perfect sense to me.
  • Pastel colors and florals: Wearing light colors can help one to stay cool by reflecting the sun’s heat from the body. The color tones and patterns also seem to be very popular for women and suggest an aesthetic preference for softness. Maybe? (Seriously just guessing on that one!)
  • Platform or wedge sandals: I tend to look at footwear because I am always curious about what people wear on their feet, especially when they take public transit or are walking around the city. In a recent post, Nick described the urban form and land use patterns found in Beijing that make walking unappealing. On any given day, I’ve probably averaged about 2-3 miles of walking here. So if it’s not comfortable to wear these types of shoes, perhaps it serves some other purpose. Is it cooler up there? Farther from the ground?
  • Skirts or harem pants: Indeed a logical choice for staying tastefully modest, and yet still enjoy the benefits of air circulation around the legs.

From what I have observed thus far, these seem to be the heavy hitters of Beijing street fashion and effective strategies for coping with warm summers and the urban heat island effect within the city. Now that I have collected this information, I think my next steps will be to triangulate my findings with some local experts and create a plan to allocate resources for acquiring a few pieces for my personal use. I’m really feeling the harem pants though… Stay tuned! 🙂

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