Close-Up: The Politics of Dressing. 特写:服饰政治.

Nothing today is safe from the long arm of political influence. Where conservative values act as KOLs, politics impact more than just the passing of a bill. They impact our wardrobes. Jessica Laiter lays bare the truth behind the legends.当今,没有什么是不受政治影响的。当保守价值观占据主流时,政治的影响力已不仅仅是给你寄张账单那么简单,政治已经渗透到了人们的衣橱里。Jessica Laiter将揭开这政治与时尚背后的真相

Fashion has evolved with the sociopolitical system under which we have all lived for thousands of years.“时尚是随着我们几千年的社会政治制度在演变的。”

Politics here. Politics there. Politics everywhere. Sometimes it feels like that’s all we ever talk about. Honestly, has [insert any given political capital] ever heard of “the silent game?” Let’s first dig a little deeper into that establishment telling us what to wear… In places where conservative values act as key influencers, such as China or even the United States, politics affect more than the obvious passing of a bill or politically correct rhetoric and behavior. How that is possible, stretches even further beyond the imagination than the reality of it. Who are “they” – or anyone for that matter — to tell us we cannot wear pink on Wednesdays or don a vintage kimono to a Jason Aldean concert?

政治无所不在,政治是人们口头经常谈论的话题。但是,老实讲,到底哪种政治资本真的有参加过那“无声的游戏”呢?在此让我们去深入探究那个影响着人们着装的政治势力。当保守价值观占据主流时,像在中国甚至是美国,政治的影响力早已超出了我们的想象范围,政治的影响力已不仅仅是给你寄张账单或是纠正言辞行为那样简单。那么,到底是谁在告诉我们星期三不能穿粉色,不能穿复古和服去参加美国乡村歌手Jason Aldean的演唱会呢?

One definitely, absolutely, 100 percent can wear those things; whenever and however one would see fit. All you need to do is acknowledge that our forefathers have predetermined these style selections and these are not decisions made completely on our own. It takes more than just the powers-that-be at Vogue [insert any given country] to determine “style” tout court. Fashion has evolved with the sociopolitical system under which we have all lived for thousands of years.



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Du Juan through the revolutionary lens of Photographer Quentin Shih. Copyright@VogueChina.杜鹃在摄影师时晓凡(Quentin Shih)镜头前的“革命”时尚大片。版权所有Vogue中国版。


About Fashionable And Political Contradictions


What is the politics of dressing exactly? It at times may come across like an oxymoron at best. Fashion and style have always been a form of self-expression and identification; it’s how individuals show the outside world what they would look like if they were a color, a fabric, a pattern. It’s about exposing to the world a glimpse of their innermost selves. When I think of politics, I think of structure, rules and dictation. So by abstract definition, politics and fashion are contradictory. However, we cannot run from the fact that ideology, religion and social nuances influence our decision-making process. For one moment, just forget about government dictating fashion and think about something as simple as the Pantone Color of the year or the large billboard of a Hadid leering over you on Lafayette Street wearing Stuart Weitzman sandals that you may or may have hated before the very moment you laid eyes on that ad. Speaking of footwear and the power of advertising (or “advertusing”, aka the abuse of advertising), Lord knows many of us still shudder at the sight of a pair of “comfy” backless summer slippers. Let alone the fur-trimmed winter ones we had to endure in pre-heatwave times.

到底什么是服饰政治?这个词听上去好像有些自相矛盾。时尚和风格历来是表现自我的一种方式:穿着一种颜色,一种布料,或是一种图案,是自身通过着装呈现给外界的一种效果,这同时也是在展现内心深处的自我。然而说到政治,让人首先想到的是政治结构、规则、和支配统治。从抽象的定义上来说,政治和时尚是对立的。可是,我们不能否定的是,意识形态、宗教、和社会的细微差别的确影响着我们的决策过程。让我们先忽略那些被政治影响的时尚,先想想那些简单的更直观的影响,例如像Pantone年度流行色,或是吉吉·哈迪德穿着Stuart Weitzman的凉鞋走在Lafayette大街上向你抛媚眼的广告牌。或许以前你对这些一直很鄙视,但是在这一刻你发现你其实正在专注地看着这个广告。说到鞋履和广告的影响力(我这里指的是广告滥用),上帝是知道的,我们中的很多人看到写着“舒适”的露脚背凉鞋广告都在发抖,更不用说是在炎热的夏季里看到带毛的棉鞋时的难受了。

Note to all victims: Echoing a trend or slipping on a pair of pre-season freebies does not necessarily denote having style.给所有的受害者一个忠告:重复流行时尚,穿上一双上一季的免费赠品鞋,并不代表你就有个人风格。

The sum of the aforementioned dictates how we feel about fashion, what items we decide to consume and which trends we choose to accept as fact. Ergo, at the root of it all, we’re all minions to the man.


Fashion Rookies And Rulers


China is “somewhat” of a rookie to the modern fashion world; one harboring grand ambitions, but a beginner nonetheless. That’s not to say they aren’t playing well, but they still have a few bases to cover.


China is notorious for the semi-instability of its governing bodies prior to current day. It is reveling in this spotlight, much to our trending convenience, that clothing can act as an optimal method for retracing cultural and political developments achieved throughout the centuries and deducing how China’s reigning forefathers reflected their social mores, religious notions and cultural preferences through choice of style.


The Chinese wardrobe has long been a marker of change. In yesteryear, when one dynasty overlapped another and emperors ripped the much-coveted robes off one another – so to speak, fashions changed with each rolling tide. Never fully satisfied with the current style of choice, modesty and simplicity became interchangeable with styles of sex appeal and luxury — depending on the dynasty in control at that point in time.


Note to all emperors of the past: Did you not grow tired of going back and forth time and time again? Anyway.我真想问一下历代的帝王们:您这样反反复复的累不累啊?

Although objectively it may appear that traditional modes of dress in China were all essentially the same, you might wanna think again. As major believers in symbolism and “fantastical” tales, fashion throughout the centuries proved a very significant contributor to the organization and identification of the Chinese people. Wardrobe styles were dependent on social rank and gender and thus were bound to a plethora of rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts; one fashion faux-pas and you might find yourself persona non grata at the imperial court. So… Yep. Imagine living your entire life clad in uniform. Yep.


Finds such as the Terra Cotta Warriors showed off the basic theme of long gowns for the elites, as well as a restricted use of certain textiles, like silk, for certain members of the upper-class.从出土的兵马俑的着装可以看出长袍是统治阶级的基本服装样式,某些织物,如丝绸等只有特定的一些上层阶级的人才能使用。

Laying The Fashion Foundations


The first traces of fashion in China were found during the Xia (2205-1766 BC) and Shang (1600-1046 BC) Dynasties, where the foundations for China Fashion were laid. During this time, social hierarchies had not yet officially been established and so the designation of fashion was subjected to somewhat “looser” interpretation. Basic features included a cross-collar robe, wrapped from right to left, tied with a sash. Lo and behold, the colors you wore, were entirely yours to pick; no instructions there. Go nuts, they said.


As the Zhou (1046-256 BC) Dynasty rose to power, a division of the peoples occurred. A strict hierarchical society was formed and the length of a skirt, the width of a sleeve and the degree of ornamentation symbolized your rank in society — social suicide, if you ask me. People got ueber-picky and -sensitive about what they wore for the fiercely feared accusation of dissent. For example, the color yellow was reserved solely for the emperor. If anyone dared to wear the imperial color of Earth, neutrality and good fortune — let alone get caught yellow-handed, cheesy indeed — well, to the grave they were sent. Then, in marched the Qin (221-206 BC) .


Note to my fellow New York ladies: You will love this one.写给我在纽约的女性朋友们:结下来的这段你们一定会喜欢。

The color of choice was…drumroll please…. Black. Based on the theory of Yin and Yang, black symbolizes water and red symbolizes fire (the color of the abovementioned Zhou dynasty). Water beats fire. Et voila, symbolic success attained.


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Du Juan captured by Photographer Quentin Shih in his 2011 “Revolution” Vogue China editorial shoot. Copyright@Vogue China.摄影师时晓凡(Quentin Shih)在2011年以杜鹃为模特拍摄的名为“革命”的时尚大片,Vogue中国版编辑摄影,版权所有@Vogue China


Known as China’s first golden age, the Han Dynasty (206 BC-221 AD ) was the real start of true fashion in China. A little history 101 is perhaps in order, so here we go: China has at least 55 minorities, but the majority of ethnic Chinese today are recognized as descendants of the Han. You can only imagine the influence they’ve had over the centuries. Styles consisted of a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash and a narrow, ankle-length skirt with an additional piece of fabric reaching to the knees.


Confessional note from this feature’s author: At this very point, the styles have all started to sound the same. If you’re lost or bored, just hang in there! 作者给读者的话:从这里开始,汉代以后的服装样式都很相似。如果你读得累了,请再坚持一下!

Finds such as the Terra Cotta Warriors showed off the basic theme of long gowns for the elites, shorter jackets for the common people and fashion laymen, as well as a restricted use of certain textiles, like silk, for certain members of the upper-class.


The Tang Dynasty (618-907) however, I believe, is the fairest of ‘em all. It was a time of romance, poetry, music, art, culture and, especially, women’s fashion. Styles were more luxuriant and revealing than ever before, with many of them adapted through trendspotting in the Western look book. Trade along the Silk Route flourished and influences from Turkey and Persia impacted the fashions of China’s elite – from head to toe; even their shoes were woven from silk. Given the romantic vibes of the era, women, commoners and elites alike were encouraged to wear form-fitting garb, showing off their natural curves.


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Out With Curves, In With Confucian


With the rise of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Confucian values made their return to the stage and the opulence of fashion as seen during the Tang Dynasty took a conservative turn towards a sense of simplicity. Higher necklines, flowing robes and extended hemlines formed the editorial of the day. Once again there was variance in sleeve length and accessories based on social rank. Until one day in 1279… When the Mongolians took over, bringing with them an entirely different culture, including new fashion statements. The outside made its way back in once again.


The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the most OCD fashionistas of them all, assigned outfits per social rank and occasion, a system which took more than 20 years to come into full fashion fruition. This is the era in which we see a serious emphasis on the yellow Dragon Robe, only to be worn by the Emperor himself. Those lower in rank wore simple Taoist robes without any embroidery or ornamentation, however they could choose from a variety of headdress styles. Women of the court wore gowns with big sleeves, short tops (crop tops in imperial China, who would’ve thought), decorated crown and long shawls with phoenix (a symbol of high virtue and grace) and flowers, in addition to gold or jade ornaments.


And so we arrive at the Last Emperor. The Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) is when the Manchurians took over China and introduced the well-known cheongsam – known in Mandarin Chinese as qipao, an oversized robe that later turned into a slender cut dress and one of the most quintessential China styles of all time to boot. It became a staple wardrobe item and an accurate, yet overused, reflection of chinoiserie.


Chinese women were often depicted in Western films wearing the cheongsam and were referred to as “dragon ladies”. This is beyond any doubt a politically charged stereotype, promulgated by a higher authority. China did not open its doors to the West too commonly for fear of being fully immersed, drowned even, in foreign influence and power. The ensuing perceptions of Chinese fashion were too often left to mere objective insights. The cheongsam, despite its controversial status as a sex symbol, nonetheless was and is still a firm fan favorite. Look up “cheongsam” or “qipao” in the dictionary and you’ll find: “Feminism”.


Representing all that is the progression of modernism, the cheongsam became an iconic part of China Fashion as a symbol of women’s liberation. Yet I shamefully admit that every time I see a woman wearing the dress, I immediately think to myself: How stereotypical; how antiquated. Whereas in fact, it is no different than someone wearing, let’s say, a Chanel Suit worn by Jackie O or a classic sundress worn by Michelle Obama. Cultural garment stereotyping is omnipresent, it appears.

在现代化的进程中,在中国时尚界,旗袍成为中国妇女自由解放的标志性象征。但我不得不承认,每次在街上看到有人穿旗袍时,我的第一反应是:这是多么的老套,多么的过时。然而事实却是,穿旗袍跟穿其他服装并没有什么不同,比方说,Jackie O穿的香奈儿套装,或是Michelle Obama穿的经典背心裙。看来,对传统文化服饰的思维定式无所不在。

The little Mao-playsuit was enforced upon all and reflected the Chairman’s initiative to streamline all of society and eradicate culture, religion and social class. 文革制服反映了毛主席所倡导的简化社会、消除宗教和社会阶级的思想。

About Tradition And Transition


The transition from the Old (Imperial, until 1912) to the New (Republican, 1912-1949) China turned out a tricky one. The process to eliminate traditional styles and to adopt new ones from the Western world proved toilsome. Western-styled suits were designed for men and women continued to wear the cheongsam, which slimmed down and sexed up by the day. Eventually it became mainstream womenswear and the well-known “Calendar Girls” as seen across Shanghai’s cigarette advertisements and, well, calendars everywhere — I like to equate them to the women of Playboy, only dressed in cheongsam — were the women to beat.



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“Revolution,” a 2011 editorial shoot by Photographer Quentin Shih for Vogue China. Copyright@Vogue China. 摄影师时晓凡(Quentin Shih)在2011年为Vogue中国拍摄的名为“革命”的时尚大片。版权所有@Vogue China。


In much regrettable, Mao-called for fashion, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) a few decades later, these newly-discovered and -adopted styles were banned entirely and back the Kingdom turned to a time of conformity and uniform. The little Mao-playsuit was enforced upon all and conveyed, in true transgender fashion, a reflection of Mao Zedong’s initiative to streamline all of society and eradicate culture, religion and social class. Not until the 1980s, did the fashion scene resume.


Fashion as we know it today is an identifier, but in societies that vacillate between collectivist and individualist mentalities, fashion can be both a form of unification and rebellion. China may be a lot of things, but today, fashion moves to the beat of its own drum. Those who survived the Cultural Revolution are forever stuck in their ways and the nation’s first post-Revolution generation still believes in buying foreign brands and label-heavy goods.


Survival Of The Fittest — Street Style


China’s youngest generation, on the other hand, is now making its way into the modern-day fashionsphere. If you think about it, it’s pretty incredible how quickly they’ve caught up – given the obvious historical setbacks.


They are now the focal points of street style and fashion week photographers across the globe. They are the influencers, designers, style icons. i.e. the movers and shakers of Chinese society. Many Chinese politicians have been spotted wearing certain Chinese brands out of support and respect for domestic talent and so today, instead of the government dictating fashion, the tables have turned. First Ladies of the United States have always been style icons for the people, from the classic style of Jackie O, to the affordable style of Michelle Obama, to the elitist styling of Melania Trump. These are the “dynasties” of political figures with a hand in the evolution of fashion. Each woman has attempted to communicate with the people through their choice of style.

现在他们是街头风格的焦点,走遍全球的时装周摄影师;他们是时尚影响者、设计师、时尚偶像,是改变中国时尚的新势力。很多中国的政客通过穿着中国本土设计品牌,来支持本土有才华的设计师。如今,那个政治控制时尚的时代已经过去了。美国第一夫人一直是美国人民的时尚偶像,从Jackie O的经典风格,到Michelle Obama的经济适用风格,再到Melania Trump的高贵风格,政治人物在影响着时尚的变迁。每一位第一夫人都试图通过自己的时尚风格来与民众交流。

In whichever way it manifests, China’s fashionistas are coming into their own, with minimal interference from the ruling Party — aside from the recently enforced ban on opulent displays of wealth and the high taxes on incoming foreign brands as a way to elevate consumption of domestic labels. (No biggie there, right?) This may or may not have an effect on style preference, but because China is no longer a country hermetically sealed off to the outside, designs will still be internationally-inspired.


The lights are on and there’s someone home – no derogatory snipe intended. After decades of lusting for foreign styles and brands, nationalism is back on the rise and Chinese designers are embracing their heritage, their native culture. This new crop of fashion pioneers is exploring design ideas other than the European styles that have been mirrored for the past number of years. European designers have always looked to the past to inspire new collections; so why wouldn’t the same apply to China? The truth is we may see a return of the legendary Chinese robes in our near future. Stay tuned!












Written by Jessica Laiter of Chinese Graffiti for Temper Magazine
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon
Chinese translation by Li “Lily” Dan of Kitayama Studio.
Featured Image: Copyright@Quentin Shih; Editorial for Vogue China; Model: Du Juan
Photos: All pictures in this feature belong to Photographer Quentin Shih, who shot these images as part of his “revolutionary in fabulousness” 2011 “Revolution” editorial spread for Vogue China.
Imperial Dress Drawings: Copyright@Chang An Moon.
撰稿人:Jessica Laiter
编辑:Elsbeth van Paridon
宫廷服饰图:版权所有@Chang An Moon.
Copyright@Temper Magazine 2017 All Rights Reserved 版权所有@Temper Magazine 2017