Dolce & Gabbana (yes, we’re going there) once famously stated, “Lingerie is the maximum expression of a woman’s femininity” and in 2019, such mottos are coming to light across China’s first- and second-tier cities.
Shanghai and Beijing now stand at the forefront of a “lingerie movement” as Chinese women explore their femininity, sexuality and true self via their undergarments.
Emily Aspinall adjusts her straps and gets moving.
In traditional Chinese culture, women were taught to hide their talent and beauty so they could be perceived as decent and noble “creatures”. Underwear was originally called xieyi with the character xie translating to “frivolous”, which infers that it should not be shown in public. Back in the day, women’s underwear consisted of a design called dudou in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), a piece of cloth that protected the front of one’s chest. Some dudous even bore pockets for storage. Practical.
Yet, times have (and continue to) drastically change in China’s post-revolutionary — i.e. Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) — age. The country continues to open up its market to international fashion brands introducing new “foreign” lingerie styles. A constant market growth in the niche since 2009 is showing no signs of slowing down and, moreover, encourages the idea of women embracing and celebrating their body, accentuating their femininities and qualities, instead of hiding them away.
Lingerie in China throughout previous decades was simply a practical tool all about comfort, durability and practicality. Heavily laced, highly-padded and high-waisted made up the standard triple threat checklist for underwear on sale inside Asian stores. Now, in the late 2010s, the revolving doors of time are spinning into overdrive.
The Victoria’s Secret (VS) 2017 Shanghai show’s invite-only tickets sold on Taobao for as much as 90,000 RMB. A spanking new VS store on Shanghai’s upscale Huaihai Road subsequently opened its doors to the eager public, with the venue attempting to elevate both itself and its lingerie from runway to high-fashion appeal.
Victoria… Not So Secret
Huge buzz shrouded the Shanghai clouds in 2017, as American lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret (VS) were set to host their first catwalk show. Among the 55-strong catwalk cast, seven Angels hailed from China, a record in VS catwalks of the past two decades. The show’s invite-only tickets sold on Taobao for as much as 90,000 RMB. Wow. [Unfortunately for VS, those ticket prices were the main wow-factor of the 2017 show, red.]
A new VS store subsequently opened its doors for business on Shanghai’s upscale Huaihai Road in 2017, with the store attempting to elevate both its real estate and lingerie stakes from runway to high-fashion appeal — especially in view of the falling sales numbers since 2016. A flashy pink staircase, glamourous panties and shimmering bras fill the shop floor and it seems that VS have tapped into China’s lucrative and growing lingerie market, with plenty of room for potential-slash-hopeful growth.
On one side of the coin, VS for some is rather problematic, due to the brand’s lack of diverse models and depicting one ‘idealised’ body type habitually hard for women to relate to. (Read all about the latest controversy sparked by the brand’s CMO Ed Razek “transgender non-inclusive” remarks and his ensuing apologies on BBC News right here, red.)
On the other side, then, strong Asian models strutting their stuff on the catwalk proves a great boost for the confidence of young Chinese women and this evolution may very well demonstrate just how the Asian body type fits right in with the international brand’s concept. Notoriously shy about displaying their physique, Victoria’s Secret is in fact loosening up the tie-ups of taboo for a new generation of Chinese women to be able to discuss this topic casually.
Post-80 Chinese women are now more self-sufficient and independent, a movement of confident women embracing their bodies is beginning to spread across the nation’s first- and second-tier cities and quickly flowing into the urban outskirts.
Post-80 Chinese women are now more self-sufficient and independent and a movement of confident women embracing their bodies is beginning to spread across the nation’s first- and second-tier cities and quickly flowing into the urban outskirts. For Chinese women, a more empowered relationship with themselves is developing.
Meanwhile, the Chinese mentality of “catching” Mister Right when you’re young and beautiful remains a sticky one, particularly with the older generation. “Shengnv“, which literally translates to “leftover woman”, is a term coined in China referring to those women who are over 27 and not married.
Cosmetic brand SK-II summed this pressure up perfectly in their powerful 2016 series of YouTube adverts about Shanghai’s famous marriage market. (The market is a place where parents of unmarried adults flock once a week, to trade information on their children in the hopes they’ll find them a suitable partner). Arguably, this concept is not THAT different to modern dating apps, however, with one big difference, it’s controlled by your elders.
In the advert, young women describe the pressure of being unmarried, feeling isolated and the intense family pressures that hover over it all. One woman, Wang Xiaoqi, reveals “not getting married is like the biggest sin and sign of disrespect to your elders and society”. The advert works to empower women and highlight the power of independence. The same woman ends the advert saying, “as opposed to the term ‘leftover woman’, there is another term; it’s called ‘power woman’”.
After going viral on Chinese social media and drawing in huge praise, a positive and forward-thinking approach to help women face these pressures now prevails.
Chinese aesthetic has always been dominantly about being “skinny”, a physical and vernacular code for “pretty”. However, this attitude too is gradually changing as more and more women want to be fit and healthy and then flaunt what they got in their lingerie.
Food – AKA Lingerie — For The Soul
China’s lingerie shop clientele expands, as does the fruition of health clubs. Chinese aesthetic has always been dominantly about being “skinny”, a physical and vernacular code for “pretty”. However, this attitude too is gradually venturing out on its own as more and more women want to be fit and healthy to go on and flaunt what they got in their lingerie.
Taking the above into consideration, Chinese lingerie brand Neiwai (“inside, outside”) founded by Liu Xiaolu has tapped into the burgeoning activewear market, making comfortable and soft, but fashionable, gym underwear. Simple designs and muted colours make for a popular and hygienic choice among Chinese cosmopolites. With sustainable fashion being on pretty much everyone’s mind, high quality, long lasting underwear too is once again proving of new importance for the Chinese market. And so we measure around the back and the bust in order to come full circle. Check.
As they continue to be sassier and sexier in their underwear choices, lingerie is changing the way Chinese women view their bodies. Underwear isn’t just a story of practical need anymore, but has slowly become a way to express your inner self. With international brands on the rise in China, the Asian body is now celebrated and Chinese women finally self-indulge in a touch of luxury.
With the lingerie movement growing exponentially, China’s traditional views on marriage, relationships and sexuality are changing. Thank you 2019, for welcoming a generation of single, independent, confident Chinese women; exploring and embracing their feminine powers.
Featured Image: Courtesy of The End Lingerie IG starring @xin.e .Photography by @marietomanova. You can find the brand at Chop Suey Club NYC!
Edited by Elsbeth van Paridon for Temper Magazine
Copyright@Temper Magazine, 2019. All rights reserved
As a freelance journalist, she specializes in Chinese society and fashion, her fascination surrounding the East grew since living and working in a rural ex-fishing village on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Aspinall aims to capture a sense of the colourful and dynamic contemporary China, which continues to revolutionise and evolve.
Aspinall holds an English Literature degree from Sheffield University. She explored the literary canon, starting with old English and ending with the contemporary period, her area of speciality and research is post-war British social realism. While studying, she also on gained experience at the BBC, local publishing houses and copy edited the student newspaper.
Since moving to China, she has written regularly for Temper Magazine,The Shanghaiist and her personal blog. Her interests include gender fluidity, the modern representation of women, sustainability and the underground scene in China.
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