Since 2010 I have traveled to many cities around the world as a Trend Analyst working with our global client. In 2011, after a visit Shanghai, Hong Kong and Bangkok, I wrote about my observations from the street. It’s about culture, fashion and really, the people. Too often the people of Asia, specifically China, are depicted as a covert and untrustworthy regime. Not to weigh in on politics, what really struck me: the people in the cities in Asia are just like us. It sounds simple, trite even, but if more people realized the Asians move about their daily lives just like people within the US, maybe we would have more respect for diversity.
Asia’s Fashion Trends from the Street
Wonder what the people are wearing in the streets of Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok? If you believe everything you read in the fashion mags, you’d think high end designer brands are ubiquitous. Not so in the streets of Shanghai, the first stop of our Asia trip. In the bustling east Nanjing Road area just west of the Huangpu River and The Bund, young people dress similar to American urbanites wearing skinny jeans, ballet flats, and graphic print tees. Shanganiese millennials master the art of mixing prints, plaids, stripes and polka dots. Although I’m hawked on the street, “Lady want designer bags?” young women are not carrying logo laden handbags, authentic or not. With the exception of international brands Zara, Mango, H&M, and Gap, most of the shopping is lower end, local brands. As you cross streets into The Bund, designer luxury shops are abound. Chanel, Prada, Boss, and Armani line the street across the river. The same holds true in newly built mega malls containing all luxury brands, yet eerily empty with few people shopping. At an interior design event (our industry is carpet), attendees dressed fashionable at seemingly moderate price points, while some carry Prada and Chanel handbags, not unlike events in Atlanta.
In the trendier Xintandi area for outdoor lunch, people are dressed a bit more upscale, and there are more westerners that appear to be there on business. Eclectic, trendier fashion is much more prevalent on the streets of Chicago, LA, SF and of course NYC.
I definitely have Asian hair envy. They embrace precision cut hair on both guys and gals, spiky gelled styles or strong bangs and bobs that swing automatically back into place. Overall, guys have far more stylish, hip looks in Shanghai. With jeans, a tee or long sleeve shirts and colorful trainers, that’s British for sport shoe, it’s easy. The young guys look just like British or American boy bands, only… Chinese.
Hong Kong streets ooze mass crowds, a combination of the Las Vegas strip and NYC’s 5th Avenue and Times Square – all on steroids. Young people on the streets now sport an eclectic mix of vivid color, graphic tees, leggings or skinny jeans- some patterned, some multicolored, occasionally accented with colored ankle socks or knee highs, some paired with sandals, or some paired with ballet flats. The most common trend on Asian guys and gals are the Ray Ban Wayfarer style black frame glasses, mostly clear lenses for function, some no lenses for style, dorky, but in style. Their hair is more unkempt than in Shanghai. So far the global travel tip, and Rachel Zoe agreed in a Ask Rachel segment of Who, What, Wear, skinny jeans or leggings worn with a mid length tunic, layered with a cropped sweater or jacket and ballet flats is it! I imagine in cooler temps, flat ankle or knee high boots will take over.
A plethora of designer handbags sway down the street, but the craziest phenomena in the TST shopping area is waiting behind velvet ropes to get into stores: Prada, Gucci, or Louie, and the line outside Chanel was half a block long. Sunday morning shoppers queued outside the high end designer shops before opening. Later that day we stood outside Chanel watching the activity inside. The stores were packed, people were “shopping” in the sense that they were interacting with (white gloved) salespeople displaying handbags over the counter. Some left with shopping bags. Mind you the shoppers did not look excessively affluent, and these bags were authentic, selling at full price, easily ranging from $1500 – 2500 and up. At this point, I’m still flabbergasted at the scene. I later learned the Chinese yuan is high against the Hong Kong dollar so shoppers from mainland China save about 20% + 17% sales tax, to buy in Hong Kong, hence the frenzy. Our sources reported “they stay in cheap hotels and eat McDonalds” in order to be able to afford a luxury, designer bag. Whew, so glad I sorted that out. My husband was a real trouper as I obsessed about that phenomena for about 36 hours.
I had to give some thought about how to describe the fashion from Bangkok. Whether on the streets towards the river or along the upper level walkway making easy access to four mega malls, most of the women wear dresses and skirts because of the sultry, humid 99* temperatures. A mix of sandals and ballet flats take over the streets. The fashion along the walkway to the malls is a bit more “suburban” is the best way to describe it. Colorful or neutral, knee length, full skirted or simple day dresses, young women are a bit more dressed up along the walkway. Another notable difference, despite the humid temps, women wear sleeves, short or three quarter, an over wrap, or modest sleeveless. You don’t see the bare, strappy tops as ubiquitous across the US in warm weather. You know how some people shouldn’t be baring it all? It’s nice. The walk towards the river (and my $15 killer Thai massage, typically $125 in the US,) you see more of the working class, eating from food vendors with wares much scarier than NYC. Many are dressed as you would see in downtown Atlanta, State Street Chicago, and the working class mixed in NYC- in simple, conservative synthetic separates.
In the Hong Kong airport we were flying within the region with the local people, not in the international terminal. That’s where it really struck me: the people in the cities in Asia are just like us. It sounds simple, trite even, but if more people realized the Asians move about their daily lives just like people within the US, maybe we would have more respect for diversity.