How to Look Like a Local in China

by Published

China is a fascinating country with an ancient culture, where long-held traditions still dictate many customs in modern society. In such a unique place, it can be hard to gauge norms around Chinese fashion trends (Do they wear silk everything? Are dragon-patterned robes really a thing?). China used to be a very conservative country that held conformity in high regard. While tradition and uniting with some sort of group, even if it’s just family, are still valued in China, younger generations have become much more fascinated with Western culture, which has led to many changes in modern Chinese clothing choices.

How to Look Like a Local in China

Today, Western trends are just as popular in China as the are in the United States and Europe. This makes it much easier for international travelers to blend in and look like a local. If you’re wondering how to dress in China while studying, volunteering, teaching, or interning abroad, you shouldn’t have to look much farther than your own closet to find what’s considered modern Chinese clothing. However, Chinese culture still differs greatly from Western culture, and you don’t want to make any embarrassing blunders.

Be as wise as Confucius and avoid any fashion faux pas with these tips on what to wear in China:

1. Bikinis are Rare

If you are traveling to the coast in China, don’t expect to see women dressed in cute bikinis. Two-piece swimming suits are rarely worn in China, so it might be safest for you to invest in a classic, comfortable one-piece. Getting harrassed is never fun, and young women who wear bikinis can expect to receive more attention than those who don’t. Anyone over 30 can forget about wearing a two-piece in China too; older women always wear one-piece swimming suits, and most of the time these suits are very conservative.

a lit up temple in china at night
Festivals in China are a great opportunity to bring out brightly-colored clothes

2. Wear Red for Luck

Red is a popular color in China because it is believed to symbolize good fortune. If you plan on going to any Chinese festivals during your time studying abroad in China, wear something red. Bright colors are also commonly worn at festivals or ceremonies in China. Spring Festival, which usually falls in January or February, is one holiday during which bright colors are always prevalent. If you’re traveling to China during that time, make sure you bring a nice, brightly colored coat that’s right on the hottest Chinese fashion trends! If you don’t have one, then you have the perfect excuse to go shopping in colorful Chinese markets instead.

Outside of these festivals and special events, however, modern Chinese clothing tends to be more conservative in color. To blend in with the crowd, muted, darker colors are better. 

Red chinese lanterns hanging from a balcony
Red is a popular color in China because it symbolizes good fortune

3. Don’t Pack Flip-Flops

Flip-flops or sandals without straps are usually seen as cheap in China. Apart from not being stylish, flip-flops are a pain to walk around in. You will probably be doing a lot of walking during your time in China, especially since you don’t want to miss the Great Wall. Keep in mind that the streets and sidewalks in China are often crowded and not the cleanest, so wearing closed-toed sandals or shoes is better for your safety as well. If you’re not sure what to pack for China, plan on bringing a comfortable tennis shoes for getting around town during the day and a nice pair of shoes for going out in the evening.

4. American Styles are In

Unless you are in a rural or traditional part of China, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about how to dress in China. Casual, Western styles are in line with Chinese fashion trends. Modern Chinese clothing reflects American styles and brands that have been popular in China for the past few years, so you don’t need to worry about avoiding clothes with logos. 

View of Shanghai, China
China’s mega cities are great places to shop for local fashion

The shopping in major cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing, is incredible, on par with New York or Paris. China is a very fashion-forward country, so you probably won’t offend anyone by dressing unconventionally. But keep in mind that your clothes say a lot about you, so what you wear should reflect how you want to be seen.

5. Lean Toward Conservative Clothing

While Chinese fashion trends are very similar to Western trends, showing too much skin is frowned upon. Shirts that are low-cut, or leave shoulders and backs mostly bare, should be avoided. Similarly, it’s safer not to wear incredibly short dresses, skirts, or shorts when you are deciding what to wear in China. Also, sweat pants should also be avoided as casual streetwear. When you’re out and about, you should try to always look reasonably tidy and respectable.

Chinese girl wearing traditional Chinese clothing
China is still a very traditional country, but modern Chinese clothing follows Western trends

You don’t have to stress out over what to pack for China!

Most of the street styles you see around you will be familiar and not too dissimilar from your home country. To play it safe, though, respect China’s conservative values and avoid showing off too much skin. Once you have figured out what to wear in China, you can get down to the more important business of sampling dumplings and learning all about Canto-pop.

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