Traditional Chinese clothing turning heads

Hanfu fans showcase traditional Chinese clothing styles at a November Hanfu cultural festival in Chengdu, Sichuan Province. Hanfu is available for both sexes. [Photo/Xinhua]

Youngsters increasingly adopting Hanfu robes in large part due to the explosive growth of social media and growing national pride

Wang Runjie wore a flowing robe with pearl embroidery and a finely worked silk fan in one hand. She looked like a time traveler from a bygone era, and she turned many heads as she strolled through downtown Shanghai.

Wang is an avid fan of Hanfu clothing – commonly understood as the traditional garment that represents the Han ethnic group in China.

“At first, it can be a little awkward to wear Hanfu and walk on the street. But as I’ve made more friends with this shared interest, it’s fun and proud to see we’re trendsetting,” said Wang, a 21 year old student.

As China has embraced western fashion in recent years, a renaissance in clothing is taking shape and a growing army of youth is searching for their fashion choices in the past.

A number of factors contribute to the phenomenon – from TV dramas popularizing old styles to rising patriotic sentiments. One element, however, is accelerating the tide of an individual’s preference for a collective carnival – social media.

Wang managed to find her like-minded friends through QQ, China’s best-known social media tool, where Hanfu enthusiasts voluntarily gather through group chats that also offer a degree of anonymity if desired. Internet users discuss everything from the latest Hanfu trends and locations that make a perfect Hanfu photography backdrop, to the best accessories for outfits.

She got to know Huang Rong, another Hanfu megafan, through an event organized by QQ. Huang has taken a more academic approach and delved into the history of clothing and this can sometimes lead to debates among friends.

“I was attracted to its (Hanfu) beauty at first sight. But when I dig deeper, it’s all about the archeology, history and culture of China,” said Huang. “I’ve never felt so blessed to be Chinese.”

In the eyes of Liang Zhu, vice president of QQ parent company Tencent Holdings Ltd, social media platforms will be responsible for amplifying enduring social trends and following them quickly to reach a turning point.

“We have been following the ‘China Chic’ trend closely,” said Liang. “QQ’s connectivity and the mammoth input of its 600 million monthly active users enables people with vertical interests to discover highly relevant content and make friends.”

A number of features embedded in QQ – from virtual outfits that users can swap out for their profile ads, to a QQ music channel dedicated to traditional Chinese style – have worked together to celebrate the traditional cultural sentiment.

Both Wang and Huang said that social media sites are a natural gateway for subcultures like Hanfu to become more inclusive businesses for a growing audience new to the phenomena.

“Cultural trends need to be discovered and then tracked to keep the vibrancy alive,” said Wang.

Hanfu carries a lot of weight, not only culturally but also financially. Both Wang and Huang admitted to owning numerous Hanfu outfits and often cannot resist the temptation to purchase alternatives. Average spend per item is around 550 yuan ($ 84), with some carrying prohibitive price tags as high as 15,000 yuan.

According to e-commerce website Tmall, specialty garments like Hanfu, among other popular costumes, led to 1.26 times sales of traditional blouses during this year’s November 11th Shopping Festival, the country’s largest annual consumer gala.

This has partly led platforms like QQ to ally with Hanfu dealers in the big game.

“We would also like to invite retailers who specialize in Hanfu clothing through the QQ-Mini program, where they can display their products and sell them to target groups,” said Liang.

Similarly, QQ partnered with Dunhuang Academy, the research arm of the historic site in northwest China, to enable QQ users to put on virtual outfits to their display profiles with the region’s fashion styles and send customized requests in ancient modes.

“It has been our relentless goal to help youth learn and pass on the essence of traditional Chinese culture through community engagement through QQ,” he added.

In recent years, the tech giant has spared no efforts to protect and promote traditional Chinese culture with its extensive technology.

In September, Tencent made a pact with the Palace Museum, a historical complex in Beijing built 600 years ago, to collect high-resolution photographic information on its 100,000 relics and to operate and update the historical site’s cloud-based database.

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