The Shanghai-style Costume Culture

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The shanghai style costume culture

As we all know, costumes are an important symbol of social civilization. Besides satisfying the living needs of people, costumes also represent the culture of particular periods and areas. In modern times, due to various factors, Shanghai fashion has formed its own unique style, occupying an important position in the development history of Chinese costumes.

In a mere one hundred years starting from the opening of its port, Shanghai developed from a little coastal town into a prosperous and open international metropolis by absorbing both Eastern and Western cultures, which later shaped the unique Shanghai-style culture with the city’s costumes as one of its main colorful features.

The Shanghai-style costume culture began to take shape in the mid 19th century when Shanghai opened its port to the world. Shanghai soon overtook Guangzhou of South China’s Guangdong Province to become the biggest foreign commercial center in China in 1860, which resulted in the swarming-in of not only foreign capital but also western cultures and fashion.

The stylishness of costumes became the essence of Shanghai fashion, and as Shanghai turned into a place where the East met the West, so did its fashion. The merchants, students, and compradors were the pioneers and promoters of Shanghai’s new fashions. “Everyone imitates the Shanghainese but never successfully. Once they make it, Shanghai
fashion has already progressed to another level. ” This idiom prevailed in the 1930s and 1940s, highlighting Shanghai’s significant position in the fashion world.

When a costume culture enters an unprecedented booming and active era, one of the most noticeable symbols is the appearance of fashionable dresses. Besides being influenced by economic and political factors, the Shanghai-style costume also has an intimate relationship with the prevailing custom, habit, and cultural life of modern Shanghai. Enjoying the reputation of “Paris of the East,” Shanghai became, and still is, the popular and propagating center of fashions.

The following four factors promoted Shanghai’s fashion generation and popularity long ago: First, at that time, foreign trade was so prosperous that Occidental textiles, such as woolen cloth, and lace, entered the Chinese market continuously,  updating and broadening people’s selection and concept of costumes; second, there were various fashion columns in all big newspapers and magazines, popularizing the latest fashion information from the West; third, some department stores held many fashion shows regularly; and fourth, fashionably dressed movie actors and actresses became the models of many people.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, people wore simple dresses, usually blue or gray, and no make-up. Men wore Zhongshan, while women mostly wore short Chinese-style coats and shirts with the button down the front and narrow sleeves. In the mid 1960s, the grass-green-color military uniform was very popular among the people, no matter male or female.

Since the reform and opening-up in the 1980s, the national economy has been developing rapidly, enabling people to pay increasingly more attention to their attire and make-up, according to the trend of individualism and fashionableness. Accordingly, Shanghai has again gradually become one of the international fashion centers just like Paris in France and Milan in Italy. All the latest styles popular in the Occident will be blown in Shanghai in only three or four months, and other areas in China then all imitate the Shanghai style.