Well-Suited: Blazers, Power Suits and Empowering Female Fashion

For a country where women have long been painted as submissive figures, Chinese women’s fashion has undergone a lot of change in recent decades.

The global fashion industry has responded to a growing social movement away from gender conformity, in the form of gender neutral fashion, women’s suits, and blazers. Now more than ever, there is a demand for bold oversized blazers, suits, boyfriend jeans, and typically masculine clothing from Chinese female consumers in parallel with China’s social progression.

Actress Yao Chen in Chinese hit TV show 'All Is Well'
Actress Yao Chen in Chinese hit TV show 'All Is Well'

Suiting up

For many Chinese female consumers, subverting stereotypical gender roles by wearing blazers and so-called power suits is a symbol of freedom, self expression, as well as a bold fashion statement. The progressions in Chinese society have translated into the fashion world and speak to the social and financial freedom of modern Chinese consumers. The preference for blazers and masculine style amongst Chinese females was predicted by Alibaba’s ecommerce platform Taobao last year to take retail by storm. A recent analysis of new trends in China was championed by searches for blazers, specifically “大哥廓西” which literally translates to “big-brother, shoulder-padded suit”. Search traffic in this genre on Taobao rose by 317% and overall sales rose by 139%. Based on this data, Chinese female consumers are expected to own at least one blazer in the next 10 years, and the number of women buying suits on Taobao is predicted to overtake the number of men.

'Le Smoking' shot by Helmut Newton for Yves Saint Laurent
'Le Smoking' shot by Helmut Newton for Yves Saint Laurent

For many Chinese women they want to be seen as assertive and tough and use fashion as their medium of choice. A blazer not only creates the feeling of empowerment but is also a versatile accessory that smartens up any look. One can throw it on over a pair of plain leggings and a tank top or a dress and it takes an outfit to the next level. Blazers and suits speak to a variety of personal tastes and items can be worn interchangeably for any occasion. Chinese male consumers are following suit too and eschewing gendered clothing and accessories and are searching for a more refined aesthetic. Some of the top trending key searches on Taobao from earlier this year included ‘trendy’, ‘lace’, ‘flower shirts’, and earrings’ that suggests gender specific standards of beauty are becoming irrelevant.

Chinese consumers are responding positively to this new fashion direction and shaking off rigid gender specific fashion. Below the post relating to the report from Taobao, one Weibo user wrote ‘aesthetic diversification is a good thing, and everyone has the right to dress in any style and change to another the next day,’ and another commented ‘a world where boys can be feminine and girls can be tough is considered a beautiful world.’

Well suited: sales of suits and blazers on ecommerce platforms have skyrocket in the past few months
Well suited: sales of suits and blazers on ecommerce platforms have skyrocket in the past few months

Portrayals of women in suits and blazers on television screens and in the media, such as popstar Li Yuchun, actresses Yang Mi, or Yao Chen from hit Chinese tv show ‘All Is Well’, have influenced consumers to shop for alternative beauty looks. Yao Chen’s portrayal of an alpha female in particular has helped pioneer this trend, and successfully painted a picture of female empowerment whilst remaining on point. Li Yuchun has become a brand ambassador for L’Oreal, Gucci and Diesel, and is famed for her talent and gender neutral aesthetic. She has been a trailblazer for androgynous streetwear fashion, scouting leather jackets, blazers, trainers and short spiky cropped hair, an unconvential but refreshing look especially in the world of Chinese popstars. Proving that this movement is catching on, she is a fine example of the category of influencer that relevant brands should be looking to.

Staying ahead of the game

Brands ought to be quick to act and embrace the female empowerment trend and meet the demand. Chinese and Western icons from Yao Chen to Lady Gaga have reclaimed the power suit to ‘take power back’, and Chinese consumers are picking up on this. For brands looking to stay on top of China’s ‘she economy’ this is a chance to stay in the loop with Chinese consumer interests. These progressive changes have opened up a dialogue for diversity and female empowerment, a conversation that ought to be on every relevant brands lips.

As is always the case with marketing to China, creating localised campaigns with the right tone of voice is a necessary part of your entry strategy. Finding the right partner agency who can help you understand your audience is the first step that you as a brand should take, which is where we can step in and help find your footing in China.

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