Fashion designs featured in Shanghai fashion magazine in the 1950s. [For China Daily]
Shanghai fashion may have evolved over the centuries, but it has till this day always retained its philosophy of being delicate, refined and inclusive.
Before 1843, Shanghai culture was mainly shaped by the culture of the areas in the south of the Yangtze River, namely the regions in today's Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces which were previously known as the ancient kingdoms of Wu and Yue in Chinese history.
Shanghai-style fashion gradually developed starting in the mid-1900s, influenced by the culture that Westerners brought to the city. For example, traditional Chinese attire such as the mandarin jacket were replaced by Western-style suits and accessories as the city became one of the five ports forced open to international trade following the signing of the Treaty of Nanking by the United Kingdom and the Qing dynasty.
In 1912, the establishment of the Republic of China facilitated the integration of Western and Eastern cultures. A classic look for men at that time comprised a suit, a pinched hat, a cane and glasses with gold frames. The look for women consisted of simple turtleneck sweaters and long skirts or skorts.
As Shanghai became a prosperous, cosmopolitan city in China during the 1920s to 1940s, attitudes toward fashion also changed. Consumers became more discerning and were likely to choose apparel that best matched their age and body shapes. The representative clothing of this era were coats, jackets and cheongsams. People no longer wore traditional Zhongshan suits.
Photos of Shanghai women in the early 20th century show the qipao was popular at that time. [For China Daily]
After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Shanghai fashion experienced another change as people became more frugal. The once-forgotten attire such as embroidered shirts and Zhongshan clothes made a comeback. This fashion trend lasted until the reform and opening-up of the country in 1978 when Western clothes became popular again. Trumpet trousers, jeans, short skirts and sportswear, although regarded as weird foreign styles, became popular in Shanghai, especially among young adults.
Shanghai-style fashion has since then always been abreast of the latest developments in the world. In 1995, the first Shanghai International Fashion Culture Festival was held in the city, featuring expositions, competitions and forums on fashion. The festival is still being held today.
The Shanghai government is currently focused on building its "four brands" — services, manufacturing, shopping and culture. The fashion sector has been identified as a key player in this project and many new measures have been implemented to drive creativity and support designers.
"The new Shanghai-style fashion is not limited to fashion in Shanghai-it also includes the surrounding areas that have embraced the values of Shanghai fashion, which are inclusiveness, openness, commercialism and innovation," said Liu Xiaogang, professor from Donghua University's school of art and design.
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