As spring arrives in China, young fashionistas are swapping their down jackets for lighter outfits. Many are donning loose-fitting jackets or hoodies, baggy pants or jeans, and skater shoes. This increasingly popular style is categorized as “American retro-core” 美式复古风 on Chinese social media.
On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “American retro outfit” has attracted over 160 million views, and about 2.2 million posts containing the keyword “American Retro” have been posted on the platform. As of the week of February 27, over 6.1 million searches for “American baseball jacket,” a common item for this look, had been conducted on e-commerce app Taobao, a 374 percent increase compared to the preceding week.
Jing Daily examines why Chinese fashion lovers are embracing American retro-core, what inspired its rise, and its significance for brands.
Affordable and customizable trend
Young Chinese consumers are turning to American retro-core for its effortlessness, youthfulness, and relatively affordable fashion pieces. It can be thought of as a cousin of the chillax trend that became popular last fall.
For instance, Xiaohongshu KOL @九菜不蔡 states in a post that retro fashion can “go with everything”, and makes wearers “feel like a teenager in early spring.” And menswear KOL @小梁不胖 says that the style makes young men look both “sharp and classic” at the same time.
Moreover, the trend is flexible, enabling young fashionistas to express their individuality through different combinations. University students often go for campus-style fashion by donning hoodies or sweater vests, Brandy Melville’s Tilden pants, Nike sneakers, and carrying Cambridge satchels. Young professionals can play with this American casual style by wearing unicolor aviator or jean jackets, khaki pants, short boots, or casual leather shoes.
“There’s a level of comfort with the style that people are ready for, that freedom of movement,” explains Kate Jones, Shanghai-based Creative and Brand Director at Value Retail China, operator of 11 luxury shopping destinations.
Strong cultural influences
American retro-core did not emerge in a vacuum. Instead, it is influenced by several other fashion styles that have been trending globally in recent years. For example, by switching vintage jerseys to baseball jackets and caps while sticking with straight-legged jeans, skater shoes, and headphones, consumers can easily transition from blokecore to a sporty version of American retro-core. The return of Y2K aesthetics in the West eventually spread to China giving rise to discussions and recommendations on vintage Western fashion — there are over 44,000 posts on Xiaohongshu containing the keyword “Y2K.”
Of course, American culture is key to the spread of American retro-core. Some styles are inspired by America’s motorcycle and blue-collar cultures, while others mimic the fashions that appear in American TV shows and movies set in the ’80s and ’90s, such as Stranger Things, Friends, and Clueless. The trend also bears some resemblance to Ralph Lauren’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection, which features both Old West-style denim and boots and old-money aesthetics that express casual chic through double-breasted blazers and V-neck sweaters.
“The trend is also intrinsically linked to music and culture,” says Jones. “This is not new. This is something we saw with hip-hop and Ralph Lauren in the ’90s in the US. It’s cool to see this coming around again as more of a staple in fashion — and brands are getting on board.”
While the trend stems from America, it can be argued that South Korea plays an even bigger role in popularizing this vintage fashion trend in China. Members of K-pop girl group Blackpink, which commands huge sway among China’s fashion lovers, have often dressed in the style over the past year, prompting online discussions in China on how best to mimic their outfits.
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Interestingly, Chinese fashion KOLs have also noticed the popularity of Ralph Lauren in South Korea.
The hashtag “how good Koreans are with Ralph Lauren,” has over 2.3 million views on Xiaohongshu, with many of the posts sharing tips on how Chinese fashion lovers can dress in similar American casual chic. In addition, baseball is one of the most popular sports in South Korea and exerts a significant influence on K-fashion. For example, young South Korean celebrities frequently model for the nation’s Major League Baseball (MLB) streetwear brand, which has a licensing agreement with the US Major League Baseball and is in the process of forming its own K-pop girl group. With K-pop’s huge following in China, it’s no surprise that baseball jackets and caps are trending even though baseball is not a popular sport in the country.
Fast fashion and niche streetwear brands seem to be the biggest winners of American retro-core. Many top-selling American retro-core jackets on Taobao are by fast-fashion labels such as Peacebird and Playboy, while Xiaohongshu KOLs tend to recommend independent designer brands, such as Moose & Goose, Izeizig, and Shi Weng.
Lots of key staples of this wardrobe are available at Ralph Lauren, and brands like New Balance are able to play with the original silhouettes, adds Jones.
The prominence of American retro-core indicates that young Chinese consumers are as open-minded and curious about foreign cultures and fashion trends as ever. Despite China’s tense relationships with the US and South Korea, the rise of guochao, and the fact that Chinese consumers have grown more patriotic, Chinese fashionistas still turn to American TV shows and K-idols for fashion ideas.
If their products enable young Chinese consumers to express their individuality, foreign fashion labels should remain confident in their potential to spark China’s next viral outfit trend, no matter where their headquarters are.