Is China Ready for Men in Skirts?

What Happened: A father in China has shared his young son’s experience of wearing a skirt to school. The post, which originally appeared on the platform Zhihu, has been reposted by some popular subscription accounts on China’s leading messaging app, WeChat. Since then, the topic has snowballed; the hashtag #canmaleswearskirts has gone viral amassing seven million views, with men in China posting images of themselves in skirts in a show of solidarity. While the boy in question received disapproval from his schoolteachers, and reactions to the initial post have been mixed, on the whole, online comments have been supportive. 

Seven-year-old Lele wears a skirt to school. Photo: @仰泳的海星 on Zhihu

The Jing Take: The unexpected mobilization behind this hashtag indicates that Chinese citizens are slowly pushing for more nuance and parity between gender roles in China. The high visibility of the country’s effeminate celebrities, or “little fresh meat,” who often opt for gender neutral or even cross-gender clothing choices means that young men are increasingly more exposed to less traditional role models in popular culture. Take BTS, the in-demand Korean boy group. They are especially known for their experimental outfits, but Chinese celebrities are not far behind. Zhou Zhennan, a member of the C-pop band r1se, has flashed his legs for Elle China magazine not so long ago, and of late, idols such as Wang Yibo, Cai Xukun and Gucci ambassador Lu Han have all sported skirts. 

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Still, the entertainment and fashion spheres easily offer a safe space for provocative fashion statements —  it’s far more difficult to express these in daily life. However, this latest incident illustrates that while stereotypical attitudes are not being overthrown, gender norms are at least being explored. Recently, more online discussions are stirring up opinions in schools and the wider society about diversity and inclusion as well as respect and tolerance. And, if it’s down to Gen Z and younger consumers, who are on the whole less concerned about conforming to rigid social roles, the next decade might bring a radically altered society when it comes to the freedom of choice. Maybe China is ready to challenge fashion’s most puzzling taboo. 

The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.