The aftershocks of China’s zero-COVID policies and rising economic challenges are prompting younger generations to retreat into electronic dance music and don the genre’s boundary-breaking outfits, fueling a ravewear boom.
While attending electronic dance music festivals and raves is commonplace for Western youth, it was until very recently seen as an act of rebellion by China’s Gen Z. That’s changing thanks to a growing you-only-live-once (YOLO) attitude among younger generations.
The rapid proliferation of music festivals, clubs, raves and electronic music in China has spawned a clubwear micro-industry.
In 2022, the eighth top search term on Taobao, China’s largest e-commerce site, was “hot girl clubwear.” Today, the #Clubbing looks (蹦迪穿搭) hashtag has amassed 6 million views on lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, where influencers are sharing rave-inspired outfits to look edgy and cool.
Part of the reason for rave fashion’s rising popularity in China is the global resurgence of Y2K aesthetics. Last year, Pinterest searches for “house music outfits” and “Berlin rave fashion” increased 185 percent and 250 percent year on year, respectively.
Brands like Diesel and Blumarine have brought midriff-showing denim and provocative silhouettes back to the runways, showcasing an image of grungy sexiness associated with underground parties.
China’s electronic music scene went from underground to mainstream during the 2010s.
From 2011 to 2018, the number of music festivals held in China grew from under 70 to 263 a year, according to a market report by consultancy iResearch. Even while the COVID-19 pandemic was raging, China held over 20 music festivals during Labor Day holiday week in 2021, when local lockdown policies had been ternporarily relaxed.
And in 2018, a wave of music-focused TV shows such as The Rap of China and Rave Now popularized the music genre and, subsequently, the streetwear that the stars were wearing.
A bigger factor inflating the ravewear boom is the growing nightlife scene across China’s cities.
“Even during the pandemic, I went to more than 10 underground raves organized by music fans in secret locations all over the city [Beijing]. Sometimes it was the terrace of an abandoned factory, or a space inside a construction site, or an underground parking lot inside a building,” said Liu Dong, a 28-year-old raver and designer based in the capital.
Besides these underground raves, urban clubs including Beijing’s Zhaodai and Dada Bar, Shanghai’s 44KM, and Shenzhen’s Oil Club have become well-known alternative hubs for the country’s party animals.
“The range of outfits I saw at these parties is very diverse,” says Liu. “There’s not one typical look. I saw a lot of T-shirts from Chinese streetwear brands like Randomevent and Roaring Wild, as well as leather miniskirts and oversized jeans. It’s a very mixed scene.”
This rave-inspired grungy aesthetic has become central to the lexicon of emerging Chinese designer labels.
Windowsen, the young brand founded by Antwerp-educated designer Sensen Lii, is known for mixing elements of sci-fi, gaming, and other subculture genres into its edgy clothing. The label has dressed mega stars like Madonna, Jeon So-yeon, and the members of Blackpink, and is a favorite of local DJs, alternative style influencers, and artists. During Shanghai Fashion Week in September 2022, the brand displayed a glittery collection inspired by rave parties, while the show itself morphed into a rave.
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Yueqi Qi, a 2021 LVMH Prize semi-finalist, is another prominent figure in the youth-culture designer scene. Featuring models resplendent in iridescent makeup, spiky hair, and oversized low-rise trousers and lacy shirts, the label’s lookbook shows club-worthy feminine wear with a subversive touch.
Today, the Y2K-inspired streetwear trend sparked by China’s raver communities has infiltrated the mass media as a new brand of cool. In January, Bazaar China and Alibaba’s beauty department co-launched a Year of the Rabbit video campaign featuring celebrities in Y2K-inspired makeup and streetwear to celebrate this trend.
Last year, C-beauty brand Little Ondine collaborated with the cartoon character Betty Boop on a makeup capsule in tribute to the 90s’ style icon and the Y2K raver look.
With nightlife bouncing back, it’s time for more fashion brands to lean into the party as well.
Brands should draw inspiration from China’s young clubbing aesthetics and tap into these emerging party trends.
For Chinese Gen Z, the post-lockdown reopening means newfound freedom to party on and channel their free-spirited energy into how they dress. Powered by music, fashion, and hedonism, they show no sign of toning it down anytime soon.