Gen Z fashionistas have a funny — or perhaps scarily powerful? — way with words. Simply tack “core” onto the back of any noun and a new trend is born.
To stay on top of algorithm-driven social media feeds, Gen Z creators are churning out fresh content at a disorienting speed, drawing from every style and subculture all at once. Largely originating on TikTok and Instagram, many of these viral aesthetics have gone on to make waves in China and beyond, with local youth putting their own cultural spin on the styles.
Although these buzzwords can sizzle out as quickly as they emerge, it’s important for businesses to keep tabs on them. More than just marketing fads, these trends can provide broader insights into Gen Z’s shopping behavior and values. Brands or products that were once seen as niche or uncool can use these trends to engineer a major turnaround that puts them back on the map.
No gatekeeping here: Below is a guide that breaks down all the top “-core” terms in China (plus a few other trendy aesthetics of note).
A distinctly American aesthetic has taken off in China, and it’s giving “popular kid on campus” vibes. Inspired by 1980s and 1990s American fashion and Hollywood movies like Clueless, American retrocore can either look cool and casual (think letterman jackets, blue jeans, baseball caps, and sneakers), or very preppy with plaid skirts and V-neck sweaters, à la Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtags “American vintage” (#美式复古) and “American vintage style” (#美式复古穿搭) have gained 2.6 billion and 225 million views, respectively, as netizens have fun cosplaying as American teens. More here.
Asian baby girl
False eyelashes, dyed hair, tattoos, and rave clothing are the hallmarks of the ABG look. Reportedly originating from the Asia diaspora in the 1990s, the aesthetic has grown into a global subtrend, with the hashtags “ABG girl” and “ABG makeup” (#ABG女孩 and #亚裔辣妹妆) on Xiaohongshu accumulating over 7.2 million views and 230 million views, respectively. As the heavier makeup and piercings diverge from typical beauty standards in Asia, the ABG style demonstrates how Westernized Asians are perceived in China while giving its followers the impression of having lived abroad. More here.
Described by Pinterest as “professional enough for the office” and “comfy enough for the couch,” athflow is athlesiure with a touch of elegance. The high-low combination means various brands can be worn to recreate these looks, from luxury names like Max Mara, to hyped streetwear labels like Yeezy and Fear of God. In China, Hailey Bieber is the “It girl” of this style, often photographed in an oversized blazer or a trench coat paired with sweatpants and chunky sneakers. The “athflow” hashtag has 16 million views on Xiaohongshu. More here.
There’s a reason why Miu Miu’s ballet flats were the hottest fashion products of Q3 2022. Ballet attire, which has long inspired high fashion, is now prancing into the wardrobes of non-dancers too, with leg warmers, tulle skirts, wrap tops, hair ribbons, and ballet shoes being incorporated into elegant daily looks. In China, this trend has grown in popularity thanks to K-pop idols like Blackpink’s Jennie and Asian brands like Pehrt and Neiwai Active. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtags “ballet style,” “ballet dress,” and “ballet girl” (#芭蕾风, #芭蕾穿搭, #芭蕾女孩) have hundreds of millions of views each. More here.
Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie movie has got everyone paying homage to the iconic doll. Known for her girly yet classically chic aesthetic, Barbie is bringing back mini dresses, giant platform shoes, snap hair clips, scrunchies, 1990s rectangle sunglasses and other matching accessories — mostly in the color pink, of course. But Barbiecore is about more than glitzy Y2K outfits; it’s about celebrating femininity and confidence. Hollywood stars and Chinese influencers alike have taken a page out of Barbie’s lookbook; on Xiaohongshu, the hashtags “Barbie outfits” (#芭比穿搭) and “Barbie makeup” (#芭比妆) have 21 million and 10 million views, respectively. More here.
Perfect for cheering on your favorite soccer team or a night out with the boys, blokecore is the stereotypical sporty male aesthetic. Inspired by 1990s British pub culture, the look comprises vintage soccer jerseys, straight-cut jeans, and sneakers, especially from brands like Adidas, Nike, Umbro, and Fila. Last year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar sparked a wave of soccer-inspired street styles in China, with the hashtag “blokecore” on Xiaohongshu gaining over 11 million reads. As the tournament happens every four years, expect the blokecore trend to return in the future. More here.
First coined by Japanese magazine Popeye, the trend is as it sounds: fashion for boys in the city. The city boy style is quite varied but often focuses on simplicity, looseness and layering, casually mixing elements of Japanese leisurewear, American streetwear, and gorpcore (see below) in neutral and earth tones, or navy blues. Representing a chill, comfortable urban lifestyle, the hashtag “Cityboy” has over 121.5 million views on Xiaohongshu.
Similar to city boy, the cleanfit trend also relies on muted colors and minimalist designs. Unlike some of the louder looks on this list, there are no exaggerated logos or prints, and the tailoring is neither too tight nor too loose (city boy features a lot of baggy fits). The hashtag “cleanfit” has grown to over 275 million views on Xiaohongshu as consumers crave clean staples or even quiet luxury without the exorbitant price tag; think solid color shirts tucked into white pants paired with Birkenstock clogs. Because of its simplicity, it’s sure to always be in style. More here.
Thanks to their comfort, customizability, and popularity among local style icons like Bai Jingting, a Crocs ambassador, these slip-on shoes have become unironically fun and cool. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtag “holey shoes” (#洞洞鞋) has over 606 million views to date, with many Chinese netizens showing off their clip-on charms, from chic Chanel-style pins to Pop Mart figurines. Clogcore is a great example of how a niche category can become a nationwide hit through personalization. More here.
Imagine living in a Jane Austen novel, or in the world of Netflix’s Bridgerton. Simple yet graceful, the cottagecore ensemble includes details like puffed sleeves, floral prints, and Peter Pan collars. But beyond being a fashion aesthetic, it’s also a lifestyle; cottagecore celebrates reconnecting with nature and a return to traditional skills like baking bread, gardening, and embroidery. Its popularity (country style or #田园风 has 78 million views on Xiaohongshu) makes sense in China, where youth have long bemoaned the urban hustle and bustle and started to embrace a slower pace of living.
Courtcore (or tenniscore)
Not to be confused with Gweneth Paltrow’s courtroom outfits, courtcore refers to fashion inspired by tennis, which became an increasingly popular activity worldwide during the pandemic. Characterized by polo shirts, pleated skirts and knitted cardigans, typically in white, the trend embodies luxury and leisure — like summer at a country club. As such, sportswear and luxury brands alike, from Lacoste to Gucci and Tory Burch, have taken a swing at the trend. On Xiaohongshu, the hashtags “tennis fashion” (#网球穿搭) and “courtcore” have 53 million views and 5.4 million views, respectively. One Chinese netizen commented, “For courtcore, I’m now learning how to play tennis.”
Also, the fit totally works for playing China’s new favorite sport, pickleball. More on that here.
As its name suggests, this trend is all about boosting one’s mood through bright, fun apparel. Rainbow palettes, soft textures, cute accessories, flowy fits — really, anything goes, so long as it feels good and puts a smile on the wearer’s face. Named a trend to look out for in 2022 by Pinterest, it was only recently popularized in China by Douyin creators like Baizhou Xiaoxiong (@白昼小熊). The related hashtag “dopamine outfit” (#多巴胺穿搭) has over 285 million views on Xiaohongshu currently. More here.
Chinese fashionistas fatigued by lockdowns or simply yearning to be transported to the city of love have turned to retro, floral dresses for comfort. This has put niche French labels like Rouje and Réalisation Par as well as bigger contemporary brands like Maje and Sandro on consumers’ radars. Besides the allure of flowy, feminine silhouettes, the style has gained popularity due to French “It girls” like Jeanne Damas and Sabina Socol promoting it on Xiaohongshu. On the lifestyle platform, the hashtag “French style” (#法式穿搭) has over 1.7 billion views. More here.
Gen Z girls in China are powering up their closets and home decor with this latest trend. Blending elements of Japanese kawaii, or cuteness, with TikTok’s e-girl aesthetic, the gamer girl look is typically characterized by cat ear headphones and Japanese school uniforms, set in a room decked out in neon lights, anime merchandise, and the latest gaming equipment. With over 83 million views on Xiaohongshu, the trend uniquely gives headphones and other tech accessories a chance to shine. More here.
Gorpcore is about achieving that camper-chic look. It’s basically a variation of Japan’s “Yama style,” or mountaincore aesthetic, in that it incorporates earthy-tone functional outerwear pieces like down jackets and cargo trousers, giving a boost to brands like Timberland, Patagonia, and Arc’teryx. On Xiaohongshu, the related hashtag (#gorpcore户外新潮) has over 42 million views, growing alongside China’s boom in outdoor activities. More here.
Similar to dopamine dressing, kidcore is all about bold colors and healing one’s inner child through fashion. The difference is that this style has a much greater emphasis on nostalgia, largely romanticizing pop culture of the 1990s and 2000s. Think back to the days of DIY friendship bracelets, cute stickers, cartoon IP, denim overalls, colorful socks, and stuffed animals. Even brands like Bottega Veneta, Prada, and Marco Rambaldi have jumped on the trend by taking inspiration from children’s toys and apparel. In China, the related hashtag “cartoon style (#元气卡通风) has over 45 million views. More on China’s kidults here.
Mermaidcore has been making a splash this summer thanks to Disney’s The Little Mermaid live action remake. Designers have taken inspiration from these mythical creatures, presenting shimmery fabrics, bikini tops, seashell and starfish prints, pearl accessories and, of course, form-fitting mermaid dresses. Although the term “mermaidcore” itself does not have much traction on Xiaohongshu, there are over 1 billion views for “mermaid” (#美人鱼) and 279 million for “The Little Mermaid” (#小美人鱼) on the platform. In addition to discussions about the movie, netizens are also posting tutorials on aqua-inspired makeup looks and underwater photoshoots of themselves wearing mermaid tails. More here.
New Chinese style
Chinese fashionistas are also putting their own aesthetic on the world stage, giving traditional cultural clothing a modern twist. Unique Chinese details like the mandarin collar and cheongsam button placket harmoniously mix with Western urban and casual wear, creating a range of looks that could be worn in the office or out in town. Given Chinese consumers’ strong national pride, it’s no wonder the related hashtag (#新中式穿搭) has over 814 million views on Xiaohongshu and more local designer brands have cropped up over the years. More here.
Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2023 ready-to-wear collection is a prime example of this New England-esque aristocratic style. Old money is all about dressing for that dream life in the Hamptons, characterized by chinos, oxford shirts, tweed blazers, and cardigans. Another heavily Western-inspired style meant to convey class and timeless appeal, the topic Old Money (#老钱风) has 49 million views on Xiaohongshu and builds off the quiet luxury trend, which is seen as the antithesis of fast fashion and is all about collecting true investment pieces. More here.
One of the broader trends, urbancore draws heavily from streetwear, skater fashion, and techwear. It embodies, as Aesthetics Wiki puts it, “a youthful and somewhat rebellious spirit of a teen living in a nostalgic time.” But in China, the term loses some of its edge, defined on Xiaohongshu as outdoor sportswear in the city. Essentially, it incorporates sportswear pieces like tennis skirts, pocket vests, and fisherman’s hats into daily wear — almost like a diet version of gorpcore. With 74 million views on Xiaohongshu, “urbancore” is indicative of the growing popularity of outdoor activities among young Chinese consumers. More here.