These days, a scroll through TikTok will reveal an endless feed of fashion trends. With Y2K still in season, crop tops paired with the baggiest low-rise jeans can be seen on some of the world’s biggest influencers. Elsewhere, cream and pastel outfits of chinos and polos are making their rounds, reviving that summer-at-the-Hamptons glam.
After garnering billions of views on TikTok, these looks have spilled over to Chinese social media, where young fashionistas are making them their own. Even with China under lockdown until recently, COVID-19 has given rise to new styles rather than stifled creativity. In particular, millennials and Gen Z consumers are prioritizing comfort and utility while looking to the past — perhaps reminiscent of simpler times — for inspiration.
It’s only a matter of time before the next wave of trends hits the mainland (Pinterest predicts that 2023 is the year of cyber streetwear, ruffle shirts and “Romcom Core.”) Until then, Jing Daily examines the most popular aesthetics that took over Xiaohongshu during the pandemic and what they say about Gen Z preferences.
Intellectual Chic: From Annie Hall aesthetics, to The Row
“Brainy is the new sexy,” writes Xiaohongshu user @BettySays. One of the most popular fashion trends in China, Intellectual Chic or 知识分子穿搭 has over 51 million views on the Chinese lifestyle platform. Like many of the styles on this list, Intellectual Chic is heavily influenced by vintage apparel but offers a more bookish and laid-back vibe. Several posts reference Diane Keaton’s character in the 1977 movie Annie Hall, where she’s seen accessorizing a white button-down and khakis with a vest, necktie, and bowler hat.
At the heart of this look is a white long-sleeve shirt. Chinese fashion columnist @陈苍苍 on Xiaohongshu goes so far as to call it “synonymous with intelligence, literature and art, independence and relaxation.” Typical pieces (largely menswear) include vests, cardigans, trench coats, and suits coupled with glasses and loafers. Represented by It-girl Bella Hadid and brands like Lemaire and The Row, Intellectual Chic is an everyday look for Chinese working women who want to look smart and stylish.
Bella Style: Y2K-inspired looks
Speaking of Bella Hadid, the American supermodel deserves her own section in this guide. On Xiaohongshu, “Bella Style” (Bella风 or #跟着Bella学穿搭) has over 36 million views, with many Chinese fashionistas taking inspiration from her street style.
Although Hadid can be seen spearheading almost all the latest trends, this term in China refers to her retro American aesthetic. Simultaneously sexy and sporty, it’s an extension of the Y2K trend taking over the world, marked by baggy pants, crop tops, long denim skirts, cargo mini skirts, and the must-have accessory of the late ‘90s: the short-strap shoulder bag. The popularity of the hashtag in the country points to the influence of global celebrities and the enduring charm of naughties attire.
Old Money: Blair Waldorf, Ralph Lauren and Hermès
Think Intellectual Chic on steroids — but much more preppy. The Old Money Aesthetic is about lowkey luxury rather than in-your-face logos. Characterized by chinos, oxford shirts, tweed blazers, cardigans (tied over the shoulder, of course) and V-neck sweaters in shades of beige, cream and blue, the ensemble is perfect for trips out on the yacht, a polo game, or maybe a guest role on Gossip Girl. Although the style has been around for a long time, the term started trending on TikTok in 2021, and the hashtag #oldmoneyaesthetic has since accumulated 1.5 billion views.
Naturally, the Old Money Aesthetic has made its way to China too, where the related hashtag #时尚老钱风 has attracted 30 million views on Xiaohongshu. Many users look to Ralph Lauren’s Spring 2023 ready-to-wear collection as a prime example of the aristocratic style, while others have tagged quiet luxury brands such as Maison Margiela and Hermès in their posts. But what attracts local fashion lovers is not just the simplistic elegance but also the spirit of “old money”: being well-educated, well-rounded and, somewhat ironically, not easily swayed by the trends of the time.
Gorpcore: Outdoor functional normcore
Although dressing up is still in, people have started to shift away from formal attire to wearing practical clothes during the pandemic. Gorpcore takes this one step further, elevating the functional gear of extreme outdoor activities like mountain climbing, skiing, and hiking to fashion status. Officially coined in 2017 (gorp being short for “good old raisins and peanuts,” a hiker’s go-to snack), the camping-chic style is characterized by brightly-colored fanny packs, sturdy backpacks, cargo pants, puffer jackets, bucket hats and the like.
In China, this trend has been accelerated by the Beijing Winter Olympics and the booming interest in outdoor and winter sports. In fact, Xinhua News reports that China is expected to exceed 300 million snow and ice leisure travelers in the 2022-23 snow season, with this number reaching 520 million in three years. As such, the lifestyle and its accompanying apparel only stand to grow; on Xiaohongshu, the hashtag #gorpcore户外新潮 has 18.4 million views and counting.
While outdoor brands like Patagonia, The North Face, and Salomon have a natural stylistic advantage, others have infiltrated the scene via collaborations — Canada Goose x Angel Chen, Jil Sander x Arc’Teryx, Adidas Terrex x And Wander — or by launching their own technical gear, like Prada’s ski wear. Even non-fashion brands are cashing in, with Xbox teaming up with the Chinese gaming platform GameCores last October to release merchandise for gorpcore-lovers.
As the world opens up (China finally included), people aren’t ready to leave their loungewear behind just yet. Cue Athflow, described by Pinterest as “professional enough for the ‘office,’ stretchy enough for the yoga mat, and comfy enough for the couch.” Taking off in 2021, this style features ultra-comfy apparel that’s elegant enough to wear on the clock.
The related hashtag has 11 million views on Xiaohongshu, with many Chinese users posting pictures of Hailey Bieber as inspiration. The model is often seen wearing some combination of a hoodie, a blazer or long coat, solid color leggings and sports shoes — essentially, dressing in loose silhouettes and soft colors. The high-low mix means various brands can be incorporated into these looks, from Max Mara, to Yeezy and Fear of God, to Li-Ning.
Blokecore: ‘80s and ‘90s retro sports looks
There’s a name for the ensemble of straight-legged jeans, vintage jerseys and soccer shoes that is taking over the internet — and it isn’t Dadcore (that’s actually a whole different trend). Blokecore, as it is called, is no longer just sported by older men, bar-goers, and soccer fans, but also young fashionistas who are embracing this ‘80s and ‘90s-inspired casual British look. Accelerated by, but not limited to, the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar, Chinese consumers have also adopted this trend of mixing and matching retro jerseys with other accessories, such as boots, bucket hats, and headphones.
According to Xiaohongshu, posts related to the topic “the trendy guide to wearing jerseys” increased by nearly 100 percent during the World Cup season, while the hashtags #球衣潮流攻略 and #blokecore have 12.6 million views and 6.8 million views, respectively. Although Adidas Sambas and soccer jerseys are closet staples for the look, other brands including Balenciaga, Martine Rose, and Palace have also released soccer-themed products to jump on the bandwagon. Celebrities like Blackpink members Lisa and Jennie, as well as Rihanna and Bella Hadid have further fueled the craze.
Clogcore: The “ugly shoe” that became cool
Clogcore isn’t a meme, it’s a movement. Shoes that were once seen as categorically uncool or worn ironically, like the Crocs Classic Clog, are now at the center of a cultural wave. Spurred by the early pandemic days of working at home and the revival of Y2K (Crocs came about in 2002), the slip-on style is all about effortless comfort and convenience.
The trend has gained momentum in China through celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Ouyang Nana, and Yang Mi, as well as Crocs’ collaborations with Salehe Bembury, Balenciaga and local brands like Chinese actor’s Ba Jingting’s brand Goodbai and Melting Sadness.
Other labels have even launched their own clogs in recent years: There’s the Yeezy Foam Runner, Nike’s Jordan System.23 Clog, Prada’s Foam Runner Mule, and Adidas’ adiFOM Q to name a few. Cute, chunky and customizable, the Clogs hashtag #洞洞鞋 has 61.4 million views on Xiaohongshu, with many users sharing their own DIY creations.