Ins Style (Ins风)
The photo-sharing platform Instagram has been blocked in China for years, but that doesn’t mean tech-savvy Gen Zers aren’t able to access what the app has to offer. Netizens who bypass The Great Firewall (a term for the regulations China has placed on its domestic Internet) share popular posts and styles on social media, giving audiences insight into what is going on outside the country. Despite their limited interaction with popular posts on the app, this Chinese audience has created an aesthetic they have aptly named the Ins Style.
A term widely used across social media channels by KOLs and KOCs, Ins Style has come to reference the positive feelings coming from images of clothing, home furnishing, and even photo filters found on the Western app. On China’s microblogging site Weibo, #InsStyle has over 79 million views and 110k discussion posts. These posts generally incorporate styles like Parisian Chic or designs that utilize consistent colors and tones, such as the new monochromatic style, Sexually Frigidity.
But not all the commentary has been upbeat. As the trend has gained steam over the past three years, many netizens have questioned whether Ins Style followers use the real app while also challenging the vague definition of the term itself. The most common argument has been that a Chinese counterpart such as Weibo Style or WeChat Style could not exist, as technically, there is no single overarching aesthetic on these apps, given that they attract such a diverse audience.
Recently, Ins Style posts have overlapped with another term: Wanghong Style, which refers to any aesthetic that becomes Internet-famous. Young Chinese people are thirsty for experiences that separate them from the general public, and one way to do this is by being one of the first to jump on an influencer style. China marketing consultant Xinyao Qiu pointed out that the rise of the phrase is a sign that Gen Zers may subconsciously lack confidence in their tastes or styles. Qiu agreed with a 2019 viral Wechat article that explained why the trend was popular. “Ins Style took off because businesses started selling a fantasy, where people can live the same Western Wanghong lifestyle beneath a filter,” the article states.
The Gen-Z Verdict
For Gen Zers, visuals of Airbnb homes, Urban Outfitters’ clothing, and Hallmark cards are considered the best examples of this aesthetic. However, 22-year-old college graduate Xu Han noted a difference between high fashion and Ins Style. “Although many young people wear luxury items in their Ins Style posts,” she said, “these brands have long existed without pandering to the trend. I think anything a Wanghong wears can be called Ins Style.”
According to the president of the brand strategy company Brandigo China, Mike Golden, the Wanghong aesthetic can be used on anything with a flourish of flamingos or a hint of oversaturation. “Although I tip my hat to the original Instagram style and where it’s taken the world, it may have come to be overrated by local Chinese and taken on a negative connotation,” he says.
Indeed, the aesthetic can either be worshipped or despised depending on the context, and Gen Zers hold vastly different opinions on this craze. Some Gen Zers who constantly re-evaluate trends went from idolizing a particular aesthetic to finding it outdated and clichéd. Commentators have complained that the overuse of Ins Style in marketing, social media posts, and store decor has cheapened the concept.
Regardless of how Ins Style is perceived by China’s youngest demographic, the heated debates around it proves that Instagram — even though it’s banned — is still the center of Chinese Gen Zers’ attention, whether they are users or not. “Instagram is a great place for ideas and following key fashion and lifestyle KOLs,” says Golden, “surely overshadowing other Western social media among Chinese fans.”
Gen Zers are always finding new and exotic things attractive, but Golden has seen recent signs of Ins Style exhaustion. “I think brands should do their own thing, as the Chinese are too smart and will identify brands that are ‘trying too hard’ to win China and will avoid them,” he explains. “They want original brands, whether foreign or Chinese.”
International brands should understand that every app — whether Western or Chinese — inevitably builds different impressions on different user groups, and it’s essential for them to stay abreast of domestic perspectives. As such, maybe the time is right for a local competitor to take over Instagram’s reign. “We have to admit that there is a certain hard-to-define but easy-to-identify style on Little Red Book or Douyin, as well,” Qiu suggests. Therefore, the challenge is not only for luxury brands to keep creating fresh design aesthetics for their core customers but also to keep an eye on domestic competitors. Because as local apps keep maturing, foreign attractions may no longer satisfy Gen Z’s ever-changing demands.