advertisement from the era of China Republic with a modern girl in Qipao (ad slogans: the happy lady. why is she full of happiness? Because her Indanthrene clothes has the brightest color, which  will never fade despite exposed to the sun or repeated's worth its cost!) © 2011 tianlin. All rights reserved.

Stylish for the Beijing seniors?

This is a random project from last summer when I was still living in Beijing, a city I’d rather call a big town, mixed with tasty traditions and as semifinished modernist instead of a metropolis. 
My friend Susi and I interviewed two local elders about their views on FASHION. They were both over 80 years old, and lived in the Hutongs opposite the north gate of the Ji Shui Tan Hospital. Elder ladies and gentlemen hold extremely different opinions about style of dress and fashion of younger people in today’s modern society. Their attitudes are somewhat similar like the reformers and the conservatives towards the New Deal. However, we can sense from the following answers that, men and women do take quite different perspectives when they think about the same question, no matter how old they are :-). 

Mr. Li (91 years old): Still has quite a decent look and distinct logic, and when talking to him, even English would slip out of his mouth after speaking a few words. Guess he must have been one of those young elites back in China’s old days.

What do you think is better, Chinese traditional dress  or the clothing of the young generation of today?

“They are both good. But it would be better if the traditional cultures were combined with modern styles. The Chinese have always been meticulous in their dress sense. We’ve got the traditional Qipao for ladies, and gentlemen have  worn the robe in the past. It would be really good if they could somehow meet the demands of today’s hectic life. Everything nowadays can not be spearated from  history. It wouldn’t be today without yesterday, would it? Today’s culture has been developed from history! It wouldn’t work, if we left history behind.  It would be just like an old man trying to get to be old without the process of growing up. This growing process of the human body is very slow, and it’s the same as the development process of the style of dress-starting from history and  tradition, through to the present.”

Is style important for you?

“Of course style is important! Style shows the prevailing customs of a society, and it represents modern culture. However, the prevailing customs should fit with practical use. Why would we need prevailing fashion, if it had no practical value at all? The young people nowadays have so many different styles. Look at you, and her! I think style is really important since it’s an expression of modern society. There are a lot of other things which have style as well as clothes. For example, there used to be carriages on the road, and then tricycles appeared, and the various kinds of vehicle models are the cultures of different eras. It must have its own process of development, and new styles  finally come with this development.

In the past, the women wore the Qipao, and we men all wore robes. Those long gowns we used to wear are especially good for the winter, which can keep the legs and the waist warm since each one uses a lot of cloth. Since then, new styleshave been developed, like the coat, and the trench coat for example. The styles, fashions and trends all developed along with the growing of  society in general.”

Which is more important for clothing, elegance or comfort?

“It’s important to combine both! It doesn’t work to only have comfort without  style, and it makes no sense either if you only care about style. Elegance and comfort must be integrated…”

Mrs. Yang (81 years old): Started her job as a teacher in an experimental kindergarten in 1953.When we explained the purpose of our interview, she misunderstood, and thought that we had some tailor shops in the neighborhood :-D

Mrs. Yang, Susi, Mrs. Fan

It’s not easy to find good clothing for old ladies these days…look at that actress who plays the ugly mother in the TV series “My Ugly Mother”, if she wore clothes like the young, showing all sorts of  body parts … then she must be the vamp’s mother,  or not? Right, where do you girls do your tailoring business?”

We would like to know the opinions of elders about the styles of younger people, and their ideas about FASHION.

“It’s really not pretty at all! They always wear a broken sleeves and have a piece of cloth on their leg, and there are holes all over the body. They even show their belly buttons! We find it so  unattractive anyway. But you girls wear quite pleasant clothes…not like the models, they sometimes even wear a plastic bag on their head. I can’t stand it…”

Is style important for you?

“We don’t understand, and honestly don’t like the styles of the young generations. Those clothes with the broken sleeves or the purposefully ripped up trousers  wouldn’t be our choice. I used to wear Qipao as well when I was young, and there was an opening on the side seam too, just not as long as the opening on young people’s clothes nowadays.”

What kind of clothing do you think is pretty for the elderly?

“Just what we’re wearing now- spacious and comfortable. Well it’s all good as long as not showing too much skin.”

Advertisement from the era of China Republic with a modern girl in Qipao (ad slogans: the happy lady. why is she full of happiness? Because her Indanthrene dress has the brightest color, which never fades in spite of exposing to the sun or's worth the cost!)

Which is more important do you think for clothing, elegance or comfort?

“We wore the big Qipao too when we were young. It didn’t feel tight then either. Just look at Zhu Ling, the wife of our former prime minister Li Peng- wearing the Qipao every time when she went abroad for Conferences. She said it’s our “national dress”. The dress is well cut to mark the waist and the hip, which makes your figure look quite good. We used to wear the Qipao for our wedding days. Normally, today we only wear itfor the Spring Festival (Chinese new year’s day), or when we go visiting relatives. I’ve got several Qipaos, with edge piping and an opening on the side seam. I’ve worn blue Chiffon Qipao and Qipao with pearls etc.. I’ve still got that Qipao I wore on my wedding day at the bottom of my closet,but it doesn’t fit me anymore. It’s red and yellow. It was made at home with material bought in Beijing, and I had it
embroidered at parts. Four pairs of embroidered shoes were bought too: a green pair, a red pair, a black pair, and I forget what the other color was….I wore the red ones when I got married.”

Which do you prefer, the fashion todayor of the past?

“I think it was much better in the past. The fashion now is so unsightly. I used to wear dresses too in 1953 when I just started working. I was working in a kindergarten from the Ministry of Health, which was called the Beijing Experimental Kindergarten. Everything there was learned from the  Soviet Union in those days. It was very popular to give the kids cold water baths, sunshine baths, air baths or something like that. They would put a bed outside even when it was snowing, and let the kids sleep there. We gave children the so-called cold water bath, which meant we lowered the temperature to 1 degree celsius everyday, and put their clothes on as soon as finishing the shower. The kids who went through that training got really strong immunity, and they didn’t get sick often at all… ” (granny, you are so off the topic :)

In which way could you be called “fashionable” when you were young?

“The movie stars in Shanghai that time all wore make-up, wore the Qipao and a coat, so the women just followed these trendsetters. From the fifty’s onwards, girls started to wear dresses. We all wore dresses in summer, and the “Lenin Coat” in winter, which was one kind of coat with double lines of buttons. I permed my hair when I was about 20 years old. I did it because all of my female co-workers that time were doing it. It was also pretty trendy to do “social dancing”. All the girls in kindergarten loved it. I couldn’t dance, so I just watched.”

Which sort of Chinese traditional clothing do you think should be protected and inherited?Well, clothing just like the Qipao and the dress. It’s all fine as long
as not showing too much of your body!

Do you think the western style of clothing or the Chinese style of clothing looks better?

“The Chinese is better. I guess we Chinese should wear Chinese style, shouldn’t we? Anyway, her clothes are very pretty (Susi),  her style looks quite vivid for young people.”


  1. Jianan Bi

    Interesting perspective! I sawed this poster days ago, which was adopted in a friend’s photograph works~ Was it a famous poster? But really stylish~

  2. Great site! How can I add it to bookmarks?

  3. I like the style of your item! It looks really great.

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