The Rise of Traditional Hanfu and Neo-Chinese Fashion

The Rise of Traditional Hanfu and Neo-Chinese Fashion

Amidst the surging “Guochao” (national trend) wave, a unique fusion of traditional Chinese clothing and contemporary “Neo-Chinese” fashion is captivating audiences across China. In 2024, the “Neo-Chinese” style has taken center stage, with outfits featuring song brocade jackets, horse-face skirts, and other elements frequently topping social media trends. Unlike fleeting fashion fads, this “Guochao wind” seems to be gaining momentum rather than fading away, garnering increasing attention with each passing day.

However, as the “Neo-Chinese” craze intensifies, the line between cultural appreciation and commercial exploitation has become increasingly blurred. While some celebrate the trend’s ability to popularize traditional elements, others raise concerns about the proliferation of inaccurate designs, counterfeit products, and a lack of understanding of the deeper cultural significance behind these styles.

At the heart of this discourse lies a fundamental question: How can traditional Hanfu attire and the modern “Neo-Chinese” aesthetic harmoniously coexist and evolve?

Recent insights from industry experts and cultural enthusiasts suggest that while “Neo-Chinese” fashion continues to thrive as a popular styling code, Hanfu, as a crucial bearer of traditional Chinese culture, is increasingly being recognized and embraced by the masses as more than just clothing – it is a cultural symbol.

The stunning “Nian Jin” (Brocade of the Year) fashion show during the 2024 CCTV Spring Festival Gala left audiences awestruck. The resplendent display of traditional Chinese patterns and designs offered a visual feast while igniting enthusiasm among countless Hanfu enthusiasts nationwide.

The Rise of Traditional Hanfu and Neo-Chinese Fashion

Cao Yirong, a dedicated “post-90s” Hanfu aficionado and the owner of the Shanghai Mingxi Traditional Hanfu Clothing Studio, shared her excitement: “When I watched this year’s Spring Festival Gala, I couldn’t contain my emotions. I immediately posted in my friends’ circle, ‘Fellow Hanfu enthusiasts, today, we truly celebrated the new year. After 18 years of promoting Hanfu, it has finally graced the Spring Festival Gala stage.'”

As traditional culture gains prominence and social media fuels the rise of “Guochao,” “Neo-Chinese” elements have become an effective medium for transmitting and, in turn, promoting Hanfu. A search on social platforms yielded hundreds of millions of results and billions of discussions related to Hanfu and “Neo-Chinese” fashion.

Since January 2024, the search volume for “Neo-Chinese” and “Song Brocade” on major e-commerce platforms has increased by nearly six and twenty times, respectively, compared to the previous period. Cao Yirong candidly acknowledged that while the “Neo-Chinese” market is undoubtedly larger than Hanfu from a commercial perspective, some “internet-famous clothing” has fostered stereotypical impressions among consumers regarding traditional attire, posing significant challenges for those genuinely dedicated to preserving and promoting authentic Hanfu and ethnic garments.

According to the “2023 China Brand Development Trend Report,” the number of Chinese consumers purchasing “Guochao” and national brand products grew by 74% between 2019 and 2022, with transaction values surging by 355%. Data from the China National Textile and Apparel Council reveals that the “Neo-Chinese” clothing market reached a scale of 1 billion yuan in 2023, with the total transaction value of related products increasing by over 100% in the past three years.

Cao Yirong explained the key differences between traditional Hanfu and “Neo-Chinese” fashion: “Modern Hanfu can be categorized into casual wear, everyday wear, and formal attire based on different occasions, with more intricate and meticulous styling. In contrast, ‘Neo-Chinese’ outfits tend to be more minimalistic and practical for everyday wear.” She added, “Many consumers tend to conflate the two styles, but they can be distinguished by their cutting methods – traditional garments primarily employ flat pattern cutting, while ‘Neo-Chinese’ fashion often utilizes upright pattern cutting.”

Acknowledging the prevalence of inaccurate, low-quality “Neo-Chinese” clothing on the market, Cao Yirong revealed that many Hanfu enthusiasts cannot help but feel a sense of resistance. “‘Neo-Chinese’ fashion is an ‘appropriation,’ an amalgamation of elements, a patchwork of combinations,” she explained. “Many garments labeled as ‘Neo-Chinese’ are made from inexpensive materials and may even incorporate Western or Japanese elements. Many people don’t concern themselves with the cultural connotations behind these designs or whether wearing them aligns with traditional Chinese aesthetics.”

Cao Yirong expressed her anguish, noting that those genuinely committed to promoting Hanfu find such occurrences deeply distressing.

In essence, traditional Hanfu embodies not only the garment’s form and appropriate occasions but also the inherent etiquette, origins, and the entire traditional aesthetic sensibility. Unlike “Neo-Chinese” fashion, Hanfu demands the faithful reproduction of historic craftsmanship and aesthetics, presenting traditional culture in its purest form. For instance, the rising trend of Hanfu weddings necessitates adherence to the garment’s intrinsic etiquette and conventions, rather than prioritizing design novelty.

Cao Yirong believes that, regardless of whether it’s Hanfu or “Neo-Chinese” fashion, a long journey lies ahead. Only by developing a comprehensive understanding of traditional culture, grasping the essence of traditional attire and Chinese aesthetics, and dedicating oneself to thoughtful design can truly high-quality garments be created, enabling the harmonious coexistence and development of Hanfu and “Neo-Chinese” styles.

While the “Neo-Chinese” trend has undoubtedly ignited a renewed appreciation for traditional Chinese elements, Cao Yirong emphasizes the importance of authenticity and cultural understanding. “Many people are drawn to the aesthetics of ‘Neo-Chinese’ fashion without fully comprehending the deeper historical and cultural significance behind the designs,” she explains. “This can lead to a superficial or even distorted perception of our rich heritage.”

To truly honor and preserve the essence of Hanfu, Cao Yirong believes that a more profound exploration of the garments’ origins, symbolism, and the philosophical underpinnings of traditional Chinese aesthetics is crucial. “Hanfu is not merely a clothing style; it is a manifestation of our ancestors’ wisdom, values, and way of life,” she asserts. “Each design element, from the intricate embroidery to the color palette, carries profound meaning that has been carefully curated over millennia.”

Despite the challenges posed by the rise of commercialized “Neo-Chinese” fashion, Cao Yirong remains optimistic about the future of Hanfu and its ability to coexist with contemporary reinterpretations. “The key lies in education and fostering a deeper understanding of our cultural roots,” she says. “As more people come to appreciate the nuances and richness of Hanfu, they will naturally gravitate towards authentic representations and steer clear of superficial imitations.”

This sentiment is echoed by scholars and cultural experts who advocate for a balanced approach that celebrates both tradition and innovation. “The beauty of Chinese culture lies in its inherent adaptability and capacity for reinvention,” notes Dr. Liu Jingyang, a renowned historian at Peking University. “While we must safeguard the integrity of our heritage, we should also embrace creative expressions that resonate with contemporary sensibilities, as long as they remain grounded in genuine cultural understanding.”

As the dialogue around Hanfu and “Neo-Chinese” fashion continues to evolve, one thing is certain: the surge of interest in traditional Chinese elements has opened up new avenues for cultural exchange and artistic exploration. Whether adorning the stages of prestigious events or gracing the streets in everyday wear, the fusion of ancient motifs and modern aesthetics serves as a powerful reminder of China’s enduring cultural legacy.

In the words of Cao Yirong, “Hanfu and ‘Neo-Chinese’ fashion are not competitors, but rather complementary expressions of our nation’s rich tapestry. By nurturing a deeper appreciation for our roots while embracing innovation, we can create a harmonious symphony that celebrates the past while paving the way for a future where tradition and modernity coexist in perfect harmony.”

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