What to Wear in China

by | Apr 7, 2017

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Last updated on November 19th, 2023

Hi. Journeywoman is a great website. I found it quite useful when deciding what to take wear to China but would still do it differently if I go again. I found Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai to be extremely fashionable and contemporary – the shopping was incredible in Shanghai and the young women could be walking the streets of New York for all their fashion acumen. I took a couple of pairs of black pants – one dressy, one cargo-casual and jeans as well as a light pair of tweed pants. Everything coordinated with everything else including my black lightweight dressy jacket and a light raincoat. I took some brightly colored sweaters and t-shirts but found it was almost always too hot for sweaters, even on the Great Wall. I think it’s funny that our travel agent cautioned us about dressing warmly for the excursions, but I guess because we live in Canada (Vancouver), we just didn’t find the weather chilly at all. In fact, while it was 6 degrees centigrade in Vancouver (43F), in Beijing at it’s coldest, it was around 14 degrees (57) and that was in the mornings. I wish I had taken more dressy outfits as, contrary to what I’ve read on the internet, women really dressed up for the Peking Opera and the Tang Dynasty dinner show. Even along the shopping boulevards in Shanghai, I felt a little too casual.
P.S. Some of the women on our tour wore cotton summer jackets, capris and sandals in Shanghai – November 3 and 4! All in all, we LOVED China, especially our cruise up the Yangtze – (beware the so-called 5 star ship though – the bathrooms certainly leave a lot to be desired).
Cheers and happy travelling to everybody.

Alyse, Vancouver, Canada

Wear wrap-around sun glasses in the summer in Beijing. The dust and grit and grime—especially with all the new contruction going on— gets into your eyes. Also, the wind can kick up quickly so wrap-around skirts are difficult to keep closed. Many of the Chinese women wear leather sandals with nylon ankle stockings but I’m not comfortable in those stockings so I do without them.

Jenny, Beijing, China

I visited the delightfull city of Beijing with my teenage daughters. Our clothes seemed to get attention because we wore bright colors. Chinese people seemed to wear mainly black, brown, blue and dark green – young and old people alike. Clothes in department stores were quite old fashioned, not at all European or American style – colors were dark and dull. Europeans, and especially we blond Scandinavians, draw attention anyway and I almost felt uncomfortable in my brightly coloured clothes.

Hannele, Jyvaskyla, Finland

I quickly found that tops made from Lycra, or similar, are not good to wear in China. Unless you have a very small bust size, anything which draws attention to your breasts can be very embarrassing to all concerned.

Jean, Cambridge, UK

I recently returned from a three week Fall tour in China. The weather in Beijing was warm but pleasantly cool everywhere west and south. The only rain was a light drizzle one morning of our Yangtze cruise. The most useful things I packed for my trip turned out to be scarves. I’d brought two pair of black jeans and ended up wearing them with one or the other black or red cotton blouse, since everything else I’d brought was too warm. The Chinese notice when you wear flattering colors and they appreciate your attempts to dress nicely. I didn’t bring any jewelry along, except for a silver chain with a pendant, and a plain watch. The only thing I noticed people staring at were my shoes. It was pretty funny after a while. My shoes were sensible, black loafers. I am fairly tall, so my shoes must have looked really big to the locals. Chinese women like to wear dressier shoes, heels and sandals, but I wanted to be comfortable. Next time I go there I will bring along some dressier shoes for evening activities. I loved China, found the people very helpful, perhaps because I speak some Chinese and that surprised them. I can’t wait to go again.

Kay, Fairbanks, Alaska

Chinese women and girls tend to dress somewhat conservatively. That is, no bikinis, no belly-button revealing clothes and no short shorts or skirts. Although some women do wear these types of clothing, it is often looked down upon and is seen as an invitation for men to harass women. I never ever had a problem with harassment in China and I’ve traveled all over for extended periods of time. If you’re respectful of the people, their customs and culture, they will in turn respect you.

Emily, New York, USA

I just read a couple of posts on people wearing gray or bland colors trying not to stand out in China. I’m living here and working as a teacher right now and I had to laugh. What you wear is unlikely to make you stand out either more or less than you will anyway. Unless you dress sloppily. The Chinese will appreciate it if you dress up and wear pretty clothes (you will rarely see women older than teenagers in jeans.). The Chinese wear velvet, sequins and other things Americans normally only wear for New Years parties on a daily basis. I found out the hard way. My first year here I lived in denim. I thought it practical for wear and hand washing. I will never think denim better for hand washing again. And it doesn’t necessarily wear better. This is my second year and I wear a lot of black, pink and purple, velvet and glitter. Dressing up has made a world of difference in how I am perceived. You can get by with just lipstick and blush as Chinese women rarely wear makeup other than lipstick. Scarves are also popular, but don’t bring them from home. Buy them here. They are cheap and more gorgeous than any I’ve seen in America. And lots of variety. Oh, and skip the sneakers. A lot of women wear heels here, too. And the Chinese also really love sparkly hair accessories, but, again, buy in China.

Kate, an American living in China

I was in Beijing and Shanghai in June, when it’s fairly hot there. My advice is to dress to ‘blend in’ (sort of). You’re already going to be stared at, hassled, and talked about by onlookers because you’re a foreign woman, to begin with. This is much worse, however, for women who are dressed in typical western summer clothes, such as camisoles, tank tops, shorts well above the knee, low-neck shirts, skirts with high slits, etc. These clothes are just not considered appropriate by most people in China. My girlfriends and I wore these types of clothes at the start of our trip, and were hassled and stared at a lot until we toned our clothes down. I recommend plain, relatively loose pants, below-knee length skirts, and short-sleeved tops. Nothing too bright or expensive-looking or flashy. It’ll get you more attention than you want, believe me. You are definitely treated more respectfully by the natives if you adapt to their culture and dress more like them.

Katherine, Boston, USA

China has really adopted the West as far as fashion goes so wear what you would if you were home – except leave the shorts and halter tops behind. Bring enough clothes because you will have a tough time finding anything to fit in China unless you are a size 2-4. I am 5’8″ and a size 12 so there was nothing that fit me except an XXXL sweatshirt I bought at the Great Wall.

I started my trip in Shanghai which is very cosmopolitan and has designer row stores just like Michigan Avenue in Chicago. You can dress like you would in New York City and fit right in in Shanghai.

I then took a cruise on Yangtze and went in the poorer areas. Even in the poorest areas, the young girls dress as fashionably as they can afford – they love the designer clothes such as Fendi, Gucci, Burberry – fake of course, but they are cheap and fun.

Beijing is also very progressive and modern. Wear whatever you would at home – sans revealing clothing. In the Silk Market, you will be able to satisfy your fake designer cravings for anything you desire – and they carry larger sizes (nothing over a US 10-12), even if it says XXXLLL it still will be about a 10 -12. Don’t expect to find shoes in China if you wear over a 7.5. If you have small feet, there is a bonanza of fake designer wear, but remember they are not top quality. If you go to the opera, wear a dressy, but not formal outfit. I wore velvet pants with the wide legs and a matching wrap top (from Ann Taylor) and it was a big hit with the Chinese women. It packed well, didn’t wrinkle and I wore it several times. I took my leather blazer and lightweight sweaters to wear underneath since it was spring. I took black, red, khaki and white which all worked together beautifully. I also took my raincoat with a zip in lining because at that time of year, you never know about the weather.

Francesca, Ohio, USA

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