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This is the first of a series of posts that I for one am very much looking forward to, namely: Chinese street fashion. I can hear all the men out there running away to hide behind their computer games consoles and beers – but fear not, gentlemen: the pictures will be mostly of young ladies, so to each their own. In case anyone is wondering about this gender/age prejudice: well, older people tend to dress unimpressively and men might think I’m trying to pick them up. Yes, I’m trying to move out of my comfort zone, but one step at a time, please! For now it’s embarrassing enough to accost people on the streets, without the added complications.

The idea came to me as I was walking round the lake and looking at the displays of bad taste that can be observed in that area: night gowns in the middle of the day (a big no-no – nothing looks as trashy as a shiny polyester frock in broad daylight…), shoes visibly a few sizes too big (I blame internet shopping), lots and lots of sequins, frills, clashing colours, little kittens, pandas, hedgehogs etc. etc. – all of the above as often as not combined in one outfit. Some of the combinations were – to my eyes – tacky and garish to the point of being fascinating. ‘Someone must show it to the world’ – I thought. – ‘This is too weird, the notion of fashion they have here – and I will make it my mission to spread the word’. So there you go. I’m not proud of it, but it did start with my very smug ideas about sartorial elegance.

Then a funny thing happened: as I started looking around the city to catch more of this anti-elegance, I suddenly realised that between the dominating blandness (much like back home) and the admittedly large percentage of simply kitschy stuff, there’s also a lot of goodness going on. ‘Hang on” – I thought again – ‘it would be unfair to show only the bad stuff. One should try to get the whole picture’. Thus my crusade began – and soon I’ll become known as the Creepy Foreign Photo Stalker who harasses people on the streets and takes their pictures. My aim right now is not to be too judgemental – obviously there will be things I’ll like more than others and I can’t help but be affected by my own notions of the normal, the ugly or the interesting, but the unwritten rule I set for myself is: if I think it stands out from the crowd, it goes. If it stands out in a good way – all the better. It’s always nicer to explain things to people when I can be genuinely enthusiastic (as opposed to reverting to diplomacy and stammer: ‘So I noticed your golden leopard tights and your frilly dress and ugh… hmm… yes… I thought they looked…. uhm… interesting…).

It’s also an interesting experiment from the social point of view: I’m learning to approach people and talk to them so as not to creep them out. I feel like my being a foreigner in this case is an asset: whatever I say, they’ll just put it down to the queer foreign ways. If I was local, they’d probably think I’m a government spy or something…

So, to sum up: I hope you’ll enjoy this peek into the look of Chinese streets and sorry for the quality of the photos. They’re usually taken in a hurry, so no time to fidget with the camera.

For the sake of honesty I’ll start with the first one I took, still full of my ignoble motives: the girl on the left embodies a very popular local trend of combining pink, black, animal spots and bow-ties. Her friend on the right looks very normal (in the sense of not standing out from the local crowd, not of my personal opinion!). They were both very nice and obliging.* *Don’t worry – if the photos are taken overtly, like the one above, I always ask if I may use them on the blog. We want to keep things legal and moral here, peeps…

PS: After some consideration it finally dawned on me that the people who give the Hangzhou Style such bad rep might in fact not be locals at all. The city is full of tourists and migrant workers from the country who probably just want to look their Sunday best while on a trip to the Big Bustling Metropolis. All the more reason for me to be ashamed for wanting to laugh at them here…