Dopamine to Dongbei Dahua
By Elsbeth van Paridon  ·  2023-12-25  ·   Source: NO.52 DECEMBER 28, 2023
1. Dopamine Dressing as done by 86-year-old host Kang Kang and Grandpa on BiliBili 
2. Barbiecore dominates Chinese social media in July 
3. The colorful peony pattern of China's northeast (or dongbei dahua in Chinese) has become the cat's meow on Chinese social media platforms this winter 
4. Urbancore, the cool yet comfy aesthetic inspired by China's intense urban scenery, takes over Little Red Book (LRB) in early 2023 
5. A couple shows off their dongbei dahua coats on Douyin 
6. Netizens show how to mix and match autumnal Maillard-style colors on LRB in fall this year. Many believe the brownish color combinations can lift any look and make them appear "good enough to eat" 
 7. Outdoor wear brand ARC'TERYX offers urbancore aficionados "outfit of the day" inspo on its LRB account 
8. Supermodel and ARC'TERYX spokesperson Liu Wen 
9. "Daytime Bear," a popular fashion vlogger on LRB, presents her Dopamine dressing vibes (FILE)

Chinese social media sites like prevalent lifestyle and e-commerce app Little Red Book (LRB) and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, are where most trends emerge, mushroom and evolve. And vogues in the country change at the tap of a mobile screen.

So what were some of the looks that defined Chinese fashion in 2023?

The year kicked off in a rather subdued style, with urbancore, also known as "urban outdoor," an aesthetic based on the imagery of China's intense urban scenery, becoming a trending tag on social media. Hiking, camping and high-performance outdoor activity-inspired mountaincore and gorpcore styles were popular in 2022, as many people suffering from pandemic fatigue chose to venture outdoors for some fresh air as much as possible. Comfy and cool, young Chinese metropolitans were sporting outfits that fused athletic and outdoor wardrobe elements. Think baggy pants, oversized vintage T-shirts and neon socks.

And as everything is 20/20 in hindsight, it's now clear that spark of neon peeping out was a sign of stylish things to come…

Subdued to splashy 

Recent events such as the pandemic, social unrest and a slumping economy have had a huge impact on the global public. People have wanted to distance themselves from these dark episodes in 2023 and have some fun with their looks by wearing more vibrant colors and accessorizing accordingly. And boy, did they. Lo and behold...

Dopamine dressing. Dopamine is a chemical messenger in the brain that reinforces behaviors by making you feel happy, which is why it's often called the "feel-good hormone." Dopamine dressing, then, is wearing outfits that lift your mood. The theory is that if you opt for colorful clothing over the drab and dreary, you'll get a boost of dopamine and feel, well, good. 

Already a TikTok fashion trend in 2022, it took a while to enter the land of China fashion, but this spring and summer, the country's Gen Zs went all in. Duobaan chuanda ("dopamine dressing" in Chinese) was hot—so hot that it became one of this year's online buzzwords.

Embodying the mantra "brighter is better," the fashion mania was believed to have first emerged among university students due to a deprivation of feel-good vibes, according to Dao Insights, a website publishing exclusive articles on high-value case studies from China.

Dopamine dressing guides on Chinese social media advised the fad's devotees to pair blue and green hues, considered "smooth" colors, lively turquoise or calming, soothing tea-green or grass-green palettes with blue jeans. Dressing like the Sun was also said to work.

But what was hiding beneath all the loud layers? Some young LRB users commented that they were turning to vibrant clothing as a way to balance out their rigid academic or professional lives. Others described the style as both "relaxing" and a "mood booster."

But the power and pleasure of dopamine dressing in China weren't exclusive to the nation's younger generations.

A wildly popular 86-year-old host on BiliBili, China's YouTube equivalent that mainly targets Gen Zs, who is surnamed Kang and goes by the name of Kang Kang and Grandpa, was the dope dude to watch during 2023's scorching summer season.

Three years ago, the host became famous online for trying on a wide variety of styles—from Western suits to casual clothes, from ancient Chinese garb to styles originating from Japan and the Republic of Korea. There seemed to be no sartorial splendor he wouldn't try as he combed through Chinese social media to find out what was trending in China fashion. Six months ago, dopamine dressing became his next outside-the-box venture.

"In the 1940s and 50s, the only choice for us was a Chinese tunic suit," Kang told news portal China Daily in 2020, continuing that options became much more abundant after China

embarked on its path of reform and opening up in the late 1970s. "After the start of reform and opening up, clothing began to diversify, and now there are thousands of fashion brands. We've become more open with the rapid development of the economy."

During that same interview, the glam-pa added clothing not only reflects people's pursuit of beauty but also their love and hope for life. He wants to narrow the gap with younger people and inspire more seniors to update their wardrobes.

With a passion for beauty and good health serving as their dopamine, seniors like this BiliBili host are proof that old age can still become one's prime time. Plus, a vivid glow will never become vieux jeu.

Speaking of an oldie but a goodie…

You can wear anything 

From glitter hair clips to powder-pink mini dresses, to spandex workout gear, to raving movie reviews, Chinese social media was abuzz with Barbie from early July to September this year.

With the movie Barbie scheduled to hit Chinese screens on July 21, Barbie mania slowly took hold of Chinese social media in late spring, with many netizens slipping their toes into dainty yet dangerous 1980s heels and reaching for scrunchies. Over the warmer months, they rocked 1990s square sunglasses, day-to-night styles rolled into one outfit, puffy organza short skirts, capes, culottes, Sasquatch-like fur boots, you name it—in every shade of pink known to Mattel—the doll's manufacturer. 

Some Chinese merchants on Taobao, tech titan Alibaba's ubiquitous shopping app, even put their own creative spins on Barbiecore, going beyond the typical wardrobe of miniskirts, tops and dresses. Pink qipao, for example, became increasingly popular with domestic consumers. For good measure: In standard Chinese, the modern term qipao refers to a one-piece Chinese dress that has its origins in the 1920s. Many readers will know this dress from Wong Kar-wai's 2000 melancholic masterpiece In the Mood for Love. The movie saw the fashion crowd salivating at the sight of protagonist Maggie Cheung's traditional Chinese dresses—aka qipao.

According to this author, the "Barbie meets qipao" craving can probably be attributed to the overarching proclivity dominating the Chinese fashion landscape since 2018: guochao (literally, "national wave"), meaning "hip heritage" that is packed with traditional Chinese elements. At its core, guochao is about young Chinese consumer inclination moving toward domestic brands and products, especially those labels integrating traditional Chinese cultural elements and styles.

Which brings us to…

Vintage vixens 

Young Chinese in the country's northern regions, in particular, have embraced their grandparents' "once revered and once reviled" winter weather style this year. From the olive drab People's Liberation Army military coat with faux fur collar that became a popular civilian wardrobe staple in the 1980s, to the fiery red dongbei dahua ("northeastern flower pattern," a traditional fabric pattern featuring large peony blossoms) cotton-padded jacket that originated in 1950s Shanghai but gained popularity in northeast China in the 1960s.

After China embarked on its path of reform and opening up, Chinese society changed rapidly, as did people's tastes. An increased exposure to a variety of visual media led to changing consumption habits, in turn leading to a more global outlook on life and a significant generational gap in style and aesthetics between those born before and after 1980.

It appears that although seemingly outdated and rustic to many today, some young Chinese have begun to see the value of the peony-adorned cotton-padded jacket, which combines vintage fashion with practicality and history.

Scrolling through some of China's most popular apps, such as Taobao, LRB and Douyin, you will uncover tens of thousands of posts dedicated to traditional northern Chinese culture-inspired panaches, a trend that first became noticeable in early winter. And that's not to mention the myriad of "dongbei dahua styling tutorials" found on these platforms.

From being a fashion faux pas just months ago, the dongbei dahua padded jacket now once again marches to the beat of China's trending drums.

And its flaming peonies are poised to blaze right into 2024.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson 

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