A matter of (life)style: Six trends China's Gen Z are pioneering in the Year of the Dragon
By Elsbeth van Paridon  ·  2024-03-04  ·   Source: NO.10 MARCH 7, 2024
From Mob Wife aesthetic and retro Shanghai style to mindful stress relief… A collage of the most fiery (life)style trends among China's younger generations in the Year of the Dragon (AI)

Celebrated American author F. Scott Fitzgerald's iconic 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, set in New York City and its outskirts, embodies opulence in last century's Roaring Twenties through its vivid portrayal of extravagant parties, luxurious lifestyles and the pursuit of wealth and status by voguish 20-somethings in the Jazz Age.

However, beneath this facade of opulence, the novel unfolds as a tale of disillusionment, revealing the emptiness behind the glitz and glam, ultimately revealing the despondency experienced by the characters and society at large.

Drawing parallels with Chinese Gen Zs in today's Roaring Twenties, one might argue that the social and economic pressures building up in recent years have led to a sense of disenchantment among this demographic, in turn impacting their dressing habits and hobbies as they strive to find a sense of belonging and purpose.

Here are six fiery trends that have emerged among China's younger generations that are set to make a dragon-sized impact over the next 12 (lunar) months—get ready for some roarin' revelry!

Basta to minimalism

We will kick off this list in Gatsby-befitting exuberant party style.

In January, a Chinese fashion and beauty blogger by the name of "Lucy," born in the 1990s, penned an article titled 2024 Overseas Fashion Trends Revealed: Dangerous and Charming Mob Wife on search engine Baidu's content creation platform Baijiahao. Mob Wife?! Allow us to explain.

The Mob Wife aesthetic, inspired by iconic characters such as Michelle Pfeiffer's Elvira Hancock in the 1983 classic Scarface and Drea de Matteo's Adriana La Cerva from HBO's cult hit show The Sopranos (1999-2007), has been the first bonafide social-media-driven trend to take over winter fashion in the West this year. The trend arose in reaction to the minimalist "clean girl look" that dominated the socials for much of 2022 and 2023, according to CNN Style.

All about blood red lipstick, voluminous curls, drama on the eyes, (fake) fur coats and no shortage of vintage accessorizing swag, Mob Wife fashion reflects the self-assured nature of classic Hollywood mob wives, without promoting criminal behavior.

The trend quickly found its place on Chinese social media, sparking waves of excitement from the outset in late January. For instance, on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, hashtag "Mob Wife" had amassed 1.24 million videos as of February 27.

The emergence and explosion of the Mob Wife appeal in China reflect a broader societal shift. Aligned with China's increasing embrace of female empowerment and financial independence, women are more fully embracing the freedom to express themselves through fashion, a stride toward individual agency and self-expression.

Furthermore, in the context of China, the original Mob Wife aesthetic has undergone a captivating transformation since its emergence on social media, reflecting the evolving preferences of, and cultural reinterpretation by, Chinese consumers. For this trend, young Chinese looked for local points of reference and found them in the popular drama series Blossoms Shanghai, set in the 1990s.

Through this process of "style revision," Chinese consumers are reimagining and updating original trends to suit their unique sensibilities, infusing them with a distinct je ne sais quoi.

Can't repeat the past? Why of course you can!

Quote, Gatsby.

In Blossoms Shanghai, actor Hu Ge plays the character A Bao, who contemplates the stark disparity in fortunes that unfolded in Shanghai in 1992. Directed by the renowned Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, the 30-episode series debuted on December 27 last year, providing a captivating portrayal of Bao's pursuit of success amid Shanghai's evolution into a thriving metropolis during the early 1990s.

The drama instantly resonated with local audiences, tapping into a growing nostalgia for an emerging era of prosperity.

The fashion seen in the show embodies the gaoqianfeng or "new money style" with ostentatious displays of wealth and extravagant fashion choices.

One pivotal scene showcases the protagonist's transformation from an unassuming city dweller to a sophisticated gentleman, symbolized by his choice of a bespoke suit.

Sartorial visuals such as these have since, for example, sparked a surge in demand for custom-tailored men's suits. Tailors across China have noted a significant uptick in inquiries and orders, Vogue Business reported in early February.

Julienna Law, Managing Editor of Jing Daily, the leading digital publication on luxury consumer trends in China, told Beijing Review, "While 90s fashion has been back in style for a while now, hit shows like Blossoms Shanghai are putting the spotlight on China's particular version of 90s vintage. I think one reason for the popularity of the show's style can be linked to guochao."

Guochao (literally, "national wave") means "hip heritage" that is packed with traditional Chinese elements. At its core, guochao is about the growing inclination of young Chinese consumers toward domestic brands and products, especially those labels integrating traditional Chinese cultural elements and styles.

"Why the nostalgia for the 90s?" Law continued. "If you think about China back then, you have this backdrop of massive economic growth and transformation. And you have the first batch of people who are reaping the rewards of the country's reform and opening up (which started in 1978)."

On China's lifestyle bible and e-commerce app Xiaohongshu, users are exchanging pointers on emulating the fashion of the show's characters, according to Jing Daily. Hashtag "Blossoms Shanghai" had raked in 3.76 million posts on the platform as of February 27.

An original settler

In China, the gaoqianfeng and laoqianfeng (old money style) trends encapsulate divergent attitudes toward consumerism and lifestyle choices. The latter reflects a preference for understated luxury, timeless elegance, as well as a focus on quality and heritage, shunning overt displays of wealth in favor of subtlety and discretion.

For example, the Maillard style that blew up on Chinese social media last fall, inspired by the rich, warm hues associated with the Maillard reaction, responsible for browning of food in cooking, combined elements of "old money" sophistication with retro urban elegance. It resonated with the Gen Z demographic due to its cozy and earthy appeal and saw devotees incorporate shades of chocolate, coffee and caramel into their fashion choices.

With spring around the corner, we now see the prevailing of a more pastel-oriented yet equally delectable palette: the Madeleine style, named after the classic French sponge cakes. The incorporation of soft, sweet and delicate elements into fashion and lifestyle choices conveys a desire for refined and "aristocratic" aesthetics—think the iconic Chanel suit, to keep it French.

It's part of the bigger move toward "quiet luxury," aka stealth wealth, that is being embraced by domestic labels such as luxury fashion house Shanghai Tang and eco-friendly luxury brand Icicle.

Chinese designer Joyce Wang, founder and head of creative at JOYCE WANG ECO FASHION, told Beijing Review, "Fans of quiet luxury are often [successful] people who have traveled the world and know what they want. And don't want. As China keeps developing and evolving, so does its middle class. These people in particular are gaining a clearer perspective on their wants and needs. This 'not so loud' trend will continue to grow."

A desire for stress relief

Chinese Gen Zs are increasingly embracing a lifestyle characterized by a focus on minimalism, sustainability and mindfulness. In the digital age, this generation, seeking slower lifestyles, often strives to disconnect from the constant stream of information and social media, opting for digital detoxes and allocating time for self-reflection and introspection.

Methods of stress relief include tree hugging, pet ownership and other forms of nature immersion, like hiking.

Dong Fang, founder of the Shanghai-based ECOLIT brand, sees this quest for inner peace in the eyes of clients entering his store every day. "By leveraging the different attributes of the 12 Chinese Zodiac signs and customized scents, the brand has developed two major series of aromatherapy products that allow users to tap into feelings of calm or self-discovery," he shared with Beijing Review.

Stress-relieving toys are another prevalent mechanism for coping with daily work and life pressures. Stress balls and DIY craft kits, including clay modeling, miniature gardening and other hands-on creative activities, are especially widespread.

Seeking companion(s)

The dazi, which loosely translates as "activity partner," culture continues. This culture, characterized by the pursuit of temporary and activity-based partnerships rather than enduring friendships, first emerged early last year and is facilitated by the ease of connectivity in the digital age.

The trend reflects a shift toward seeking like-minded peers with whom to share hobbies and interests, fostering connections through online platforms such as Xiaohongshu.

Two trending experiences now are city walks and wet markets.

In China, many of the younger generations are embracing the trend of exploring new cities through leisurely walks, avoiding famous scenic spots and large crowds to gain a more inclusive experience of the places they visit.

Wet markets have in recent years emerged as favored influencer hotspots, driven by their increasing desire to document genuine cultural experiences and local traditions, signifying a broader societal movement toward valuing and safeguarding traditional Chinese culture.


The Chinese movie YOLO, an acronym for "You Only Live Once," directed by and starring actress Jia Ling, became a box office smash hit during the Spring Festival holiday, from February 10 to 17. Jia takes on the role of Du Leying, a severely overweight woman in her thirties whose life takes a turn when she encounters a boxing coach one day. In a nutshell, she wants to box and drops 50 kg. Essentially, the film is about self-transformation and social acceptance. Something that proved right up Gen Z's alley.

Unable to dodge influencers and ubiquitous advertising, many Chinese youth are being primed for body image dissatisfaction. This generation is increasingly recognizing the importance of holistic wellbeing, embarking on journeys to achieve optimal physical health and fitness while also addressing their emotional and psychological needs.

Doing stuff… crazily

Despite most of the above-listed trends emphasizing a cool, calm and collected attitude to life, China's younger generations are maintaining some level of Gatsby-esque liveliness.

From working to texting to exercising, some netizens have decided the Year of the Dragon is the time to do it all "crazily." Their quest for a good crazy epitomizes a mindset of liberation, prioritizing self-desires and goals over conforming to social norms.

And so they beat on, boats against the current.

(Print Edition Title: Roarin' Revelry)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

Comments to

China Focus
Special Reports
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise with Us
Partners:   |   China Today   |   China Hoy   |   China Pictorial   |   People's Daily Online   |   Women of China   |   Xinhua News Agency
China Daily   |   CGTN   |   China Tibet Online   |   China Radio International   |   Global Times   |   Qiushi Journal
Copyright Beijing Review All rights reserved 京ICP备08005356号 京公网安备110102005860