Yesterday I spent the afternoon shopping for what I previously thought was an international clothing staple: T-shirts. When packing for China, I had to be ruthlessly discerning of my wardrobe–was my spring/fall trench coat worth the space? Would I really wear that layered miniskirt? And then there were the season changes to consider. I reasoned that it was more important to bring certain staple items that I was sure I couldn’t find where I was going, such as some of my favorite dresses and purses.
My decision to eliminate the majority of my time-worn jersey shirts was the result of a certain rationale: A lot of my T-shirts were originally made in China, right? Therefore it will be really easy to find replacements in China. My problem was solved. Priceless space was preserved in my suitcase thanks to my infallible reasoning. Of course, you can imagine my surprise when I finally arrived in Hangzhou and realized that almost no Chinese women wear T-shirts, and when they do they’re layered in embellishments, frills, ribbons, or lace. That or they’re covered and typo-laden screen-prints featuring sexy women who look like they’ve been ripped strait from the worst pages of an Express advertisement from 2004.
Every morning I would wake up and stare into my closet. I had only packed two T-shirts. I always wear one to bed, so that leaves one shirt for a 7-day week. It didn’t take long for “find more shirts” to claim a higher place on my to-do list. In my quest to discover affordable, basic T-shirts I grilled every Chinese person I met for ideas. Every person we encountered steered us to the same place: upper-end, western-style shopping malls. These malls would have been fine in Minneapolis, but I wasn’t yet ready to face defeat and pay western prices.
I sought out night markets and Chinese stores, but no matter where I turned I was faced with ill-fitting tank tops and frilly, polyester blouses. Even worse are the top + skirt combinations that are actually dresses but supposed to look like two separate pieces, which they NEVER DO. After the first few hours of searching I could feel a headache setting in.
In an attempt to put an end to the misery and find a solution, my boyfriend suggested that maybe I should readjust my expectations and consider wearing something in the local style instead. I knew he meant well, but I also knew that I would rather walk down the streets of China in a shirt I made with my own two hands by candlelight than wear a shirt displaying the glittery outline of a busty or scantily clad teenager that says something like “Life is happy today. Help other people. Makes body goodness.”
Eventually I caved and headed to h & m and uniqlo. Even though the prices were a little higher, it was worth it. And that’s the story of how I paid luxury prices by Chinese standards to dress like a slob by American ones.
And with that, may I present some “local” fashion (as in, I searched “chinese fashion” on Pinterest):
From now on I would like you to imagine that I am wearing some combination of these items at all times.