As we approach the gates of 2021, the Temper Fact Checker presents the 5W flashcards of the most titillating and savory terms sauntering through the China Fashion scene in 2020. 5W, you ask? “What, Who, When, Where, Why,” we say. So where you from, you innocent but sexy thang!
“Innocent but Sexy” (又纯又欲in Chinese) is 2020 lingo spelling out “what is hot” in the young(er) men of China, referring to handsome, young males, known for their more effeminate look.
Conversely, as both adjectives are qualities associated with feminine allure in traditional Chinese culture — i.e. purity and innocence — the term also refers to contempo China’s single-minded beauty standards for women.
As the adjectives to describe attractive men and women here become identical, the aesthetic outlines of mens- and womenswear, too, are entering a fashionable fog.
China’s Gen Z (those born between 1995 and 2009) includes a new wave of male fashionistas who love a genderless and dashingly bold dress code. Their penchant for the innocent but sexy look, together with the “Little Fresh Meat“ (小鲜肉 in Chinese) vocab, today lies at the heart of a constantly evolving debate surrounding masculinity in China.
Teen dream and rapper Kris Wu (吳亦凡 in Chinese) since 2017 has been at the center of media attention for his genderless fashion sense that pairs fine necklaces with boxy suits or pink knitwear with rapper-style sneakers.
Many young Chinese girls — and apparently a few thirtysomething Shanghai-based foreign women (we won’t name names) — consider him the No.1 national sex symbol.
Overall, China’s post-95ers made up nearly a quarter of online beauty consumption in 2016, and that figure has been growing in the triple digits since, according to reports from CBNData. Of course, the influence of these young, male beauty celebrity influencers with their more feminine, delicate features has not gone unnoticed by Gen Z men, who are consciously seeking ways to impress their wives or girlfriends.
Younger Chinese people are also more assertive about challenging traditional gender roles, and depictions of gender fluidity are now commonplace in Chinese branding and marketing.
In 2018, the rise of androgynous pop idols drew attacks from the Chinese government. Multiple state news outlets criticized that the trend is eroding young men’s masculinity and encouraged national TV to minimize such influence by blurring the stars’ earrings and tattoos. But when four young Chinese actors from the TV series “Meteor Garden” (流星花园; in Chinese) were branded “sissy pants” by Xinhua, a storm of controversy erupted.
The issue divided media and readers, with some defending the quartet and championing diverse aesthetic standards, while many others were insistent that the country was experiencing a “crisis of masculinity.”
Nevertheless, these attacks were mostly met with a strong backlash among young Chinese netizens who see the insistence on an outdated view of masculinity as desperately and utterly backward.
China’s coquettish Gen Z style icons in 2020, then, are taking the male jewelry game a step up, pushing the boundaries of traditional masculinity to new limits.
2020 has seen Chinese men sporting intricate, feminine-looking jewelry have become the defining feature of Chinese print mag covers. Male jewelry with a genderless, “innocent by sexy” charm not only adorns the pages of ELLE China and T Magazine China, it also dominates many a luxury brand China campaign such as the recent Tiffany’s — the Audrey Hepburn one — plug.
Tiffany & Co. on June 2 announced that Gen Z heartthrob Jackson Yee — singing, dancing, and acting centipede — would become its brand ambassador for the iconic Tiffany T collection.
From Darwin to Douyin. Social media (marketing) is a protagonist in this particular male evolution theory. Video sharing platform Douyin (抖音 in Chinese) sees KOLs with backgrounds in cosmetics research (think Daddylab and Dr Dazhui) dissect the ingredients of beauty products. Others create more dramatic content to lure audiences, with storylines, conflicts and high emotional content putting many a soap opera to shame.
Douyin’s short video format makes it an ideal channel for rapid-fire makeover videos featuring male beauty influencers that have become a huge hit in 2020. These videos show how young men can go from nobody to OHbody “just” by applying a range of beauty products in a series of “simple” steps.
On Gen-Z favorite Bilibili (哔哩哔哩 in Chinese), aka Station B — aka a video streaming platform, one video by influencer Kaiho shows him alternate six different accessory looks, paired with a few words of wisdom. Apparently wearing a simple pearl necklace gives you guys that “书生 [intellectual] vibe.” Kaiho with this video aims to demonstrate how looking “innocent but sexy” is the current way to a woman’s heart.
Bilibili Bobbili Boo.
In China, the desire to be perceived as marriageable and successful has long driven men to adhere to a rigid and largely unrealistic model of masculinity
Despite the government’s or elder social echelons’ critique, the Gen Zers venerate the gender-fluid, edgy approach to men’s fashion. Whether it is putting on a pearl necklace or breaking out some red lippy, they see the evolution of male style more as the upgrade of an outdated system rather than an effeminate vision of manhood.
These guys are exploring a realm outside of the norm and in venturing out there, toy with the traditional stereotypes of Chinese society
As far as China’s Gen Z is concerned, these innocent but sexy men are
Dei ex China.
FEATURED IMAGE: Kris Wu. Image via South China Morning Post
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