In the social media era, fashion trends come and go so quickly that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them. This is especially true in China, which sees an equal mix of local subcultures, like the maximalist ‘too cool movement,’ and imported aesthetics, such as the one revolving around Y2K nostalgia.
Recent weeks have seen the rise of an unexpected fad dubbed ‘civil servant chic’ or ‘bureaucrat style’ (厅局风, tingju feng or 厅里厅气, tingli tingqi). As its monikers imply, the trend revolves around the uniforms of public officials, especially those occupying higher ranks.
For those keen on replicating the look, these are your new wardrobe staples: A white shirt, black fitted trousers, a navy blue jacket, black leather shoes, a black bag, and — the cherry on top of the sundae — a Chinese Communist Party badge, which should be pinned on your lapel or shirt pocket.
The fashion trend in question possibly stems from a Douyin (China’s equivalent of TikTok) post by a user who goes by the handle @思以致胜. The viral post portrays a young man in modest office attire and has gotten 295,000 likes. Its caption, presumably directed at women, reads, “Do you really have to go after brand-conscious guys?!”
Appreciative comments under the post range from, “You might not like this kind of party cadre, but I do,” to “The problem is this type of guy doesn’t like me.”
Since then, a hashtag for the unique fashion trend has gained more than 4.6 million views on the Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. Netizens share pictures of their outfits and tutorials on achieving the perfect ‘civil servant look.’
Searches for the keyword on Chinese ecommerce platforms such as Taobao and JD.com now generate hundreds of results. Even French luxury brand Pierre Cardin has begun to describe some of its products as ‘civil servant chic.’
A possible reason for the trend’s success is its positive association with being an employee of the Chinese civil service system (体制内男生, tizhinei nansheng).
Recent research has revealed that today’s youth covet jobs in the civil service industry for their ability to offer stability, less pressure, and decent compensation. Civil servants are also an all-time favorite among parents, and they boast competitive advantages in the marriage market.
According to SixthTone, over 2 million individuals applied for the 2022 Civil Service Exam, a significant increase from the average of 1.3 to 1.6 million in the past 12 years — a direct result of China’s extremely competitive job market and rising youth unemployment.
As an old Chinese proverb goes, “People depend on their clothes, and horses rely on their saddles.” In other words, what you wear depicts who you are. In these uncertain times, the ‘bureaucrat style’ may be aesthetically dull but has more to offer than flashy looks: status and stability.
Cover image designed by Zhuohan Shao
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