The central theses:

  • Influenced by male celebrities, more and more Chinese male fashionistas are incorporating women’s clothing into their wardrobe due to their more fashionable designs and attention to detail.

  • Sexless clothing is one of the most important lifestyle changes in young China today.

  • To seize this opportunity, brands need to take non-binary approaches while also considering the growing gap between youth culture trends and China’s official stance on masculinity.

In the field of gender fluid fashion, women in men’s clothing have always been more dominant than their counterparts. Attracted by their oversized fits, women have long worn boyfriend jeans and shirts to add chic to their wardrobe.

But today, the growing number of male Chinese fashionistas wearing women’s clothing is reversing the tale. From celebrities to grassroots influencers, many Chinese men are increasingly buying womenswear.

Actor Wang Yibo, who was announced as Chanel’s brand ambassador in June of this year, embodies the genderless chic that is becoming popular in China’s fashion scene. Dubbed the man who “embodied Chanel (人间 香奈儿),” Wang wore the brand’s iconic womenswear on TV shows and magazine covers to emphasize a fashionable look that contradicts gender expectations. For example, on the Street Dance of China show, he paired a pink Chanel jacket with a mini wallet and wore a tweed jacket on the red carpet to a Tencent-hosted event.

Idol Wang Yibo wore a pink jacket from Chanel’s women’s collection on TV show Street Dance of China before Fall 2020. Photo: @Street Dance of China Weibo

Wang’s outfits have not only normalized women’s fashion for men, they have also inspired women who find his looks surprisingly cool for a classic brand like Chanel.

Wang is just one of many male Chinese idols who are setting a new normal for men’s fashion. Tiffany and Armani Beauty spokesperson Jackson Yee wore a Chanel women’s tweed jumpsuit to wear to the Grammys in 2018. Then the actor Li Xian, the spokesman for Ermenegildo Zegna, attended a 2019 Vogue party in a Chanel coat from his 2018 women’s collection. Cai Xukun, the Prada muse and ambassador since 2019, often wears the brand’s women’s suits to events on the red Carpet. And on Weibo, the hashtag #MaleCelebrityInWomenwear is an active thread with over 150 million views and 320,000 posts.

Idol Jackson Yee attended the 60th Annual Grammy Awards wearing a Chanel jumpsuit from the brand’s SS2018 womenswear collection. Photo: @JacksonYee Weibo

Real fashionistas have caught up with the movement too. Jeremy Yang (@jeremy-young) is an aspiring blogger at Little Red Book and isn’t shy about adding womenswear to his daily fashion. “It’s much easier to find well-designed and interesting pieces in women’s fashion than it is in men’s fashion,” he told Jing Daily. “The cut is better, the details are more well thought-out and there is simply more choice overall.”

Far from the social stigmata that men wearing womenswear often associate with drag queens, Jeremy’s deliberate purchases of womenswear were driven solely by personal style. “I’m drawn to brands that create for the sake of good design,” he added. “Since most brands these days still place more value on women’s clothing, it goes without saying that I take inspiration from women’s clothing.”

Earlier this year, Little Red Book released its 2021 Lifestyle Trend Keywords report, which ranked genderless fashion as one of the top ten topics on the platform. According to the data, views of genderless clothing posts increased 182 percent year-over-year in 2020, while the number of users posting on the topic increased 83 percent.

In China, emerging domestic companies like clothing label Bosie and beauty brand HASHTAG are among those mobilizing the sale of genderless products to a younger generation who increasingly reject gender-specific binaries. By eliminating gender marketing, these labels have created a sense of novelty for a market that has yet to see plenty of non-binary offerings.

It can be difficult for luxury and fashion brands outside of China to understand the huge gap between the country’s official stance on gender and youth culture ideals. Since 2018, the Chinese state media has repeatedly advocated traditional gender role beliefs by criticizing the negative impact of K-pop on the increasing feminization of its young men. In February this year, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued a notice urging schools to promote education that “cultivates the masculinity of male students.”

Yet despite this official and aggressive pursuit of conservative values, China’s younger generations repeatedly found new ways to keep a counter-movement alive and sprouting. Over the past three years, the country’s underground ballroom culture and LGBTQ + community have continued to grow, along with tightened ideological controls in public spaces.

While challenges like sizing and campaigning remain difficult to capitalize on womenswear opportunities, brands shouldn’t miss the chance to speak to male Chinese fashionistas through a non-categorical fashion message. More imagery of men in non-binary styles and more products that challenge conventional gender norms are all ways to connect more deeply with this community. After all, this generation ultimately wants the space to experiment and play. And brands that prove they’re too cool for traditional social categorization will have an advantage.