Fashionable styles and information sources: an exploratory study of Hangzhou, China
Fashion and Textiles volume 3, Article number: 15 (2016)
The exploratory study aims to examine Hangzhou fashion in the context of globalization and localization through in-depth interviews. Sixteen young females from Hangzhou were interviewed. In the 1990s young females from Hangzhou had a weak concept of fashionable style and they just had a preference for the feminine style, which is derived from a regional culture. In the 2010s, young females’ concept regarding fashion have changed from fashionable (时髦) to stylish (有型), leading to a variety of fashionable styles. The popular Korean, European and minimalist styles mostly originate from foreign dramas and fashion advertisements from the Internet. This qualitative research verified that there was a diminishing sense of locality and cultural identity in young females’ fashion in Hangzhou. However, the impact of globalcultural eclecticism and mass media imagery appears larger for young females’ fashion in the city, especially through the Internet, especially in the spread of SNS, online shopping malls, and online video sites. Therefore, fashion brands should expand the brand culture influence through online media. Presently, the mobile apps in Hangzhou such as Wechat and Instagram may be the most helpful tool for brand culture spreading.
The aim of this study is to determine the changes in fashionable style and information sources through social and cultural influences. From the best of our knowledge, similar research on young females’ fashion has not been carried out in Hangzhou. By offering insights into the minds of young female consumers from Hangzhou, the results of the study contributes to the academic literature on the phenomenon of blogging in marketing communications and provides a basis for further research within this area as well as to the Chinese fashion industry’s practical use in planning, marketing and merchandising.
Many previous studies analyzed the application of fashion information sources through empirical methods in fashion behavior. However, studies have rarely examined social and cultural factors. Therefore, this master’s thesis is based on fashionable style changes of young females from Hangzhou and examines the influences of social and cultural factors. The primary focus of the study is to follow the changes of fashion information sources.
The following are four research questions and three sub-research questions.
What were the fashionable styles of young females in Hangzhou during the 1990s and 2010s?
What types of fashion information sources did young females in Hangzhou use during the 1990s and 2010s?
What is the relationship between fashionable styles and information sources for young females in Hangzhou?
Hangzhou as a distinct environment for fashion
Historical city with rich culture
Hangzhou is one of the famous eight ancient capitals in Chinese history and has a long historical standing. Hangzhou was shaped by the cultures of the Liangzhu, Southern Song Dynasty and the Jiangnan of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. These particular cultures left behind deep imprints on Hangzhou’s civilization and added some historical flavors to the sceneries of West Lake. Presently, due to the natural environment of the lucrative and abundance of life, the citizens of Hangzhou usually pay more attention to leisure and entertainment, and pursue a free and relaxed lifestyle. Plain and natural character embodies their attitudes to nature and life.
From a historical context, Hangzhou under the influence of the Jiangnan culture and complimented by the delicate, soft and feminine temperament, has been called the most feminine city. Thus, the traditional female image of Hangzhou concentrated the beautiful personality of Hangpai women’s fashion brands, which is shown as soft, graceful, and elegant. People identify Hangpai fashion brands with girlish and pastoral style, and always a fresh, graceful, and sweet tone (Zhang 2009).
On the other hand, the rich regional culture prevented the city from opening up enough to the world. When the wave of globalization swept across China, every city became a part of the “global village”. Towards dramatic change, citizens of Hangzhou had more concerns when compared to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other cities. The citizens are very much satisfied with the present Hangzhou living conditions, especially having considerate relationships with others in the city. The old Hangzhou citizens were little interested in the outside world of political, technological, economic, cultural, and historical aspects, and then knew little. In addition, the acceptance of foreign cultures was relatively slower, which made them relatively traditional when compared to other cities of China.
Textile industry in Hangzhou
Hangzhou is an important hub for the Chinese fashion industry. Although eighty percent of China’s garment factories are still located in the Pearl River Delta (Zhujiang sanjiaozhou), Hangzhou has about 1000 manufacturing plants and is the home base of half of China’s roughly 600 ready-to-wear brands that are focused on the upper-middle women’s fashion market (Chen 2009).
Throughout the 1980s, government funded garment research centers and magazines published patterns and pattern books in an attempt to address the supply shortages of the ready-to-wear industry. The research centers introduced the current fashions to home sewers and tailors (Wu 2009). In the mid-1990s, the Hangzhou’s export-oriented apparel industry started to pay more attention to the domestic markets. The ready-to-wear industry began to replace home sewing and tailor shops, especially in the urban areas.
Street vendors to e-commerce
By the early 1990s, tailor shops ushered in the most prosperous period in Hangzhou. ‘The street of tailor shops’ on Xixi Road was known as the Hangzhou fashion street, which attracted numerous specialty stylish women’s clothing one after another. Both the midriff-baring dress and the traditional qipao can be found on this small street. Xixi Road, adjacent to Hangzhou University, was the first choice shopping place for many female students. Young girls came to Xixi Road to choose a piece of cloth, to hold a fashion album or magazines and to have tailors copy the same dress from the fashion albums.
In the 1990s, fashionable girls wearing nylon, Dacron polyester and cashmere fabric clothes generally went to Red Sun and the Longxiang Bridge stall (i.e., street market stall) for shopping and bargaining. The wealthy class went to the department stores or brand name shops. In the 1990s, Hangzhou citizens went to Longxiang Bridge for grocery shopping, theater going, and buying clothes. (http://blog.sina.com.cn/wangxiaoying6688).
At that time, Guohuo Road was also one of Hangzhou’s most fashionable areas. There are several so-called import boutique shops in the Guohou Road area that are generally open by some overseas businesses. Most items, which are particularly expensive in the Guohou Road area, are from Guangzhou or Hong Kong.
A new wave of market reforms was implemented in the early 1990s, which resulted in further growth of Eve’s fashion in the textile and apparel industries. This new breed of young entrepreneur laid the foundation of what is known in the local apparel sector as Hangpai clothing, which is characterized by rich ornamentation like ruffles, laces and sequins. Hangpai is a style that took off with Chinese women who were tired of the austere simplicity of the Mao suit. At that time, wearing a JNBY Women Diary, and Romantic Life, type of clothing was very stylish. The styles for most of these brands have a romantic Jiangnan gentle temperament. In the 2000s, women’s wear brands from Hangzhou rose quickly and soon conquered large swathes of the domestic Chinese market.
2010 was a turning point for the garment industry in Hangzhou. Presently, seventy percent of the approximately 2500 registered women’s garment companies in the city have online businesses. Gu said “willingly or not, Hangzhou’s fashion brands have entered the e-commerce era along with other companies. Concerns and challenges remain, but opportunities and profits will come as well” (http://hangzhouweekly.com/economy/online-fashion-shops-booming/).
Fashionable style is defined as a distinctive characteristic or way of expression. Style in clothing describes the lines that distinguish one form or shape from another (Kefgen and Touchie-Specht 1986). New styles were slowly but surely catching on initially through Hong Kong and the influence of its popular movies and TV dramas, and the newly opened up south and coastal areas (e.g., Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen). Jeans and t-shirts have marked a growing trend toward casual styles of clothing since the late 1980s, a trend that was supported by an emerging interest in sports and outdoor activities. Besides professional sportswear such as the international brands of Nike, Adidas and Puma, casual wear and sportswear also emerged in everyday life. Tights and bikinis became acceptable and even popular, jumpers, jackets, and blazers all became good outerwear, and wool sweaters and down jackets turned into essential items for winter (Zhao 2013).
Fashion information, which consumers receive from various sources, directly affects their decision to adopt or reject a style Sproles (1979). Polegato and Wall (1980) provided empirical support for their theoretical models. Their system suggested that information sources could be classified into three sources: marketer-dominated; consumer-dominated; and neutral.
The current fashion information associated study is mainly classified into three types: the influence of demographics on fashion information change; the relationship of fashion information and buying behavior, and the new fashion media of social network. The information sources have changed during the recent twenty years. In the relationship of fashion information and buying behavior, Schaefer et al. (2009) focused on the relationship of fashion information and buying behavior, while Polegato and Wall (1980) found that consumers who rarely use fashion sources consulted during the legitimation stage of fashion adoption, which confirms the thoughts for purchasing a new fashion. In the new fashion media of social networks, the Internet has mainly focused on the word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing aspect (Song et al. 2013). Most of these studies on fashion information change have set the demographics as independent variables. However, studies have rarely examined social and cultural factors.
Chinese consumers rely heavily on a wide variety of information sources in making purchasing decisions in order to have security in those choices. Fashion magazine advertisements are preferred by 71.8 % of Chinese consumers, followed by TV advertisements (57.5 %). The study also revealed that the Internet is the third most preferred medium (53.7 %) (Teo et al. 2007).
Fashionable style refers to the appearance of clothing and contains spiritual meaning. Fashionable style can reflect personality, lifestyle, aesthetic tendencies and cultural enrichment of both designers and wearers. Meanwhile, inherent content of fashionable style is also changing over time. Therefore, in order to obtain better knowledge of the fashionable style of young females from Hangzhou, which were truly worn in their daily life, in-depth interviews are used to collect data. This approach provides an understanding of human behavior from the subjects’ frame of reference (Collis and Hussey 2003).
Young single women were the most active age group in regard to fashion activities. 18–25 year old females (Group 1) and 38–45 year old females (Group 2) from Hangzhou, China were interviewed and compared. Twenty years ago, the females in Group 2 were 18–25 years old. These participants are all females who are mainly college students or with various occupations and have lived long-term in Hangzhou. The reason that the minimum age is 18 is that they enter college at that age. The young women also usually marry in their mid- twenties in China.
A pilot survey on young females from Hangzhou was conducted. Based on the results of the survey, an in-depth interview guide was developed to plan a more specific questionnaire for the study. The survey contains photos of the participants’ favorite style, which were duplicated and e-mailed via the Internet, and were distributed to the coordinators in Hangzhou in January 2014. The questionnaire was sent out to sixty female participants in both Groups 1 and 2 in Hangzhou. The data were collected at several colleges and popular streets located in Hangzhou. The survey was sent through social networking sites (SNS) such as Weibo, WeChat, and QQ, or distributed through friends, which was randomly sampled.
According to the percentage of surveys, the characteristics of social and cultural background are summarized for the sampling criterion. Among the survey respondents, eight from Groups 1 and 2, who were from ages 18–25 and 38–45, were interviewed in-depth in March 2014. The data were coded and transferred to an Excel file for analysis using Statistical Package for Social Sciences (SPSS version 21). Frequencies, means, percentages and standard deviations were used for descriptive purposes. Descriptive statistics were used to identify and analyze the social backgrounds and fashion information sources for each group on the basis of the interview object criteria.
The analysis of the responsive interviewing model proceeded in two phases. First, we coded the interviews in order to retrieve what the interviewees said about their fashionable styles and information sources. Second, we compared and combined separate events to formulate a description of the setting. Third, we analyzed the results to answer the research questions and study hypotheses, which analyze whether fashionable style change of the young females would be determined by the combination of social and cultural factors.
Open coding is considered the first step towards gradually making sense of the data. Reading the transcripts closely and coding the data line-by-line is necessary for researchers to form concepts and categories for mutual comparison, integration and repetition (Holbrook and O’Shaughnessy 1988). The researcher can then clarify and summarize the concepts and themes, group information around particular events or stories, or sort information by groups. Finally, researchers can search for patterns and linkages between the concepts and themes or draw together different events of alternative versions to form a rich descriptive narrative (Rubin and Rubin 2005) (Table 1).
Results and Discussions
Due to various factors, young females from Hangzhou had a weak concept of fashionable style in the 1990s, but enjoyed to be fashionable (时髦). This depends on the possession of the latest fashionable items such as jeans, t-shirts, and foot tights.
There is no fashionable style specifically. As long as you have clothes and they look nice, that’s perfectly fine (Gao).
There was rarely a concept of: As long as we like it and it fit ourselves (Fang).
I often change fashionable styles. Basically, avant-garde style and minimalism style (Zhang).
I found my friends around in many different styles (Tong).
The dominant fashionable styles of the 1990s were loose, comfortable casual sport and feminine.
Sportswear and casual wear are trendy and looks younger. I prefer casual, and kind of a very simple t-shirt. I’m always wearing black and white, blue, and many dark colors in my jeans and jacket (Gao).
Foot tights were really popular at that time. Many people have one or even several foot tights, matching with a batwing-sleeved blouse (Tong).
Some brands such as Qiushuiyiren and JNBY were almost set up at the same time, and expressed a similar style of the Jiangnan, which are refined, fresh and quietly elegant (Fan).
Young females prefer more diverse styles including South Korean (hereafter, Korean), European, and minimalist, and many other kinds of styles such as retro, punk, ethnic and street as opposed to the 1990s. However, minimalism is the most popular style.
I have a lot of street style. I like that kind of style and I will buy a lot of sweaters. I also quite like European-American style. Sometimes at a whim, I may want to try vintage style (Zhang).
One style is that in recent drama. I like the Korean actress, Yoon Eunhye’s style. Another kind of Korean style is lace, chiffon, blouse, and then the following is a small skirt (Chen).
I prefer minimalist t-shirt, which is long and loose, covering the buttocks (Gao).
I like simplicity. I prefer those pants, which is solid color with a white shirt (Tong).
Table 2 lists the fashionable styles for different periods in Hangzhou. Instead of fashionable style, the particular information mentioned by young females from Hangzhou today is the term coordination, which is more important than any fashion item.
But now we pay more attention to the overall shape. I mean the styling. Now I feel that when including the accessories, makeup and hairstyle, all should be consecrate. Each part of our dressing was relatively separated those days. But, people’s dressings today look more unitary (Fang).
Presently, youngsters are not just content with being fashionable. Being stylish makes them feel groovier for their fashion sense. However, coordinating the features of each different fashionable style through this research is more difficult to determine.
The overall look is becoming more simple and refined. The rise of these styles over 20 years ago fully outlined the evolution and changes in the fashionable style of young females in Hangzhou.
Because of the diversified fashion coordination and mix and match, it is hard to identify a uniform feature of Euro-American style or Korean style through the limited pictures and descriptions provided by the interviewees. What can definitely be assured is that both styles were affected by foreign drama and movies, while Euro-American style is also more influenced by a luxury brand and street shoot. In the pursuit of Korean and Euro-American styles, it is not simple to imitate the fashion items. However, coordination is the key point in presenting different styles.
There were differences in the variety and frequency of fashion information sources used by young females from Hangzhou 1990s (Table 3).
Presently, young females use diversified sources of fashion information with a significantly higher frequency than in the 1990s. The information source of new fashionable style used by young females from Hangzhou has evolved from the store display, friends, and family programs and television programs to the Internet, SNS, online shopping, and television shows and fashion magazines. The frequency of usage and evolution of fashion information received an impact by social and cultural factors on one hand and an influence of female fashion change in Hangzhou on the other hand.
Wulin Road was already a ladies fashion street before then. The clothing there were mainly from Guangzhou (Fang).
They are kept hanging in tailor shops or worn by models or the pictures from pattern books in the shop… there were a lot of apparel books (Ka).
Elle had come into China since then and another Japanese magazine. I’ve read fashion magazines frequently, although it seems relative luxurious because it is expensive (Fang).
Sometimes, I find them in the street or in the store (Ka).
I watch fashion coordination from many style icons in a SNS platform named Mushroom Street and Weibo (micro blog). I’m following some Taobao shop owner as well as network celebrities on some apps like Shopping Notes (购物笔记) and Instagram. Recently, I read a Korean fashion website such as Stylenanda, Chuu, N9, and Partysu (Wen).
Electronic magazines on my mobile are more convenient (Tong).
Korean style is the general trend. Maybe, it’s the influence of Korean drama. It seems that Korean dramas lead the fashion trends in China (Guo).
Relationship between fashionable style and information
The purpose of this section is to explore the relationship between style and fashion information sources and how fashion information sources affected the fashionable styles in Hangzhou. Presently, consumers support various fashionable styles. Thus, grouping consumers according to fashionable style is difficult since consumers may suddenly try a new fashionable style. However, what we can conclude is that young females’ innovation of various fashionable styles comes from various fashion information sources. Table 4 shows a detailed information source, which has mainly affected a specific style. These information sources include fashion apparel brands, sportswear movement, traditional image of women, foreign dramas, fashion bloggers, and the fashionable styles of celebrities. Information sources have a great impact on young females’ fashionable style in Hangzhou through the clothing industry, mass media and other various channels. Information sources are discussed in the next section.
Influential factors of fashion in Hangzhou
The social factors in this study include regional culture, economics, fashion industry and mass media. These social factors have profoundly affected the female fashionable styles in Hangzhou. However, the breadth, depth and persistence of these influences are not in the same context.
First, geographical and cultural factors affected the fashionable styles and fashion information sources in the 1990s. The influence of Jiangnan culture complimented the delicate, soft and feminine temperament. Hangzhou generated Hangpai fashion brands with a girlish and pastoral style, and always with a fresh, graceful and sweet tone.
The influences of family members’ and friends’ opinions about fashion are emphasized in Hangzhou in the 1990s. However, young people recently tend to listen more to their own voices.
Second, a rising economic situation is good for protecting the fundamental development of fashion. In the 1990s, economic conditions constrained consumer pursuit for fashion and the spread of fashion in Hangzhou. Increasing economic prosperity provides conditions for individuality in fashion for young females in Hangzhou.
Third, the Hangzhou industry embarked on large-scale textile and garment production. The fashion industry has played a fundamental role in the prevalence of various kinds of trendy women’s wear, which has also promoted the birth of Hangpai fashion brands. Presently, the combined fashion industry in Hangzhou and e-commerce dramatically changed fashion consumerism in Hangzhou.
Fourth, the mass media in Hangzhou is upgrading existing traditional media such as television, movies, books and magazines to online media such as SNS, e-magazine, fashion websites, and online video sites. The mass media in Hangzhou directly brings updated foreign and domestic fashion information, and guide the direction and provide references for new fashionable styles rather than receiving fashion information from Hong Kong or Guangzhou.
For thousands of years the feudal Confucian values, such as “three obedience and four virtues,” and “innocence is the virtue for women,” have been applied strongly to everyday life in Hangzhou. All of these traditional values still exist and have an influence. Hangzhou women lie in an uncomfortable situation such as a fear of the condemnation of being a woman without virtues.
Due to the second-tier city status, economic level and ideas of Hangzhou have fallen behind other larger cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou. Along with Hangzhou citizen’s characteristic traits of complacency and passivity to new things, the acceptance of foreign culture has been relatively slower, which reflects on their clothing and fashionable style. The 1980 s’ fashion item such as foot tight of Hangzhou had already been outdated in Beijing since the 1990s. However young females from Hangzhou were holding foot tights as fashionable wear.
With reform and opening up, and the impact of a global culture, ideology of Hangzhou females has also changed gradually. Therefore, restricting and regulating traditional culture and ideology practically disappeared from today’s females dressing, and lead to a more diverse and personalized fashion culture.
As the fashion information spread synchronized with other cities through the Internet, fashion trends in Hangzhou have expanded from the local to national level and from the national to global level, Hangzhou fashion is no longer lagging behind Guangzhou, Shanghai and other cities such as the case 20 years ago. However, Hangzhou fashion synchronized with other domestic and international fashion trends.
Conclusions and implications
Overall, in a global context of fashion and appearance communications, there may be a diminishing sense of locality and cultural identity in young females’ fashion in Hangzhou. Especially, The Internet and mass media have become a major influence for young females’ fashion in the city.
The changes during the recent twenty years have changed consumers’ concept for fashion from the pursuit of being fashionable (shimao, 时髦) to being stylish (youxing, 有型). Multiple looks with a variety of stylistic influences have been stripped from Hangzhou and have become part of a large fashion influence process. Among these styles, the Korean style from Korean drama is the most popular for young females in Hangzhou at present because of the innovativeness, unique styling and coordination.
Online fashion celebrities such as famous bloggers, stars, and Taobao shoppers using SNS play the same role as a Korean actress in Hangzhou. Through the understanding of a particular style such as vintage, hip-hop and punk, and online fashion celebrities emphasize the coordination of different fashion items and accessories as well as the importance of wearer’s body and skin. They believe that coordination and wearer’s body make an outfit suit with individual character traits.
To be stylish (有风格), young females from Hangzhou bring their attention to the coordination of different fashionable styles. Their fashion aesthetic has become more diverse.
First, Korean and global fashion trends are seemingly receiving more attraction in Hangzhou and consumers are more sensitive to design details. Thus, designers should stress more on the stylistic elements such as color, silhouette, and fabric.
Second, when it comes to marketing, instead of following the mainstream fashion trends or appealing to consumer values, Chinese garment enterprises should pay more attention to their own brand culture. Thus, storytelling marketing may be a good strategy.
Third, the Internet played a very important role in the changes of fashionable styles and fashion information sources, especially in the spread of SNS, online shopping malls, and online video sites. Thus, the contextual marketing approach of providing personalized, real-time information to customers at the point of need will obtain competitive advantage in e-commerce. Therefore, fashion brands should expand the brand culture influence through online media. Presently, the mobile apps in Hangzhou such as Wechat and Instagram may be the most helpful tool for brand culture spreading.
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Chen, D., Ha, J. Fashionable styles and information sources: an exploratory study of Hangzhou, China. Fash Text 3, 15 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40691-016-0067-8