Young Chinese adopt 'rude outfits' at work

When the weather turned cold in December, Cindy Luo started wearing her fluffy pajamas over a hooded sweatshirt to the office. Wearing cozy sleepwear to work became a habit and soon she didn't even bother wearing matching tops and bottoms, choosing whatever was most comfortable.

A few months later, she posted photos of herself to a “rude outfits at work” thread that had spread on Xiaohongshu, a Chinese app similar to Instagram. She was one of tens of thousands of young workers in China who proudly posted photos of themselves showing up to the office in coveralls, sweatpants and sandals with socks. The just-out-of-bed look was surprisingly casual for most Chinese workplaces.

“I just want to wear what I want,” said Ms. Luo, 30, an interior designer in Wuhan, a city in Hubei province. “I just don’t think it’s worth spending the money to dress for work, since I’m just sitting there.”

Defying expectations of appropriate work attire reflects a growing dislike among Chinese youth to a life of ambition and effort which has marked the last decades. Like the country growth slows and promising opportunities fade away, many young people choose instead to “flat”, a countercultural approach to seeking an easy and simple life. And now even those with stable jobs are staging a silent protest.

The intentionally dull outfits became a movement on social media when a user named “Kendou S-” posted a video last month on Douyin, TikTok's Chinese sister service. She showed off her work outfit: a fuzzy brown sweater dress over plaid pajama pants with a lightly quilted pink jacket and furry slippers.

In the video, she said her supervisor at work repeatedly told her that her outfits were “disgusting” and that she needed to wear better clothes “to preserve the company's image.”

The video took off; it received over 735,000 likes and was shared 1.4 million times. The hashtag “rude outfits at work” trended across several Chinese social media platforms and sparked a competition to determine which work outfit was the most disgusting. On Weibo, China's version of X, the topic generated hundreds of millions of views and sparked a broader debate about why young people are unwilling to dress for work these days.

“It’s the progress of the times,” said Xiao Xueping, a psychologist in Beijing. She said young people have grown up in a relatively more inclusive environment than previous generations and have learned to prioritize their own feelings.

Mr. Xiao said the outfits could be a responsible form of protest as people continue to do their jobs. It is also a sign of how countries reassess their values ​​and priorities as they reach higher levels of prosperity.

People's Daily, the main newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, criticized young people for 'staying flat' in a 2022 editorial, urging them to continue working hard. Since then, he has echoes Xi Jinping's advice, The Chinese leader, who urged young people to “eat bitterness,” a colloquialism meaning to endure hardship.

But the People's Daily stopped short of reprimanding young Chinese for what it called “being ugly” at work. The post said that the trend was a form of self-deprecation, and that there was “no point in amplifying it to become a problem of principle” as long as employees dressed appropriately and had a good work attitude.

Working from home during the pandemic has changed workplace dynamics around the world. In the United States, many companies have been faced with resistance to a return to power push, and commuting five days a week is no longer a given in many companies. After three years of living under Chinese rule strict Covid restrictionsChinese employees don't mind going to the office, but many want to do it on their terms and in their comfortable clothes.

Most responses to “rude outfits at work” posts came from women. In China, as in many places around the world, women are held to stricter standards when it comes to office attire, while men's outfits often require less thought. For the Chinese Communist Party's senior officials, who are almost entirely male, the choice of what to wear is quite simple: “ting ju feng”, or “desk and office style”. It is the bland, low-key look of a typical mid-level bureaucrat, a style favored by Mr. Xi.

A colleague of Joeanna Chen, a 32-year-old translator at a beauty clinic in Hangzhou, posted photos of her wardrobe on social media with the caption: “Guess how long it will take the boss to talk to her? (Ms. Chen's colleague had her permission to post the photos.)

Ms Chen wore a mango yellow hooded overcoat with a white knit hat that covered her ears. On his arms were mismatched blue and beige sleeve covers decorated with cows. She wore black pants and pink and blue plaid socks with granny-style fur moccasins.

Ms. Chen said she recognized that the outfit, her usual office attire, was not very stylish, but she didn't mind because it was comfortable. The sleeve covers were made by her grandmother. The sweater was an heirloom from his mother and the hat once belonged to her son.

She said her boss once asked her to wear something sexier to work, but she ignored his request. Also, for the first time, she began refusing tasks she didn't want to do.

After going through years of unpredictable lockdowns, quarantines and fear of getting sick during the pandemic, Chen said all she wants now is to live in the moment with a stable job and a peaceful life. She doesn't worry about promotions or advancement.

“Just be happy every day and don’t force things on yourself,” she said.

For Jessica Jiang, 36, who works in online sales at a clothing company in Shanghai, her “raw” look has more to do with her messy hair and lack of makeup.

Ms. Jiang said she did not have enough time in the morning to get ready because of her hour-long commute. She said she dressed up by putting on random clothes. Recently, the result was a sweater that was too short to cover your thermal undershirt. “Everyone is focused on their work – no one worries about getting dressed,” Ms. Jiang said. “It’s enough to just do the work.”

But Lulu Mei, 30, a bank worker in the eastern city of Wuhu, said she had to wear a uniform every day: a navy blazer, matching pants and a light-colored button-down shirt. She said that without this requirement, she too might eventually stop dressing nicely because “all work is tiring.”

Ms Luo, the interior designer who wears fluffy pajamas to work, said there were days when she dressed more conventionally – like when she went out with friends after work or when her pajamas were in the laundry. She loves fashion, she says. At work, she listens to music from the most recent Chanel show at Paris Fashion Week.

When she joined her company three years ago, she wore overcoats to appear more mature and prepared her outfits the day before. Over time, she grew tired of it and began to question the practice.

“I feel like I don’t know what I’m dressing for,” Ms. Luo said. “I just want to live a little more on my own terms.”

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