It’s springtime in Beijing which can only mean one thing:
If you’ve been reading your fashion mags or have found yourself in a mall in the past few weeks, you’d probably have noticed that the Wild West is in this season. Denim outerwear (牛仔夹克衫), shirts, vests and dresses have taken over mannequins, filled the runways and have even been given an entire spread in the February 2012 issue of Vogue China. Luckily, vintage boutiques in Beijing were well prepared in advance for the trend—they’ve been importing old-school Levi’s, Lee and Wranglers from America for several years now. It’s not a coincidence that the word for “jeans” in Mandarin is niuzaiku （牛仔裤） or, “cowboy pants,” a word that, like those in many countries, reflects the American cowboy culture that is denim, thanks to 1930s western films.
While vintage or secondhand denim is one of the cheapest trends to import, it’s certainly not an inexpensive buy, nor is it cheap by the standards of Beijing’s young, hip crowd. With its brands being among the increasing number of those coming from the U.S., denim is becoming the standout staple in the crowds of shiny, puffy coats or cotton granny pants that seem to fill every Beijing street and market. But owner of Gulou vintage shop 古着热!!! (Hot Vintage!), Du Xue Yao, doesn’t like to associate his Western-wear collection with the fast-fashion retailers, nor does he think the cowboy craze is all that popular—with most Beijingers that is. Just take a look at how many vintage stores are in Beijing. “Only on Gulou East Street!” he says.
Nevertheless, the few shops that would make the likes of James Dean and John Wayne proud could see a boost from those looking to bypass the chaotic crowds in the city’s shopping malls and who are looking for an underground edge to their style. They’re not only stocked high with jean clothing, but also with beaded fringe and golden leather, all influenced by the Japanese obsession with the wide open country in the 1990s and early 2000s. One 古着热!!! shopper admitted the style was her go-to pick because it’s comfortable and casual—not to mention unusual. In a city exploding with modern, luxury brands from the West, getting in touch with the past through vintage-wear is a refreshing, maybe even a rebellious voice from the creative, young fashion forward crowd.
If you happen to be in Beijing and you have extra cash in your pocket, see below for a selection of stores that carry jeans clothing. If you’re American, don’t be surprised if, at the moment you step through the door, a shop owner eagerly rips their best piece off the wall and waves the American brand-inscribed tag in front of your face, hoping you’ll make a split-second decision to leave Beijing and head straight for a dude ranch.
古着热: While the “cowboy” selection is currently overridden with leather and button up western shirts, it’s still worth it to sift through the vintage skirts and dresses—you never know when you’ll spot a hidden denim gem.
195-1号 Gulou East Street Dongcheng, Beijing, China
Mega Mega Vintage: Both the men’s and women’s sections of the shop have at least one rack devoted to faded bluejeans shirts and jackets. A huge selection of colourful leather purses, as well as beaded leather belts and moccasins make it easy to piece together a convincing ensemble for your cowboy-loving friends.
241号 Gulou East Street Dongcheng, Beijing, China
Underground Kidz: A store devoted almost entirely to the jackets and pants, it’s a go-to pick for 80s-style denim outerwear hailing all the way from America’s thrift bins.
69号 Gulou East Street Dongcheng, Beijing, China
For clothing that’s a little less Wild West, and a little more traditional China, check out our Chinese Opera Kaleidoscope.
And to learn the truth behind China’s massive clothes production industry, head this way.