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Surviving the fatal ‘how do I look’ question

You are what you wear—or, as the ancient saying goes: “The clothes make the man, just like the saddle makes the horse.” People have always used fashion to signal their wealth, creativity, or taste, as much as covering up or keeping warm.

But how do you tell if an outfit looks good? Some people turn to their friends, when they feel like they can’t trust the mirror or a pushy salesperson. Such conversations, though, are studded with landmines. Anyone who has been asked the fateful question “How do I look in this?” knows the internal struggle—being truthful without causing offense, or complimenting without sounding insincere. Some language skills are necessary to come out of these conversations with your friendships intact.

Flatter cleverly

Positive feedback is usually pretty safe, but flattery is also a science. A vague compliment like “you look good” is meaningless, and may even raise suspicions that you’re being less than truthful. Name specific features you like about the look:

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Fitting Remarks (Paywalled) is a story from our issue, “China Chic.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.

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Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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