Communism, Clothing, Class, and Categorisation Perceptions

Published on 2013-06-21

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I was just reminded about socio-economic ‘classes’ through an exchange with an American colleague.  I live and work in Shanghai, China.

Today was ‘casual day’, an American concept, that states that on Fridays, if you don’t have encounters with clients or public viewings, you can wear more casual clothes than is usual (even though today is Sunday, but that is a different cross-cultural issue).  Dress code for me on a normal day is a suit, long sleeve shirt, tie, .. all matching and professing a total consulting credible manner.  Even cufflinks..
Today, to be casual, I had on a company logoed polo shirt, brown cargo pants, brown shoes, and a Notre Dame fleece light jacket.  My American counterpart (22 year old, I’m 46) said, “ya know, looking at you, I know that you are an American Dad.”
“Why?”, I said.
“Because exactly what you are wearing.”
I was wearing what was comfort and normal for me, an American from Indiana and Chicago, Generation X.
Here in Shanghai, and many Tier 1 cities (Beijing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Shanghai), the denizens can totally place your origins and class from what you wear.  Very conscious of this.  And if you want to project a different perception, many Chinese will spend a huge proportion of their incomes on ‘upper-classing’.
My ex-wife, Bonnie, a Xi’an resident born in 1971, told me that, “Growing up, everyone had the same clothes.  Same color, green and blue, same style.  I felt really special when my family could afford to buy one of the new things, like a pink ribbon, or a different colored blouse.  This did cause some jealousy, but I didn’t care.  I felt special.”  This was in the 1970s.
Clothing counts in this post Communistic economic system.
Even if you look ‘Chinese/Asian’, they look at what you wear, how you behave, and are eerily accurate on devising where you are from.
I’ve become this class conscious as well, if, if you knew me 20 years ago, would be totally out of character.  I’ll be doing a cross-cultural training in April with a client that needs to make their local staff aware of how clothing, bearing, and attitude influence and determine credibility in international situations.
Today reinforced this idea, that, even though you want to express yourself and be an individual through your own attire choices, pick and choose, know your audience, be aware, and decide how you want to present yourself.