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'New for three years, old for three years, fix for another 3 years'

Bednall, Anthony (2020) 'New for three years, old for three years, fix for another 3 years'. In: Styling Shanghai. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781350051140

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Abstract

Against the context of a century or more of economic, social and political developments in China, fashion or clothing, has acted as a representational and symbolic illustration of a culture trying to clarify its own existential questions. Its urban populations, with Shanghai, being historically, the most vibrant, negotiated unparalleled turmoil and seismic societal and economic volatility, which contributed to changes in individual and collective dress codes and represented the birth and rebirth of a series of distinctive cultural and sartorial norms. The influences on the city’s population and on how ordinary Shanghai residents procured, adapted and constructed clothing for themselves and their families could not have been a simple or singular transformation. Garments which were not only functional, economically viable and responded positively to new visual codes and social dogma were also not the direct effect of a series of political campaigns or directives, but would, like the majority of the country be a response to broader narratives of political alliances, global aspirations, revolutionary doctrine heavily reinforced by powerful visual imagery, and in some cases misguided or unsuccessful socio-political policies. This chapter explores some of these broader narratives during the first decade of the new republic, 1949 to1959 and their direct contribution to the cultural and sartorial landscape of China in general terms and Shanghai specifically, whereby clothing loses its aesthetic significance to be replaced predominantly by functionality, gender neutrality and asexuality. It also reflects, through personal narratives, how ordinary Shanghainese residents, during the period 1960 to 1976, pragmatically responded to the conditions within this new landscape by navigating situations and ideologies as best they could and resourcefully clothed themselves through a variety of methods and opportunities.

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