Top Chinese leaders are not known for sartorial flourishes. Their choice of fashion probably last made news three decades ago when top Communist Party of China (CPC) leaders shed their traditional “Mao suits” to slip into dumpy, western-styled ones.
But President Xi Jinping, knowingly or not, might just have brought back the old, if slightly tweaked, fashion trend into vogue. During a state banquet hosted by the Dutch royal family in Amsterdam on Saturday, Xi donned a formal traditional suit, which the state media called a “simplified and redesigned Zhongshan or Mao suit”.
It could be the birth of a new national dress, said a China News Agency report, adding that the dark blue, slim-cut suit was a smart mix of traditional Chinese styles and modern styling trends.
Xi’s attire not only met international diplomatic norms but also represented China’s ethnic styles, Zhou Jiali, a diplomatic protocol expert from China Foreign Affairs University, told state media.
“President Xi’s outfit at the banquet was not strictly a Zhongshan suit, which normally has four pockets. Instead, it was a type of modified Chinese standing-collar outfit,” Zhou told the Chinese media.
“The entire design goes with Chinese style, but some subtleties are tinged with a modern tailoring spirit. For example, a Western-style square pocket was designed at the left chest,” she said.
In China, the body-hugging “qipao” is the traditional, formal dress for women; it is expected to portray a woman’s beauty.
The Zhongshan suit is a symbol of a man’s status.
“In addition to exhibiting the beauty of Chinese culture, the outfits of Xi and first lady Peng Liyuan also created a harmonious and vivid impression of a ‘lovers pack’,” Lu Peixin, former acting head of the Protocol Department of the Foreign Ministry, said.
China watchers will be keenly following powerful Xi’s sartorial experiments to see if it offers a possible peek into his policies and politics. Whether Xi wearing an old-styled but trendier suit, eating at roadside dumpling shops and taking a walk in a touristy Beijing street meant a more open, transparent, people--friendly governance? Or whether it was just a choreographed effort to plant a positive image of a government that is silently tightening its control over the lives of its people?