In Shanghai, What Not to Wear

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  04.08.09 | 3:32 PM ET

In my old stomping grounds in Shanghai’s Pudong area, I was always amazed to see grown women wandering the streets in pajamas emblazoned with teddy bears and Mickey Mouse motifs. The Chinese teachers I worked with were embarrassed by the trend—they told me they wouldn’t be caught dead outside in pajamas—but somehow it’s become as much a part of Shanghai culture as soup dumplings and hairy crabs.

Now, in the lead-up to the 2010 Shanghai Expo, some of the city’s neighborhood committees are campaigning to ban the wearing of pajamas outdoors, on the grounds that it looks “uncivilized.” Seems there’s a push on to project a more sophisticated image to the thousands of foreigners expected to attend the Expo, similar to the pre-Olympics etiquette campaigns in Beijing.

Neighborhood minders face a tough battle, however. The Montreal Gazette reports that 7.5 million of the city’s 19 million residents admit to wearing sleepwear outside at least some of the time. That’s a lot of flannel.

Where’s Tim Gunn when you need him?

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

4 Comments for In Shanghai, What Not to Wear

Lisa Bakum 04.08.09 | 5:26 PM ET

Such a funny fashion trend, I noticed this in Hanoi about 6 years ago too…

Stephan Larose 04.08.09 | 10:22 PM ET

I’ve lived in Shanghai for three years, and this is a very bland city with very little color or character (I’m comparing it to Montreal and Vancouver where I used to reside…) and from my standpoint, even though the neighborhood watches seem to want to portray Shanghai as this or that for the benefit of foreigners, I’m willing to bet that foreigners will love to see Shanghaiese in their pajamas, it’s one of their only unique traits and its really nice to see that people put comfort before fashion from time to time. Besides, what the hell is a neighborhood watch doing telling people what they can and cannot wear. That’s just a little over the top isn’t it?

A Girl in Asia 04.09.09 | 4:15 AM ET

The pajama trend is also very prevalent in Phnom Penh and Saigon - sometimes worn with high heels and socks!

Jennifer 04.09.09 | 8:26 AM ET

Nevermind that they’re wearing their pajamas in public; why are grown women wearing pajamas with teddy bears and micky mouse motifs on them?  Now, I realize that there may be an errant women here or there in the US who also wears pajamas with kiddy prints on them, but that’s usually something that they don’t share (literally) in public!

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