The Aesthetics of Two: In defense of childishness

| April 12th, 2010

A fashion phenomenon spreading through East Asia is matching outfits for couples. Personally, I find nothing wrong with such outfits – I think they are endearing, creative, and open up opportunities for collaboration. However, the usual response I’ve noticed from people from Western countries is that it is childish, immature, and the ever descriptive "gay" (check out comments from here and here). I say: Why not have fun with our significant other? Why don’t we aesthetically display our affection?

Why is this kind of childishness is deemed negative in our society? After all, Picasso said, “ It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.” Maybe the problem with American society is that sometimes it is not childish enough. Perhaps we are losing our imagination and our ability to enjoy things that are awesome in their simplicity. In East Asian countries, you often find cute animated characters everywhere – on backpacks, t-shirts, pens, etc. And this is not only limited to children, adults and teenagers enjoy this aesthetic as well. There is even a Japanese word that is used in China to describe this, kawaii. If you Google “kawaii,” you get images like this. In the U.S., a lot of clothing is somewhat dispassionate, boring, mono-colored and only functionality-oriented.

From this site, a fashion expert argues, “the desire to blur differences with matching outfits results in one of them no longer looking like a man, or no longer like a woman.” Isn’t this reasoning just a bit essentialist and old-fashioned? Androgyny seems to be only getting trendier. Also, it is completely possible to create matching outfits to complement each other so that effeminate and masculine elements both stand out.

Crystal Tao argues that couples outfits are popular in China because public displays of affection are not welcome. This might be the case in some situations, but not in all. If you walk around a college campus, especially in bigger cities, couples seem pretty proud to display their relationship and couples outfits are just an extension of this display of affection, not merely a cover-up due to shyness.

Of course, it’s cultural and it has a lot to do with personal preference. I don’t really care either way, I just think it’s cute and affectionate. And if you’re interested – here are lots of examples:

53 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. catipaz says:

    thank you, cc, for reminding us of the power of cute !!

    :0)

  2. Eason says:

    This reminds me that my gf and I have been meaning to coordinate a couple outfit…

  3. Wang Er says:

    Nice article and pictures! My wife and I have two “couple T-shirts” (情侣装) we bought in our honeymoon in Lijiang, Yunnan. There’s a 红太郎 (Red Wolf) on her chest and a 灰太郎 (Grey Wolf) on mine. If you watch the cartoon, you know the Grey Wolf is a miserable 妻管严 (henpecked husband), but whatever, I still wore it all day long like a child as long as my wife likes it, and the ‘thing’ behind it :)

    Feynman said it right, “what do you care what other people think”. If your partner loves it, so be it.

  4. b-real says:

    It is really cute, but I couldn’t get away with it the states. It would be considered gay or being whipped by your lover. women as well as men don’t want to be claimed in a relationship. Matching clothes can be mistaken for ownership and people hate to feel or look tied down in a relationship. Or blood related like twins, which then in turn can be cute. Every one likes twins, they are fun.

    • b-fake says:

      b-real, where in the states you from? lets match our clothing and post it to chinahush …so the chinahush community knows I own your weak fruity asssssss
      hahahaha

  5. GuoBao says:

    The concept of aifu is weird although I agree with your thoughts on childishness. I think people should be allowed to be children for longer,, especially when I see 8 year olds spending 9 hours a day in school, 2 hours doing homework and every day of the week being whisked away to extra English/maths/Chinese/piano/pingpong/drawing classes.

    “But society is so hard,, the competition,, my son needs to learn,, my daughter needs to be better,, everybody does it,, blah blah blah” Still doesn’t change the fact that too many children’s and young people’s lives here are miserable. Sorry for hijacking the thread.

    Aifu? Sure go for it. I prefer a good laugh at least once a day.

  6. Chinamatt says:

    I’m just glad my wife never made me wearing matching clothes like this. Only time I thought it was funny was in Urumqi, I saw a couple wearing matching shirts that said “Good Shit.”

  7. Ooolala says:

    The author seems to confuse conformist childish behavior and creativity/imagination: see the quote of Picasso to justify following some fashion.

    “Maybe the problem with American society is that sometimes it is not childish enough.”: that is a funny quote too.

  8. Neirda says:

    Those outfits have been out for a while.
    Have no problem with it whatsoever, but clearly I’m not getting into it no matter how hard my gf will try, and neither am I getting into girlish-androgin pink stuff.

    The problem in China is mostly that whenever something gets trendy, it speedlightly gets unimaginatively copied by litteraly every-so-called-fashionnable-one and therefore gets old before it even had a golden age.

  9. Neirda says:

    Oh yea, and about the “childishness”.

    There’s something fake in it, because it’s essentialy consumerism-driven childishness.
    Don’t misunderstand me, I have nothing against consumerism, but really it has very little relation with genuine childhood.

  10. Don says:

    i am a foreigner living in china and i dont think there is anything wrong with such outfits, it looks cool others but personally i have not found the woman that made me lve her to that extent. l have to stress again that its a good thing especially when u love ur woman and u want everyone to know

  11. Anand Nav says:

    Great article and post :)
    Even I had this type of thing in South Asia. But we are not so free to show it many times I think so in East Asia it is great the way the show their affection and relationship status.
    Thanks for great article.

    • GuoBao says:

      Funny coz another way to show your relationship status here is when someone is talking to your gf in a club or a bar you drop everything and throw yourself at her, firmly grabbing hold of her shoulders and begin an omnious stare at the supposed competitor without saying a word. Yes thank you Mr. Insecure,, we get it.

  12. JX says:

    This is an awesome article that made me smile. More fun and quirky articles like this, please!

  13. Laoshi says:

    Childish is the right word. Grow up.

    • JX says:

      I find it fascinating how “grow up” is equated with boring, dull, and predictable, and “adults” find that okay. In a way, being “mature” in that sense is actually the opposite of mature, since it’s really moronic. The most fun people to be with are children at heart. You have to be a jaded lout to read the article and not find the couple fashion fun!

      • Whatever... says:

        It’s not about maturity, gayness of childishness.
        This all just gives a disturbing feeling of retarded exhuberant golden youth like we know china is crawling with.
        Maybe it’s wrong, nevertheless it explains the “Western opinion”.

  14. Hahaha says:

    It is so when you get lost in a crowd in China, and can only define your partner as ‘short, cute with black hair’… so now you can say ‘he/she is short, cute with black hair…..and he/she looks like me!!’

  15. Tai-Pan says:

    I think for westerners…. the childishness is not youth or immaturity.. its more of an “insecurity” look and feel. It looks like you need everyone to know for sure that you are together.

    Westerners pride themselves (even in relationships) as being independent .

    Do agree though this is nothing wrong with being childish or having your own style… you just have to live with others opinions.

    Would also say that most of those outfits aren’t that wild or exciting either.. they just have…er… double the impact!

  16. Schamotnik says:

    I think there’s a few factors that make these shirts popular in China but not in Western countries. Obviously these are all generalizations bc there is no such thing as the west and chinese people are not all the same.
    First of all I think people have a much bigger sense of privacy in the west. Even if you are in a relationship and you are proud of it, you don’t have to demonstrate it all the time.
    Furthermore I have noticed that it is more acceptable for adults, especially to behave like little kids in China. Maybe the reason for that is that since they have so much pressure throughout pre-school (!) and school, they never actually get to be kids.
    http://www.chinasmack.com/2010/stories/chinese-mom-japanese-preschool.html

    Another thing I have noticed is, the whole bf wearing gf’s bag. It seems to me that with so many single men in china these days it is also a matter of pride for the boys to show that they have a gf.

    Personally I would never wear matching outfits, because I wear clothes that I feel reflect me personally and not me and my gf as a unit.
    Also I don’t think acting childish can be equated with creativity etc. I frankly don’t see how walking around with stuffed animals is an expression of creativity.

    • kira says:

      and, perhaps there is not so many came-out gays that wear aifu around to make it a phenomenon, so it is not considered gaylike. On the other hand, there is not many couples wearing aifu on the street either may be they don’t want the attentions

    • Londonmay says:

      Well said! Stuffed animals, pink fluffy stuff and glitter start becoming fashion mistakes once u grow out of your preteens. I also don’t get it how matching my outfit to my boyfriend’s is “expressing creativity”… it’s more like not having enough individual personality to express through a personal choice of wardrobe and relying on the “safety” of a shared outfit. Just silly if u ask me

  17. A couple points to make: We should make a distinction between childish (as used in the article above) and childlike, which wasn’t. The two words refer to the same general category of behavior, but one has a negative connotation and the other doesn’t. While few people would wish to be described as childish (with associated ideas of petulance, unreliability, etc.) there are many who venerate the qualities associated with being childlike (innocent, creative, nonconformist, frank). I was struck by the description one famous writer (Stephen King perhaps?) used to describe a variety of other famous fantasy/sci-fi/horror genre writers, saying that they had a childlike quality visible in their countenance.

    I also think that a certain amount of childlike and childish behavior is a normal part of romantic relationships. Don’t ask the details–since it’s been years since I saw the Discovery program that made this point–but there seems to be a natural degree of regression to childlike states in relationships as one builds a level of intimacy with a partner that mirrors that of parent and child. Just think of your own relationships and you’ll know what this is referring to. Almost all of us have participated in the mawkish fumblings of love.

    I’m going to end this with a ‘whataboutism’ since they seem to be all the rage among the fenqing these days: what about the older generations and more conservative/strait-laced types in Asian society? Do they approve or like this trend? Does it really matter if they do? If a subsection of the Asian population ascribes to or even fetishizes childlike/childish behavior and its accoutrements, I don’t think they should feel defensive about that style choice any more than should, say, Goths or neo-hippies, etc.

  18. Beavis says:

    Sometimes it’s cute on the girls but it looks horrendous on the guys. The only thing worse than the clothes are the hairstyles of the guys, not to mention the total lack of masculinity.

    • John says:

      I concur 100%. Some of the women can get away with it for a awhile, although there is a tendency for some of them to come across as airheads. Meanwhile, the men end up looking little emasculated dorks.

  19. Jay K says:

    Here is my personal thought on couples wearing matching clothes, and it may piss off some of you… guys no longer look like guys and sometimes the girls will end up looking like a guy, the blue between the two is something I cannot accept. When I see these photos, my first thought is the guys decided to get castrated by their gf and in turn become a eunich with no form of independence or masculinity to show. as for the women they decided to sew their vaginas shut and put on a strap on.
    I’m not trying to sound like a cahuvinistic prick, but form my comments above im sure ive already painted myself as much.

  20. Chris says:

    Loved it.

  21. David says:

    I think this is very cool. As a westerner I feel that the anglo-american west can learn a great deal from China in terms of committment and romance values. Its important to remember that the west, founded on individualistic capitalist principles, is very cynical about romantic or emotional relationships. This argument of couples dressing the same being childish is really just a reason to have more individualistic relations. Whats the point in that? I think its great to become one with your partner.

    • Laoshi says:

      Wow. Since when does China have “commitment and romance values”. China is a COMMERCIAL society. The young are commersialized irreversably. Everyone is looking out for their INTEREST. True love and commitment are very endangered species in China.

      • Vesper says:

        Guys wear matching shirts with their girlfriends during the day, and take them off at the ‘massage’ places at night.

      • GWB says:

        since before your species diverged from homo sapiens. lol

      • David says:

        True, but it’s only just started 20 years ago. West has continually self-destructed over 150 years of individualistic, market driven psychology. It takes its toll over a long period.

    • Londonmay says:

      Learn “commitment and romance values” from China???? Seriously man have u ever dated any Chinese lately???? Firstly most of them tend to express cliche versions of “romance” and as for commitment for many cheating is right up front next to basketball as a favorite hobby.

  22. elenore says:

    Me and my husband have 3 kids because in the U.S. we express love in different way than wearing matching outfits.Women and Men have to pick relationship battles and I would never waste a battle on a matching outfit.Jewelry,house,etc yes.My husband would laugh or just leave the house if I asked him to wear a matching outfit but I think that’s kidda Lame.My kids wore matching outfits when they wear toddlers so I could find them at the park.

  23. Potomacker says:

    This is hardly a new phenomenon. While I worked on ChejuDo in the 90s, the matching outfits were a proclamation that the couple were newlyweds, a very gaudy, cheesy proclamation. But we should be clear, this is not the new husband’s idea. I see this as a means for women to extend the selfishness of their wedding rituals and to show that she can control what her man wears. And yes, it means that he is whipped and she wants the whole world to know it.
    What I conclude from this trend is that women are flexing their societal muscle. As a minority she can tell him that if he doesn’t like, he can try to find another lover.

  24. Hey, where can i get the “Hey, boy” “hey girl” outfit? It looks awesome.

  25. Lili says:

    funny story… but my chinese husband (who is NOT a young man) was the one who suggested it. to be honest, although many chinese are corrupt and are unloyal .. you can still find ones that truly commited… often the ones with a little bit less money actually

  26. lordofreimes says:

    Wearing the same/matching outfits seem more like a cover for any insecurities they might have about their relationship.
    It’s like they don’t know whether they are together or if they can ‘function’ as one unit and that somehow being identically dressed fixes their problems. Being insecure is not fixed simply through same clothes. THAT is childish.

    There is nothing wrong with planning and outfitting together so you COMPLEMENT each other, perhaps working on each other’s strong points and weak points. It also shows you have creativity as a couple.

  27. Cara says:

    My boyfriend and I have matching green lantern shirts, but that’s more about being nerds than anything else.

  28. WTF says:

    Ummm… this is gay.

  29. Wong Fuking Ow Fit says:

    I lubba lubba lubba lubba match the outfit. I lubba western man wear match clothes look gay. I lubba gay free man. I practice write engalush when type and I see a gay man in match clothes i practice oral.

    I lubba how you put down the west. Ha ha ha laowai. haahahaha laowai match a the gay.

  30. Virginia says:

    I would have liked more candid, on-the-street examples in the photos… Most of the pics are from editorial fashion layouts, with professional models– not that interesting or effective for a LIFESTYLE piece. I liked the sweater vests & pastry shop pics best. When I was younger, my first boyfriend copied my style quite heavily just because he liked it so much, but we never 100% matchy-matched… we just complemented and paralleled each other. It was cute. It was never intentional though, it just turned out that way which I think makes it nicer… I kind of miss it! But I was quite androgynous then, and so was he, which I think made it work (it wouldn’t now).

  31. Erik says:

    I recently completed a photo series about this in Beijing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28053528@N05/sets/72157624586262124/

  32. Mark says:

    This just makes everything even more confusing for the western world. You guys all looked the same before, now it’s a nightmare ;-)

  33. Bob says:

    Be honest I think some of the items look cool, as in the same picture on the tshirt but say each wear a different colour like their fave colour so they still have their own identities. But a man wearing women clothing such as jumper dressing with jeans, while the girl wears the same I think its just wrong, in my case a man should be a man not something they are not.

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