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How to Dress Properly in China

Increasingly in China people are dressing like in the West, however three things to you may need to dress differently for are: 1) the weather, 2) respecting local cultures, and 3) special occasions. Let us help you understand how to dress in China for whatever situation you find yourself in.

Everyday Traveling

a tourist couple on the Yellow MountainsDress for the occasion when traveling in China.

Normally, we say that tourists in China should "dress as in the West." This means that whatever you wear on a normal day back home is generally an okay choice for your everyday travel itinerary in China as well. 

Of course, you will want to take into account the local weather situations when packing your traveling wardrobe. But for the most part, there's no reason to buy totally new outfits specifically for your trip. Comfortable walking shoes, weather appropriate layers, and helpful accessories like secure bags and useful hats (warmth or sun protection) are all perfectly acceptable choices. 

Some Exceptions To The Rule

There are, of course, some instances where in order to dress properly you may need to make a few changes to your traditional wardrobe. But not to worry. We've gathered all you need to know about these unique situations here in this article to ensure you are always dressed properly for your adventures in China. 

Religious Sites

photo with a Chinese monkRespect is key when visiting religious sites.

When frequenting temples and other holy sites, it is customary to wear more modest clothing. Making sure your shoulders and knees are covered is the most important rule. Wearing this type of respectful clothing is encouraged when touring religious sites such as Buddhist temples and shrines. Occasionally, you may be expected to remove your shoes when entering a religious site. 

Pay attention to your surroundings and try to follow along with what the people around you are doing. There may be signs in English telling you how to proceed, but if not the people around you can be your best teachers. Hats and other nonreligious head coverings are generally discouraged. 

Attending Weddings, Ceremonies, Birthday Parties

Chinese wedding ceremonyChinese wedding ceremonies are always considered formal events.

If you're lucky enough to attend a traditional Chinese wedding, it is sure to be an experience you won't soon forget. Weddings in China are extravagant affairs that usually take place in hotel ballrooms and other rented spaces. As with all weddings, your clothing choices should respect the bride and groom above all else. 

It's a bad idea to wear anything too flashy, revealing, or untidy. If the wedding is a traditional, Western, or combination of the two; you can be sure it will be a classy event. Ladies, tasteful dresses in colors other than white are appropriate. Brides in China will often have two dresses, a traditional red and a modern white for different parts of the ceremony. You don't want to be matching the bride so avoid these colors. For men, slacks and a dress shirt and tie at the minimum is encouraged. 

  • Red and gold are auspicious colors and red is ‘the wedding color’.
  • Over dressing and wearing too much perfume is not welcomed.
  • Any female ‘out-dressing’ or ‘outshining the bride is considered disrespectful.
  • White and black are generally regarded as funereal colors and are taboo on such happy occasions.

Attending Official Functions, Interviews, Banquets

  • Business or western suits are appreciated when you are invited for an interview or in an official capacity.
  • Hats, gloves and sunglasses should be removed after entering a room as is the same courtesy in the west.
  • For a banquet dress code is a bit more causal than above but anything that reveals too much skin is considered to be too casual and inappropriate.

Attending Funerals

  • White and black are funeral colors in China.
  • Keep to subdued colored out-fitting and remove unnecessary shiny accessories as a way of showing respect to the deceased person.
  • Bright and colorful appearances are considered to be rude and lacking of good manner.

Chinese Dress Codes — 6 Clothing Colors for Different Occasions

Looking at the rich history of Chinese clothing and the importance and significance of six colors in dress codes in China past, there are some dress code color tips for different occasions today in modern China.

1. Red is the Chinese favorite.

Red is a highly favored color in China as you will see when you arrive here, and may have already noticed in Chinatowns abroad. Red is considered most auspicious and carries positive meanings like prosperity, good fortune, blossoming, enthusiasm, celebration, vitality, joy and happiness.

This is true not only in China but generally in Asian culture. In China, and also India, Nepal and Japan, red is an auspicious color for marriage clothing and decoration. Chinese believe red brings prosperity, fame and wealth and there are strong uses of these colors in Chinese Feng Shui practice.

Red was always used by noble and high ranking officials and even today many governmental and official documentation and notices are stamped and sealed in red.

Red Taboos:

  • The cheerfulness and vitality of red make it a taboo color on funeral occasions.
  • Never write anyone’s name in red, as even to this day, the names of people who have ‘passed over’ (and also people marked for execution!) are written in red – you’ll see this on gravestones and mausoleums.

2. Yellow was for the emperor!

Chinese emperor clad in royal yellow robesChinese emperor clad in royal yellow robes

Yellow has long been a symbol of royal power and was special to the emperor for a long time in ancient China. During the reign of Huang Di also known as ‘the Yellow Emperor’, yellow was worshipped because it represented the earth and the importance of the Yellow River which was the cradle of Chinese civilization.

Yellow also has importance in Chinese Buddhism where it represents freedom from worldly cares and monks wear yellow (or saffron colored) garments. Yellow is also the color worn by novice monks.

3. Purple too sacred to wear?

Purple was class mark of royal family and power in thousands years of Chinese feudal society. In many societies it also represents all things holy, sacred, wise, and spiritual.

Today purple is not commonly used in daily life and is not even a particularly popular color in modern dress, which is maybe because of the past associations which make it “too sacred” to be widely used.

4. Green has dual meanings.

Green is a color of spring, regeneration, hope, fertility, well-being and health which is not too different from the West.

However, in recent times, as China opens to and adopts more symbolism from the west and as the world grows more global, green coloring in China is now also used as symbolic of nature, freshness, and environmental / ecological awareness.

Green Taboo:

  • In past times a Chinese man wearing a green hat was symbolic that he was being cheated on by his wife. So if you are going for a gift hunt for your Chinese male friends, avoid the green hat!

5. Black is suit-able for formal wear.

Black has always been a funerary color and was often worn by the ‘common people’ in the past. Yet since Western business suits (which are most often dark and black colors) became fashionable in China in the 1930s, it has become acceptable for black to be used more often as a color for business, uniforms and daily use.

Black still represents solemnity and uprightness as a formal color in todays’ China.

6. White for purity, mourning, and martial arts

China’s martial artists mainly wear white.

White is associated with purity and mental clarity, harmony and nature, peacefulness, and also represents strength, courage and also mourning and sadness too.

Martial arts and Tai-chi practitioners wear white suits as it conveys inner peace and harmony. It is ­­­also connected with ancestral spirits, and is worn for funerals and mourning.

People used to wear white clothes and hats for Chinese funerals, and today you will see use of white ribbons and flowers in funeral processions and cars.

Black and White Taboos:

  • They are funeral colors in China, for happy occasions like wedding banquets one should avoid attending in black and white.

Visiting Families

Visiting a Chinese FamilyIt's an honor to be invited for a visit in China.

Being invited to share a meal or visit the home of a Chinese family can be an honor. If you're expecting to visit with Chinese families on your trip, we want you to be prepared. The typical Chinese home varies whether you find yourself in a rural or urban setting, but one rule is universal

The Chinese do not wear their shoes inside the home and instead opt to wear slippers at all times. When you enter a home in China, you should take your shoes off immediately at the door. Most families will keep a stockpile of slippers near the door in various sizes for guests. If you are wearing socks, it is appropriate to keep them on inside the slippers. 

If you are visiting during the Chinese New Year celebrations, there is one tradition that could change your wardrobe choices. Typically, during the celebrations people in China will buy new clothes to symbolize the new year. If you are attending a party for this festival, a new outfit would be the right choice. 

Minority Areas

Uyghur GirlChina is home to many unique ethnic groups.

China's many minority areas are home to ethnic groups that vary greatly compared to the urban populations of Beijing and Shanghai. Many historically Muslim ethnic groups can be found throughout China and typically adhere to common Islamic dress codes. 

When you are traveling in these areas, it is best to be respectful of the local culture and dress modestly with very little skin showing. Ladies may feel more comfortable bringing a headscarf along when visiting such areas. While it may not be expected for you to cover as an outsider, bring one along in case entering a certain area requires a covering. 

Discover China’s Clothes and More with a China Tour

As for China’s history of clothing, dress and color, it must be noted that no trip to China or indeed the capital city of China would be complete without a visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing, where you can still see the very few remaining (and now priceless) royal and courtly garments from past dynasties!

Most of our itineraries include Beijing’s Forbidden City. Now you know what colors to wear, why not come and see more of China?

Here are the most popular itineraries to get you started:

  • THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE — Visit the must-see sights of Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai your way (8 days).
  • CLASSIC WONDERS — Discover the wonders of Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, and Shanghai in 11 days.

We can also create your own dream trip (free consultancy), or you could see more of our China tours.

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