♫ Dressing Taiwanese, I think I’m dressing Taiwanese. I really think so. ♪♫
I sing this anytime I put on pastel-colored lacy things, especially when black leggings are involved.
Fashion isn’t a passion of mine, but it’s clear that Taiwanese fashion influenced not just my style but also my understanding of Asia. Here are a few of my fashion and shopping experiences followed by photos of the more eye-catching outfits I encountered while living in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Or, if a humorous story sounds more appealing, skip to the last few paragraphs preceding the photos.
Take this color palette
and add pale pink and green.
With these colors in mind, let’s discuss style. For your imagined Taiwanese female attire, conjure up a dress or skirt and blouse. Add any number of pleats or ruffles, possibly both. If those are lacking, plug in lace or a tucked-in, ivory blouse. When I got back to the United States in late 2013, I realized lace is popular here as well. However, Americans do not share the Taiwanese’s inclination to mix patterns. For many people in Taiwan, stripes with floral is no problem at all. I’m afraid it rubbed off on my roommate and me a bit. Luckily Austin, Texas is extremely accepting of pattern mixing along with just about every other fashion choice.
As most would guess, clothing sizes in Taiwan are smaller to match the people who are, on average, smaller than westerners. However, some western stores such as Zara’s and Net have similar sizing to what you find in the United States.
Inexpensive, often stylish Korean clothing is extremely small. Korean clothes are often found in Taiwanese night markets. Imagine walking in the night-market street breathing in wafts of stinky tofu and squeezing past 15 hand-holding couples when you see jean shorts. You think, “I need jean shorts!” It’s humid in Taiwan, and shorts seem like they could very well save your soul. You pull a pair off the rack and begin wondering if this is a little girls’ “store” (rack of clothes on the side of the street). But it’s not. And you ask the teeny tiny employee if you can try it on. She hesitates, guesses what you’re getting at, frowns, and with a clear shake of her head, says, “No try on.” Next time, you don’t ask because it’s very obvious there are no dressing rooms at most of these stands. But you also don’t shop for shorts at the night market anymore because you’ve got a bum and most Koreans don’t. End of story.
If you are a western female planning to move to Asia, this paragraph is for you. As a size 4, I was right on the edge of fitting into night-market clothing, and I had to be selective about which regular stores I shopped at too. When I became a size 2 (no, the Taiwanese cuisine did not help me lose weight, but a surgery to ameliorate sleep apnea did), my options increased considerably. Here are some places that carry western styles and/or larger sizes in Taipei: expensive department stores such as those at the Zhongsxiao Fuxing Mall, reasonably priced western chains such as Zara or Net, and this gem of a find—Best Buy—that sells brand-name American clothes for cheap via some kind of arrangement with the factories.
My roommate wears a size 9 women’s shoe and had a very limited selection; I believe she only found athletic shoes in her size and waited for a trip back to the States to get additional shoes for work. My experience was much different because I am shorter. For example, for once in my life, I enjoyed shopping for dresses. Straps falling off my shoulders or cocktail dress reaching my calves were issues of the past while I was in Taiwan. I got into the Japanese-style clothing as it is a little classier than the imported Korean clothes and a bit more colorful and unique compared to Taiwanese clothes. Some of the Japanese clothing stores, like à-la-sha, are more goofy-cutesy than classy, though, and carry items like this sock, which is just about the tamest thing I’ve seen at their stores. Most items have vague animal or people shapes conspicuously stitched on or hanging off. That might sound horrible, but I must admit that my relationship with my whale pants is still going strong.
Now for a funny and embarrassing story. Walking around Taipei one day, I wandered into a small clothing store. All but three Taiwanese stores are small, so don’t focus on that detail. As I browsed through some of the items, I was vaguely aware of two female employees staring at me from about five meters away. I began to have a funny feeling about the clothes, or perhaps the stares from the women, so I took a better look at my surroundings. The shop wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing, and I suddenly realized I was in a dry cleaning place. The clothes I had perused (with my hands. one by one!) were customers’ dry cleaned items awaiting pick up. Mortified, I turned and walked out. I did it slowly so as to appear as though I’d simply decided those clothes were unfit for my taste, not that I’d became aware of my status as a moron who needs to learn Chinese.
Now for the clothing photos I took in Taipei, Taiwan. Many are of brighter colored outfits because they caught my eye and make for better photos, but those are the exception, not the rule, except near the universities and on children.