This summer, on popular Chinese apps like Weibo and RED, you can see many posts of people’s “OOTD” (outfit of the day). You will find that the outfist all have one or two of the same items: crop tops, plaid skirts, petite dresses, and slim jeans. This type of look is otherwise known as the Brandy Melville Style. And it has taken over the wardrobes of young girls all over China. Even celebrities can’t seem to resist the allure of the BM style.

Brandy Melville was originally founded in the United States as a beachy, LA-girl kind of clothing brand. Instead of big-brand advertisements, it relies mostly on Instagram to attract customers. BM features “real-life” girls instead of distant supermodels. And its photos have a simple, polaroid-camera quality that fits with popular aesthetics today. The overall concept is “an attainable aspiration”: something youthful and desirable, but at the same time affordable and down-to-earth. It’s something you can and will want to picture yourself wearing. The “attainable” concept is also featured in its signature marketing strategy: “one size fits all.” 

Yet Brandy Melville’s “one size fits all” has received quite a bit of backlash over the past few years. In the United States, the era of body shaming and body exclusivity is quickly fading. Body positivity and inclusivity are becoming the new fashion norm. More and more, people criticize brands for not fitting the wearer’s needs, instead of the wearer for not fitting the looks of the brand. And rather than “fitting all,” BM’s “one size” appears to fail most when put to the test. Though the brand caters to tall skinny girls, it also seems to perpetuate unrealistic body stereotypes. The hype over Brandy has put unnecessary pressure on girls to lose weight in order to look good in one of those little crop tees.

Despite the backlash, Brandy Melville has found itself another group of loyal customers in China. The brand became popular there for many of the same reasons it was so popular in the United States. But while in the United States, BM faces backlash due to its limited sizing, some in China credit BM for having “liberated female fashion.” One influencer believes that Brandy Melville “symbolizes freedom in women’s fashion expression.” 

Like other East Asian countries, China is still rather conservative when it comes to showing skin, especially among young girls. Only recently did showing legs become acceptable. Even then, there are still debates over appropriate skirt lengths. Crop tops showing the belly are considered something new. As for tank tops, some still consider them to be undergarments instead of proper clothing. Earlier this summer, a woman wearing a sleeveless dress was asked by a subway security guard to put on more clothes before entering. In response, netizens criticized the conservative nature of fashion norms even in 2020. Some complained that girls couldn’t even wear a breezy dress in the summer heat. So fashion trends that popularize crop tops and petite dresses are considered a significant step forward in China.

Another reason is that summer fashion works quite differently in China than in the United States. In the U.S., people choose the styles and clothes they like, regardless of body shape. This is perhaps because body positivity is more widespread here. You don’t need to have a flat tummy to wear a crop top. You don’t need to have chopstick legs to wear shorts or tight jeans either. But in China, summer fashion is about trying to look good by hiding your so-called “flaws.” For instance, many girls are reluctant to go sleeveless because they are afraid their arms are too chubby. Many shy away from crop tops because they are afraid their bellies will show. On RED, there are many posts about how different body shapes should dress in order to look slim. This constant worry about appearing fat has made covering yourself with clothing the fashion norm. Hiding behind loose clothing is always safer than showing skin. 

When Brandy Melville came along, it popularized showing instead of hiding. Fashion norms changed. Many turned away from oversized t-shirts or loose pants. Girls began to feel comfortable and confident showing off their bodies instead of covering themselves up. The worry over appearing fat is slowly fading, and many feel freer in this new way of dressing for summer.

This is not to say that Brandy Melville’s “one size fits all” does not pose limitations for girls in China. For example, this is the sizing chart posted on the Brandy Melville website: Shoppers note how regular people’s body weight and height are nowhere near this proportion. But even with people criticizing the negative implications of this chart, the overall attitude in China is: so what? If you don’t like the style or size, then you can choose not to buy it. But you shouldn’t blame the brand. Because the truth is, there are people out there who like the brand, who look good in these clothes. You shouldn’t complain just because you can’t be one of them.

In the United States, people promote self-love as embracing who you are and being confident in yourself. Your body is beautiful as it is, and you shouldn’t have to change it just to meet other people’s standards. But in China, the same concept of self-love means constantly pushing yourself for improvement. If you work hard and work out instead of eating all day, you can have a body that looks good in Brandy Melville. If others can have abs and slender legs, why shouldn’t you push yourself to work for the same things? Then you can rock tank tops and slim jeans too. So when it comes to BM, people say that you either walk away from the brand or you work hard to fit into its standards.

What do you think? Do you think BM is liberating fashion for girls in China? Or do you think it is just the import of a new kind of fashion pressure that creates unrealistic standards for girls? Comment below!



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Lisa Liang