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Navy uniforms inspire retro fashion

Updated: 2012-08-01 09:23
By Li Xiaokun ( China Daily)

Navy uniforms inspire retro fashion

As a little boy in the 1970s, Zhang Zhiyuan remembers admiring his father as he donned his work uniform in front of the mirror.

Zhang Xide was a captain in the navy of the People's Liberation Army. In those early days, the uniform consisted of a very simple design with basic cotton materials and blue and white stripes, similar to what the sailors of other countries wore.

Still, for the young Zhang, the navy blue his father wore represented honorable duty to his country, and that deserved the respect of his peers.

And it was a uniform he has always wanted to wear himself.

More than three decades later, Zhang, 35, has chosen a different path from his father and instead wears the shirt and tie of a corporate executive.

But just last month he realized a new online trend could be the chance to revive his childhood dream. The PLA's latest navy uniform, known as Haihunshan in Chinese, harks back to Zhang's father's era and sports blue and white stripes. The classic design has triggered a wave of retro nostalgia on Taobao, the major Chinese online marketplace, with variations of the striped T-shirt being snapped up by buyers nationwide.

"I remembered my father told me that the Haihunshan was named after a 1950s Chinese movie about the first generation of the Chinese navy, Haihun, which means the soul of the sea," Zhang said.

"In other countries the shirt is just an item of clothing that has been popular for a long time, but for the Chinese, it's more complex."

The navy does not sell or promote its uniforms for civilian use, but that has not stopped variations of the attire from hitting catwalks and boutiques as fashion lovers covet the timeless and elegant design of the navy-blue shirt.

Navy uniforms inspire retro fashion

Two newlyweds pose wearing the Haihunshan, the PLA Navy's latest uniform, in Chongqing. He Zhongrong / for China Daily

Mo Wenwen, an online retailer who sells a similar kind of white and blue striped T-shirt, said sales last year numbered a few thousand sets. But after the navy revealed its latest uniform this summer, sales in July alone hit 4,000 sets.

"The T-shirt has always been popular, but it's especially hot this year," Mo said.

"Actually, it is not only hot on the Internet. You can see many movie and TV stars photographed in the T-shirt and more couples are choosing the attire when taking photos before getting married."

The PLA's latest navy uniform has also incorporated state-of-the-art material, including breathable layers that can absorb perspiration immediately, and looser fitting cuts to reflect the development of the armed forces.

The PLA Daily said in a report on July 4 that the navy has developed many other new uniforms with special functions, alongside the popular new shirt.

It quoted Zhang Fuli, a researcher with the Naval Medical Research Institute, as saying the PLA has recently issued cold protective clothing, an antimicrobial undershirt and cooling vests for soldiers working on military ships.

Chen Jun, head of the Clothing and Accouterments Bureau of Quartermaster, Material and POL Department of the General Logistics Department, said that the latest military uniforms were mainly created by military designers, but took submissions from colleges, fashion agencies and relevant companies.

The final design has "adequately reflected the development of a modern military", Chen said.

The revamp has come as the PLA celebrates its 85th anniversary on Aug 1.

Navy uniforms inspire retro fashion

The improvements are a far cry from the design and materials of the early days, when soldiers of the Red Army had to make do with clothes or even boots made of grass and rough-hewn uniforms that made no distinction between rank and gender. The design of armed forces' uniforms subsequently went through more than 10 changes.

Chen said the popularity of its latest design also reflects the growing status of the military and the pride it evokes among the Chinese public.

"The popularity of the Haihunshan on the Internet is an interesting coincidence, but it also reflects how much the military uniform is linked with the sense of honor of the servicemen and the passion of civilians toward their military, which can even inspire them to join the armed forces."

Tu Ling, a student in Beijing and a strong supporter of the PLA, studied the pictures of the navy's new shirt as soon as it was released in July. Tu often comments on, a website for fans of the Chinese military.

"The design is very trendy. The military uniform is not just attire. It is a mirror of a military, a nation and an era. That is why some military fans are so hot about the PLA uniforms," Tu said.

For Zhang Zhiyuan, the PLA navy's blue and white is also more than just a passing fad.

"I might not be a soldier like my father, but I'm still happy to be able to wear their uniform to show my support for our armed forces," he said.

Wang Yusheng contributed to this story.