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I dressed to impress but ended up depressed

Updated: 2012-04-24 10:06
By Bridget O'Donnell ( China Daily)
I dressed to impress but ended up depressed 

I dressed to impress but ended up depressed

My appearance stood out like a sore thumb - but not because I was the only foreign guest in attendance at the banquet.

No, it was my ensemble. I was wearing my newly tailored qipao (a Chinese traditional dress), the silk fabric of which had a lovely deep-fuchsia tone.

It was embroidered with gold-colored leaves and similarly hued buttons. I paired off the number with heels and even got a manicure to match the dress' golden stitching.

There was just one problem: I was at a Chinese wedding. Used to the lavish traditions of Western weddings, I had no idea the dress code for a Chinese wedding wouldn't be, shall we say, formal.

I mean, really - how could I have known the other guests in attendance would show up in sweaters, sneakers and jeans? It was my first Chinese wedding, after all.

(Yeah, yeah, a simple Google search for "Chinese wedding guest dress code" beforehand probably would've saved me from committing such a blundering social faux pas.)

"I look like an idiot," I later lamented to Maggie, a Beijing friend who had invited me to the wedding. She could only laugh at my foolish error.

I came to learn - much too late, unfortunately - that the dress code for Chinese weddings is casual. In fact, wearing something too fancy could come off as rude.

"You don't want to try to be more important than the host," my Chinese tutor later told me.

It's a far cry from Western weddings, where guests are expected to adhere to a formal dress code. Show up in jeans, and you might as well be wearing a huge sign saying, "Kick me, I have no respect for social norms!"

Still, that will never comfort me from the fact that somewhere out there exist cringe-worthy photos of me posing with the newlywed couple at the banquet.

I can see the two of them now, looking through their wedding photo album and wondering just what exactly that clueless foreigner in the qipao was thinking.

But the dress didn't turn nearly as many heads at the wedding as it did in public later that afternoon.

After the ceremony ended, Maggie and I decided on a whim to take a stroll down Beijing's Chang'an Avenue - it was a beautiful and clear day, after all. But without a change of clothes on me, I was forced to stick it out in the qipao.

As we walked from Joy City Mall to Tian'anmen Square, it became evident that the qipao wasn't only too dressy for Chinese weddings - so too was it unwelcome at Starbucks, public restrooms and the south gate of the Forbidden City during peak hours on the weekend.

We passed hundreds of shoppers and tourists. I caught more than one person giving me strange looks. Even other foreigners stared at me.

I must've looked like that kind of overeager tourist who buys traditional garments from far-away lands without really understanding their cultural significance - a tacky and kitschy way of commemorating a culture.

By mid-afternoon, my feet were aching - the heels had taken their toll - so Maggie and I took a moment to rest on a bench.

Then out of nowhere, an elderly Chinese man came up to where we were sitting, cameraphone in hand, and started not-so-discreetly taking photos of me. He threw back his head in hearty laughter every time he snapped. I couldn't help but wonder if the qipao had something to do with it, though perhaps I was just being paranoid.

After the picture incident, Maggie and I walked to Wangfujing before parting ways.

I immediately hailed a cab - I couldn't wait to get home and change out of the dress that had been the source of so many woes that day. But before I stepped in, I paused for a second after catching my reflection in the window of a nearby shop.

The qipao may have been over the top, but, hey, at least fuschia is my color.

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