Home ConsumerCulture How the Winter Olympics offered an unlikely boost to British fashion

How the Winter Olympics offered an unlikely boost to British fashion

by Pearl Zhu
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The unlikely star of Team GB’s Winter Olympic showing so far isn’t an athlete — it’s the outfits from the opening ceremony, which attracted thousands of positive comments from Weibo and WeChat users in China, writes Robynne Tindall

With the amount of media attention directed at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, it has been hard to predict what the top news headlines would be in advance. However, perhaps no one expected Team GB’s outfits to be the breakout star of the opening ceremony. 

launchpad CBBC

For their National Stadium look, Team GB wore duffle coats and roll-neck jumpers emblazoned with the Union Jack designed by British brand Ben Sherman, paired with leather Chelsea boots. The woollen coat in particular stood out among the down jackets worn by most of the other teams, with many posts on WeChat Moments appreciating the ‘gentlemanly’ style (a concept long associated with Britain in China). 

Thousands of internet users in China apparently appreciated the getup’s quintessential ‘Britishness,’ and according to The Guardian, reaction to the outfits briefly reached number eight on the Weibo Hot Topic ranking. “It was exciting to see British fashion make a dramatic splash at the Olympics, and indeed many of us have been hunting for our own Team GB Ben Sherman sweater ever since the opening ceremony,” says Sohail Shaikh, Director of Consumer, Learning, Food and Agritech at the Department of International Trade. 

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A post from the British embassy on Weibo sharing a video of the Ben Sherman ad campaign for Beijing 2022 attracted hundreds of comments lamenting that the jumpers were sold out on the brand’s official websites in the US and UK. In what in hindsight appears to be a huge missed opportunity, Ben Sherman –which got its start selling mod-style short-sleeved shirts in the 1960s – does not currently have an official store on Tmall or JD.com.

The Guardian noted that one Weibo user likened the Team GB outfits to the Hogwarts uniform. Harry Potter, as one of the UK’s most significant modern cultural exports, has also become somewhat representative of British style in China, especially since Universal Beijing Resort and its Harry Potter-themed land opened in September 2021. 

Chinese millennials — who grew up reading the books in both Chinese and English — have flocked to the park to explore the Hogsmeade Village recreation and, more importantly, take pictures wearing Hogwarts-inspired costumes to post on WeChat and Xiaohongshu. The surge in popularity for Harry Potter and associated looks has not been lost on international chain retailers, either, with H&M selling public school uniform-style jumpers as part of its autumn/winter collection. 

Setting trends is nothing new for the UK. British universities and design houses provide a crucible for design talent from around the world

A quintessential sense of ‘Britishness’ has long been a fundamental part of the appeal of the British fashion brands that have succeeded in China, including Paul Smith and Burberry. These brands are considered to be synonymous with heritage and craftsmanship, particularly if they have an association with the Royal family like Burberry. Burberry, in particular, is popularly worn as part of the 英伦风 yinglunfeng (aka ‘British style’) aesthetic, which features a lot of plaid, tweed and muted colours (similar to the ‘dark academia’ and ‘light academia’ trends that have become popular on TikTok in recent years). High street and mid-range British fashion brands, on the other hand, have often failed to make a splash in China, facing intense competition from massive international chains like H&M and Zara.

“Setting trends is nothing new for the UK. We host one of the world’s four biggest fashion weeks, are home to a legion of high-end and fashion-forward clothing brands, and our universities and design houses provide a crucible for design talent from around the world,” adds Shaikh. Whether Team GB’s opening ceremony look will kickstart a new wave of interest in British style in China remains to be seen.

Image taken from @TeamGB/@evemuirhead on Twitter

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