But from what I have observed, the range of what is considered appropriate in corporate China is much wider than I’d expected.
After my initial weeks of hectic travel to Pudong for building site visits, I eventually settled down to a stable "prime" office desk location beside the central aisle. By "prime", I refer to the ease of being monitored and have people breathing down my neck.
But I also refer to the strategic spot for people-watching (mainly the office eye-candies). From observing the people who frequently walk by my desk, I have divided the people in the Chinese workplace into three categories: the Suits, the Pragmatists and the CLSCs.
Characteristic of any financial institution in the East or West, we often find the "Suits" hurrying around closing business deals. These high-maintenance Suits have a reputation to uphold, and thus invest in branded quality suits that probably cost more than my allowance for the entire semester.
The Suits come in the same boring shades of black, grey and navy blue. The only speck of individualism can be found in their ties. Bold stripes, solid pastels and the occasional funky pattern; their ties are the only indicator of their moods for the day.
To avoid the occurrence of being totally ignored by the busy Suits, I’d recommend only approaching one whose tie is unusually colorful.
The "Pragmatists" form the largest group in the workplace. As the engine driving the growth of the office, they are often found fixated on their computer screens.
As a result of being confined to their desks, the Pragmatists tend to wear what I’d define as "smart casual." Men would wear long sleeved shirts (often baggy), long pants and the plain jacket.
Women would wear modest tops, skirts or long pants and most importantly, comfortable shoes (heels of reasonable height).
But what really sets the Pragmatists apart is that almost all of them are bespectacled, probably because using spectacles is much more economical and pragmatic than contact lenses.
The Colorful, the Lacy, the Sparkly and the Cute
In my opinion, the group that really defines the Chinese workplace is the "CLSCs." These women are fans of the Colorful, the Lacy, the Sparkly and the Cute (CLSC). By integrating the wider Chinese fashion culture into their work attire, the CLSCs have formed a unique cult dedicated to spicing up the formal working dress code.
Owing to their slim and small stature, these CLSCs can perfectly pull off that look. But to be honest, I cannot see them in any other office setting other than China’s (try imagining the CLSCs in a NYC office).
I am perfectly happy with the flood of CLSCs in my workplace; they are truly an interesting bunch that have added much color, lace, sparkle and cuteness into my internship life.