Dressed in a flowing long robe adorned with beaded floral embroidery from a bygone era, stylist Xiao Hang looks like she surfaced from a time machine as she strides across the bustling Beijing metro, attracting curious glances and inquisitive questions.
China has embraced Western fashion and futuristic technology as its economy boomed in recent decades, but a growing number of young people like Xiao are looking to the past for their sartorial choices and donning traditional "hanfu", or "Han clothing".
These historic costumes of the Han ethnic majority are enjoying a renaissance in part because the government is promoting traditional culture.
Period dramas have also contributed to the surge in interest for traditional Chinese garb -- "The Story of Minglan", a TV series set in the Song Dynasty, garnered more than 400 million viewers in three days when it debuted earlier this year.
There is no uniform definition of what counts as hanfu since each Han-dominated dynasty had its own style, but the outfits are characterized by loose, flowing robes that drape around the body, with sleeves that hang down to the knees.
"When we were little, we would also drape sheets and duvets around ourselves to pretend we were wearing beautiful clothes," Xiao told AFP.
Xiao, who used to work at a state-owned machine manufacturing company, now runs her own hanfu business, where she dresses customers for photo shoots and even plans hanfu-style weddings.
In modern China, the hanfu community spans the gamut: from history enthusiasts to anime fans, to students and even young professionals.
Yang Jiaming, a high school student in Beijing, wears his outfit under his school uniform.
"Two-thirds of my wardrobe is hanfu," he said, decked out in a Tang-style beige gown and black boots at a hanfu gathering, adding that his classmates and teachers have been supportive of his style.
Clothes are the "foundation of culture," said Jiang Xue, who is part of Beijing-based hanfu club Mowutianxia.
"If we as a people and as a country do not even understand our traditional clothing or don't wear them, how can we talk about other essential parts of our culture?" she said.
There is some way before the style reaches mainstream acceptance in China.
Others say they're deterred by the odd looks they get when wearing hanfu in public.
"I used to be very embarrassed to wear (hanfu) out," screenwriter Cheng Xia told AFP.
Yang, the high school student, is more upbeat.
He said: "At the very least, we can wear our own traditional clothes."
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