Shanghai Chic – Where a Woman’s Style Starts With Her Shoes

Chinese tourists and residents of Shanghai crowd the Yu Gardens Bazaar on a Sunday afternoon in September, 2013. Photo by BF Newhall

Chinese shoppers and sightseers crowd the Yu Gardens Bazaar on a Sunday afternoon in Old Town Shanghai. Photos by BF Newhall

Seen on the streets of Shanghai -- woman wearing lavendar suede high platform sandals. Photo by BF Newhall

Platform shoes today . . .

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I thought I was traveling to China to explore the mysteries of China’s storied past: The big dynasties with their poetic one-syllable names – the Qin, the Han, the Tang, the Song. The Ming and the Qing.

I thought maybe I’d be spending my two weeks in China ogling porcelain vases and Shang bronzes.

Which I did.

qing dynasty ornately embroidered elevated shoes possibly worn by the dowager empress Cixi maybe wore.

. . . and in 19th century Qing dynasty days.

But what really caught my attention – and Jon’s – during our September tour of the country was China’s storied present: The skyscrapers of Shanghai. The open air markets and airport shops bursting with merchandise. The ubiquitous one-child families. The traffic jams. The fashionistas . . . Especially the fashionistas.

Our Viking tour guides made sure that we hit the big historic places – we contemplated the Terra Cotta Warriors and we sailed the Three Gorges.

But for me the most compelling feature of our trip were the Chinese people. The living, breathing, twenty-first-century men, women and children going about their business on the streets of some of the most populous cities in the world.

Lucky for the foreign tourist, the fun part of being a sightseer in China right now is that ninety-nine percent of the other sightseers climbing the Great Wall and promenading Shanghai’s Bund seemed to be — Chinese.

Which made it really easy for me and my trusty point-and-shoot to quietly capture the fashion shots you see here.

Most of these pictures were taken at the Yu Gardens Bazaar in Old Town Shanghai —

bare legged women in shanghai wear new balance and nike sneakers. Photo by bf newhall

New Balance. Nike . . . Made in China — stayed in China? Photos by BF Newhall

A Shanghai woman wears bright red canvas sneakers and tight blue slacks with blue and red tote bag. Photo by BF Newhall

Red, white and blue . . .

A Shanghai girl wears jeans and slip on sneakers with stars and stripes of the American flag. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . a popular Chinese . . .

A Shanghai woman wears tight grey slacks showing ankles and red, white and blue espadrilles. PHoto by BF Newhall

. . . fashion statement.


A Shanghai girls wears navy and white western-style sneakers with tight-fitting, cuffed jeans. Photo by BF Newhall

Calf-clinging pants . . .

lavendar, purple and yellow sneakers with short black socks seen on a shanghai street. photo by bf newhall

. . . and bare ankles . . .

woman wearing red espadrilles with turquoise trim on a shanghai street. Photo by BF Newhall

. . . key to the stylish look.

where Jon and I spent a sultry fall Sunday afternoon strolling and shopping. Jon found some candy to buy, and a pair of cut-paper kittens in little frames, but after a couple of hours of pushing through the crush of weekend promenaders, Jon’s feet got tired and his eyes glazed over.

He was done for the day.

I had on my sturdy shopping shoes, however. I wanted to keep on going. So Jon (thank you, Jon) caught a cab back to the hotel and gave me the gift of a couple of hours of shopping – and people-ogling – all to myself.

Just me and the fashionistas. And their trendy shoes.

For another fashion story, go to “When the Bride Doesn’t Wear White — And Neither Does Anyone Else.”   For more  about China, see “China’s One-Child Families — They’re for Real, for Now.”

red-soled plastic sandals with black and yellow straps on the streets of Shanghai. photo by BF Newhall

Bare feet . .

strappy wedge sandals, short cropped jeans and bare ankles in shanghai. photo by bf newhall

. . . for Shanghai’s . . .

Seen in Shanghai -- turquoise open toed strap-heeled pumps with yellow heel and bow. Photo by BF Newhall

. . .sultry climate.


ballet flat shoes in a shop in Shanghai's Yu Gardens & Bazaar. Photo by bf newhall

There was no crowd around this display at the bazaar. Embroidered shoes of this type were worn by 19th century Manchu women, who were forbidden to bind their feet. Photo by BF Newhall

red embroidered shoe with strap on the bound foot of a Han Chinese woman.

A shoe for a bound foot . . .

a chinese woman shows her bound foot.

. . . the shorter the sexier in Ming era.

worn but sturdy black lace-up walking shoes worn by barbara falconer newhall in china. photo by bf newhall

Shopper Barb’s sturdy shopping shoes and her ten-inch feet, which can shop all day. I left this scuffed up pair of shoes in China, but no worries, another identical pair is on its way. Photo by BF Newhall

a single westerner  in a crowd of chinese shopper in a well-stocked candy story at Yu Gardens and Bazaaar in Shanghai.  Photo by BF Newhal

Jon, the lone Westerner in a candy store at Yu Gardens Bazaar. Photos by BF Newhall

Seed and sugar candy neatly packaged in cellophane from a Shanghai shop. Photo by BF Newhall

I brought home a bunch of photos. Jon brought home . . . candy.



  1. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    Sylvia Rubin adds:
    Arcopedico. There are slip ons and lace ups in nice colors. I have the slip ons but a friend I travel with loves the lace ups. Much cheaper than Seibel.

  2. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    At least one of my friends, a fashion writer, was a little horrified by my clunky walking shoes. She writes:
    Re: Walking shoes — unless you have a wide foot, you might want to check out Josef Seibel sneakers. Like a cute Converse. I swear by them for touristy strolls. Not cheap: $130, but I think it’s worth it to get a shoe that doesn’t make my feet or knees hurt. And they come in great colors.
    Sometimes you can find them on sale at Zappos. Some walking shoe stores carry them, like Village Shoes in the Elmwood district [in Berkeley]. Also Ria in San Francisco has them. Style is called Caspian.
    Your fashion correspondent. Sylvia Rubin

  3. It’s amazing how shoes are such an important part of a woman’s style anywhere in the world. And China has definitely been one of the most creative cultures when it comes to shoes.

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I noticed that, unlike US women, a lot of the fashionable urban women of China were wearing sneakers that looked brand new. I wonder if they have a whole collection of them at home.

  4. Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

    Apparently the smog has hit record highs in Shanghai in recent days. It was “hazy” there in September, but it was hard to tell how much was air pollution and how much was mist. Here’s a link to photos of the disappearing city.

  5. Cheryl Cloes says:

    Good article Barb, thanks. Don and I were wandering in the same area that day. It was so crowded and great for people watching!

  6. Lindsey Newhall says:

    Great photo of the bound foot. Really shows the changing culture. As someone with an interest in anthropology, I think this documentation of current fashion trends is fascinating and a great contribution to our understanding of Chinese culture. Seeing as how most of the clothing we import here in the US is made in China, it’s no wonder so many of them are on the “cutting edge” of fashion. Or at least some may think it’s fashionable. I remember when I lived in Beijing and occasionally I would go to the gym and see Chinese women in their cute little high heels on the stair climber. I prefer your sturdy walking shoes. No substitution for comfort!

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      High heels on the stair climber! Ha! I wonder if the sneakers are popular because they are abundant and cheap in China. It seemed like every woman and girl wore a totally different looking pair.

  7. Katherine Philipp says:

    Great pictures of the shoes! I too loved that Sunday watching the people on the promenade in Shanghai. I vowed to buy a more chic pair of walking shoes before my next trip.


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