Taipei is a city often overshone by its Asian peers — Yogis retreat in Bali, the debaucherous party in Bangkok, and Tokyo sees travellers across many spectrums: anime lovers to samurai fanatics to those who just really like ramen. While Taipei may be the soft-spoken sibling, its restaurants are Michelin starred and its tea houses world renowned. The city is chock full of bars, breweries, monuments, temples and fashionable citizens.
Like many great cities, there’s a style in Taipei its citizens share. I arrived in Taipei in February and found 60 degree days and a city clad in menswear-inspired fashions, no matter the gender of the wearer.
Women wear knee-length tweed and houndstooth coats, left unbuttoned to reveal wide-legged pants and ever-so-slightly fitted sweaters. The city is casual and cool and not trying to impress. Comfort-lovers rejoice — I see no body-con dresses that require salad lunches. Have dessert or another beer! I notice no short skirts or plunging necklines. Feel free to dance without fear of a wardrobe malfunction! I catch no sky-high shoes that are murder on the feet. Go ahead and walk instead of Ubering! This wardrobe is a forgiving one.
My visit took place during the first week of February, 2020, i.e. mid-winter in Taiwan (and just as COVID-19 began spreading across borders, hence the masked-figures). I’ll lay out the trends I spotted during my week in the city.
- Color Palette: Neutrals such as chestnut, khaki, charcoal, navy, black and cream.
- Prints: Plaid, houndstooth, tweed and other menswear-inspired patterns.
- Outerwear: I spy wool knee-length coats, double-breasted peacoats, hip-length puffers, khaki trenches, belted rain jackets and shiny windbreakers. Nearly all of them in black, browns and navy. There’s the occasional olive jacket, or even burgundy (almost always a puffer when burgundy jumps out), at times a print, but watching crowds detrain on the metro there’s a clear color palette to their outerwear.
- On top: High quality blouses and knits in solid colors — Think fitted button-down’s or a pill-free black boatneck. For some added charm a chunky sweatshirt may jump out in the crowd, occasionally bearing a logo or likeness. Travelling abroad I’m sensitive to exported American culture, and I occasionally spot NFL team gear and nods to popular TV or music.
- On bottom: Pants of all varieties. There are metallic harem pants, floodwaters, cuffed overalls, skinnies, palazzos, boyfriend jeans and perfectly tapered trousers. When I do catch a skirt breeze by they’re almost always below-the-knee. Separates are dominant and I spot few dresses on the streets, but tailored jumpsuits can be seen on occasion.
- Shoes and Accessories: feet are covered with flats, boots or sneakers, almost always black — Stilettos are nowhere in sight and thin heels are a rarity, but platform boots are fairly common. For bags, backpacks are everywhere and come in all sizes. There’s the functional laptop pack all the way down to a miniature bag the size of a small crossbody. Canvas totes are also common, and usually bearing a slogan, design or block print.
- Hair and Makeup: Hair is kempt and set in place via a straightening iron, barrettes, or genetics. Makeup is natural. No heavy colors or obvious makeup lines. It’s all about even skin-tone, with the highlighted feature being the eyes. The focus is on sculpted eyebrows and lengthy eyelashes. I’m not talking about Kardashian-over-the-top synthetic lashes, just a quality mascara that will bring out what you’ve already got. Granted, everyone was wearing a face-mask for COVID purposes, but when I did catch a bare face the lips were bare as well.
10 Items to Pack:
1. Wide legged pants: For my 9-day Taiwan trip packed a pair of black skinny jeans and wore them only once (though constant noshing at night markets could be to blame here). My wide legged black pants and vintage draped drawers were the daily go-to.
2. Black bodysuit: The perfect companion to wide legged pants. No constant re-tucking while walking and sightseeing. I can’t wait to have a wardrobe full of bodysuit and I don’t know why I waited til my thirties to give into the ease of them.
3. Shift dress: Although shifts tend to be above-the-knee, they have that boxy fit that’s common in Taipei. A button-down front like this Theory gives some extra menswear flair and balances between feminine and masculine.
4. Black Sneakers or Booties: Taipei has an amazing metro system, so much of the day is spent walking + training rather than in cabs. A comfortable shoe is always key abroad, but luckily a chic sneaker or thick heeled boot will be merciful and blend in beautifully.
5. Opaque Tights: Should you choose to pack an above-the-knee skirt, I’d suggest tights to go along with it. Novelty hosiery and sheer stockings aren’t common, or great for the rain, so opaque is the better bet.
6. Loose Tees and Shirts: I’ll admit I don’t always pack for comfort, but in Taiwan being cozy and chic work together. A bold Opening Ceremony graphic tee and a drapey black knit pair well with wide legged pants. Sure the ensemble doesn’t do a great job showing off the figure, but when shoveling down an Ice Monster dessert at 10pm daily, is that really what’s ideal?
7. Pashmina: I’ll admit, I never wear pashminas in my daily life, but when travelling, I rely on them. My black pashmina was a favorite in Taiwan’s teahouses. Wistaria’s Japanese inspired ryokan room must’ve been 60 degrees for our tea session, and sitting outside at Yao Yue teahouse, watching the fog roll off the mountainside is unimaginably gorgeous, but requires an extra layer in February.
8. Umbrella: It rains in Taipei in the winter. And I mean it rains — The city has a gray, low hanging, Seattle-esque sky that will frequently spit. Think less downpour, and more of a “constant sheen on everything” kind of wetness. Just enough to make you uncomfortable and chilled if you’re without your trusty umbrella. 9. Misc. Accessories: Taipei style does not look shabby or rushed, but thoughtful and intentional. A sock peeking out of a boot can offer a pop of pattern to an otherwise all-black ensemble and a leather clutch can provide polish to a casual outfit. In my case, a white skinny belt, a two-tone pair of glasses and gingham socks added an extra pep as I went out the door.
10. A Good Book: Flying from the East Coast to Taiwan takes 26+ hours, so come prepared with some engrossing literature to fill the layover time. Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is a book I wrapped up within three days when I wasn’t travelling so it’s a guarantee to grab attention. Walk, see, eat. Enjoy the smells and sights. Snack on a scallion pancake or drink a bubble tea along the way (bubble tea is a Taiwanese invention after all!). Be cozy, be present, and happy packing.