China’s infamous ‘facekinis’ are back in force this summer, with the controversial swimwear now also said to be crossing the gender divide – as many men now don the balaclava-style covering designed to protect faces from the sun.
At the Qingdao First Bathing Beach in China’s eastern Shandong Province where the fashion trend was born, both male and female visitors can be seen covering their faces with the garments dubbed ‘bikinis for the face’.
While apparently no longer exclusive to women, with men also seen using facekinis to protect themselves from the harsh sun, the fashion item still appears to be restricted to middle-aged beachgoers.
Qingdao resident Mr Yu told local media: “They’re suitable for both men and women.
“They protect my glasses and my skin. I don’t want to get sunburned.”
As temperatures reach their mid-30s Celsius, facekinis can often be seen accompanying full-body wetsuits, but some swimmers also choose to wear only the headgear to shield their face.
Facekini inventor Zhang Shifan, 63, explained to local media the origins of the nylon garment, saying: “I used to sell swimwear and diving gear.
“Stinging jellyfish appear seasonally on Qingdao First Bathing Beach, so it all started when I sold bodysuit to protect swimmers.
“But then an elderly woman told me: ‘It’s no use if your clothing only protects my body – my neck and face are still exposed.
“‘My face is more important than my body.’
“I repurposed and redesigned some of the swimwear I was selling, and designed the facekini based on a ski mask, with holes for eyes and a mouth, and an elevated section for the nose.
“Since creating my first facekini in 2004, I’ve been continually designing and developing new prototypes.
“I kept improving the design based on customer feedback in order to make them look better and become more comfortable to wear.”
Zhang, who is something of a national icon, released Peking Opera-inspired facekinis and swimsuit sets in 2015.
She said: “Some criticised me online when I first released the facekini. They described it as something worn only by crooks.
“I just kept telling myself my designs were to protect people. It was a completely novel concept, so it would naturally take time for people to become accustomed to them.
“It didn’t bother me.”
Most of Zhang’s sales are now of the online variety, with e-commerce sites such as Taobao bringing in the orders – but also competition and imitations.
Zhang said: “I’m 63 – and I have no plans to stop.”
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