Each dynasty in China had its own memorable culture. The many facets of colour and design that emerged during a dynasty’s reign were marvellous and made every aspect of Chinese culture, including their wearing apparel, - highly acclaimed works of art.
The costumes of ancient China were emblems of Chinese tradition, as well as an essential element in the history and culture of each dynasty. Costume maintained an important place in Chinese culture for more than three thousand years. The culture of China is ancient and well established, brilliant and resplendent. The costumes are likewise magnificent and colourful. There were many dynasties throughout China’s history, each having its own unique style of dress. And each style would change or disappear as its dynasty changed, declined, or was replaced. With the advent of each new dynasty and the progression of time, costumes were revolutionised. The style was classical and conservative in the Qin and Han dynasties, luxurious and glamorous in the Tang dynasty, delicate and exquisite in the Song dynasty, graceful and magnificent in the Ming dynasty, and very intricate in the Qing dynasty. Stylised costumes first appeared in the Yellow Emperor, Yao and Shun periods. Chinese characters were invented during the ancient Yin Shang period. Although eighty percent of the characters were pictographic drawings, they were quite sufficient for writing and had special pronunciations. The inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells in the Shang dynasty, from about the 16th to 11th century B.C., show characters representing the social classes at the time, including wang (monarchs), chen (officials under a feudal ruler), mu (shepherds), nu (slaves), and yi (tribesmen). There were also words that related to dress and personal adornments, such as as yi (clothing), lu (shoes), huang shang (skirts), and mei (sleeves). Ornaments of varying value, like jade pendants, jade rings, earrings, necklaces, combs, silk fabrics, burlaps, and copper decorations, have been found on excavated statues. Valuable, exquisite items belonged to the aristocrats exclusively, not slaves or tribesmen. With the developments and advances made regarding textiles, articles of clothing for different functions began to appear, such as dresses, skirts, crowns, footwear, hats, and stockings. Costume styles evolved from simple and practical to ornamental. This is reflected in the invention of “twelve designs of symbols.” Looking at the patterns and styles of clothes in history books such as The Rites of the Zhou, Book of Rites and Rites, you can see that Chinese clothing evolved from nothing to very simple and functional styles, and then to styles that were quite complex. During the Ying Shang period, the etiquette, music, rituals, and clothing showed no evidence of any distinction among different social classes. Starting in the Western Zhou dynasty, however, class distinction became apparent, as evident in the differences in clothing and personal adornment. More and more variety in clothing also appeared, depending on the occasion. For example, paying respects to the gods and making obeisance to heaven and earth at the palace temples required special clothing. Special clothes were worn for grand ceremonies. There were army uniforms, wedding ceremony outfits, bereavement clothes, and so on. Clothing at the time was still made in accordance with old systems and thus had dark tops and yellow bottoms, but official garb included four-inch-wide sashes made from silk or leather that were worn over the lapels. Other costumes included jade adornments on the waist belt linked together with silk ribbons. In addition, clothing of different colours indicated different social classes. During the Warring States, the costume of the seven dukedoms of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao, Wei and Qin, each developed changes accordingly. The so-called “skirt around the front of the body" style actually referred to loose-cut cloth with wide rims that was wrapped around the lower body. The ancient designers wrapped the cloth ingeniously from the front of the upper body to the back, making full use of horizontal and diagonal lines to complement space and achieve both quietude in motion and motion in quietude. Materials were light and thin, and stiffer brocade was used to embroider the borders with wavy patterns that reflected the wisdom and intellect of the designers. TOP
Qin and Han Dynasties
During the Qin and Han dynasties, changes in the style of dress were dramatic. The Emperor Qin, who was influenced by the concept of Yin and Yang as well as the theory of the Five Elements, believed that the Qin dynasty would subdue the Zhou dynasty like water extinguishes fire. Therefore, because the Zhou dynasty was "fire superior to gold, its colour being red," the favourite colour of the Qin dynasty was black, since the colour black was associated with water. Thus, in the Qin dynasty, black was the superior colour to symbolise the power of water, so clothing and adornments were all of the colour black. During the two hundred years of the Western Han dynasty, the “dark style” continued for clothing and personal adornment. Its characteristics were: cicada-like hats, red clothing, square sleeves, sloping necklines, jade hanging decorations, and red shoes. The general term for this style of clothing was “Buddhist clothing” and is basically a one-layer coat. Court dress was black in colour. As for the formal dress used in performing sacrificial rites, it was edged with red. The only way to tell a person’s rank or position in society was by the colour and quality of his clothing — there was no difference in the style of the clothing worn by government officials and ordinary people. There were two types of robes, classified according to the style of the front of the robe. One style had a front with a diagonal opening, where the material was wrapped on a diagonal from the collar to under one arm, and the other had a straight opening down the front. Because this style of clothing was long and loose, it was a popular style for men.
Left: A lady with a flowery hairpin; Tang dynasty
The Tang Dynasty
The Tang dynasty was the most thriving, prosperous, splendid, and glorious period of ancient Chinese culture and art. The style of women’s clothing during the Tang dynasty is the most outstanding in China’s history. Tang dynasty attire had many different styles, and was ever changing, which enabled the look of the Tang dynasty style to remain elegant, noble and poised, and forever unique and amazing. The costumes of the Tang dynasty are like exotic flowers in Chinese history. The quality of the material was particularly fine and delicate, and the decorations lustrous. The characteristics of Tang dynasty attire were distinctive and natural, displaying the beauty, grace, and freedom of people from heaven. Hair was styled to cover the temples and frame the face, and gowns were low-cut with a high waistband. Women’s outfits consisted of a shirt with short sleeves and a long skirt; or a loose-sleeved shirt, long skirt, and a shawl. Hair was coiled high in a bun, with such names as “gazing-gods bun,” “cloud bun,” “double handing-down bun” and so on, the clothing were mainly short jacket or shirt, and long skirt with a shawl, half-length sleeve, phoenix was decorated at the toe of the silk shoes or shoes weaved by grass, coiling the hair in a “flower bun”, so that one could put bamboo hat on the head. After the prosperous Tang dynasty, sleeves became looser and larger. In the Tang dynasty, there was “the rule of the wide belt.” This convention dictated that the quality and quantity of decorations on the belt be used to indicate the rank of government officials. For example, officials lower than the first rank wore a sword or knife, officials and generals higher than the third rank wore jade belts, officials of the fourth and fifth rank wore gold belts, and the six- and seventh-ranking officials wore silver belts. In comparison, ordinary people could only wear a small bronze or iron knife. TOP
Left: A cross-collar slim robe with wide sleeves and a Dongpo scarf; Song dynasty
The Song Dynasty
Song Dynasty clothing can be divided into three categories of style. One was designed for the empress, the noble concubines, and females of all levels of “government uses”; another style called “formal clothes” was for ordinary people; and one style was casual for daily use. The clothing designed for Song Dynasty government officials was extremely luxurious, and even common people dressed very fastidiously. Not only were the fabrics elegant, but also the hair styles were very special. Some were braided and hung down on the shoulder, while some were like cloud lights with delicate bands supporting the golden phoenix. People without much money used paper decorations in their hair, fragrance on the body, and wore shoes with embroidered flowers. TOP
The Yuan Dynasty
In the Yuan dynasty, “Zhi Sun dresses” were popular. All government officials wore them to attend feasts inside the palace. Musicians and bodyguards also wore them. This kind of clothing was worn by all classes of people, and could be made from materials of varying weight and quality. Emperor Zhi Sun’s winter and summer clothing had fifteen ranks (by Zhi level division). The materials and colours were well coordinated, as were accessories like hats. The winter clothing of government officials had nine ranks, while summer clothing had fourteen; they were made from materials of varying colour and quality. The bi jian was a double-sided leather coat, worn by the both upper and lower classes, which was a little longer than the ma gua (a traditional Chinese gown worn by males). The Yuan dynasty Mongolians called it “pan zi da wu,” and it was a garment that was suitable for horse back riding and hunting since it had no collar and sleeves and was shorter in the front than in back. Yuan Dynasty women of the aristocracy had their own styles of dress. The aristocrats were Mongolians who wore leather coats and hats as their national attire. Clothing made of marten and sheepskin was very popular. Women wore mostly long, loose gowns with wide sleeves and narrow cuffs. Because the gowns were so long, they dragged on the ground, so noblewomen had maids accompany them to care for the clothing. The gowns, often made from red and gold embroidered brocades, silk, fur and long pieces of woven wool, had moon-shaped shoulders called “the gold embroidered cloud shoulder jadeite tassel.” The name alone suggests how gorgeous the gowns must have been. TOP
Left: A scholar in a black straight-lined robe; Ming dynasty
The Ming Dynasty
The Ming Dynasty female upper clothes were three collars with narrow sleeves. The body height was over three feet, revealing the skirt only two to three inches, the so-called “Flower hat, skirt clothes with big sleeves and round collars”. The skirt installs often used light coloured fabrics in early Ming Dynasty. At Chong Zhen time, white skirts were very popular. The skirt hem had one to two inch embroidered edges. The early Ming Dynasty’s skirts were all 6 inches wide. At the end of Ming Dynasty, it changed to 8 to 10 inches. Pleated skirts were extremely popular. The size of the pleats ranged from small and close to big and wide. Skirts were also highly decorated. One particular design was called the “striped garland skirt” or “phoenix tail skirt.” Each strip was made from a different piece of coloured satin, and each piece was embroidered with a flower-and-bird design in gold thread. One of these strips could be used as a sash. If several of these decorated strips or “garlands” were joined together at the waistband, in the form of a skirt, they fluttered and danced in the breeze—hence the name “phoenix tail skirt.” Other popular pleated skirts were made from a whole piece of silk and hand sewn into close pleats. One kind of skirt had twenty-four pleats and was named “the jade skirt.” The Ming dynasty also had one special kind of cape. Because of its beautiful shape, it was called “pink cloud cape.” Males typically wore a robe having a square towel and circle collar . This garment characteristically had wide sleeves, black edges, a round blue collar, and a black ribbon soft turban hanging belt. Labourers were the only ones who wore cloth pants, which were black. They also wore long black cloth handkerchiefs and coats with wide hems. The official's costumes were cloud satin round collar gowns. There were also cloud satin coat dress style. This style of robe hung one inch above the ground. Sleeves were also long enough to cover the hands, and the sleeves themselves were each one foot wide. Bright red shoes were the typical fashion. TOP
Left: An embroidered red satin robe for women; Qing dynasty
The Qing Dynasty
Manchurian-style clothing with short narrow sleeves was the popular mode of dress in the Qing dynasty. The style was slender and rectangular in form. The saddle-shaped collar was large enough to cover a person’s cheeks and protect the face. The entire garment, which was not lined, was cut straight from top to bottom and did not have waist. Plate buttons were placed on the front-right side as decoration. There were two to three false sleeves, and the sleeves were long enough to cover the hands. Garments were often decorated with embroidered designs, and clothes covering clothes add on the vest and long robe. The box-like look of Qing dynasty clothing presented a solemn, slightly arrogant image that commanded respect. It was quite unique. The Qi robe (Chinese cheongsam dress) and the short clothes have the shape of a pi pa (a Chinese musical instrument) front, big front and parallel front, etc. The sides of the garment, as well as the collar and sleeves, were decorated with inlays and embroidery. The matching skirts and pants were highly decorated in a variety of ways, including dye printing and embroidery. Qing Dynasty women had separate clothes for formal, casual, and business occasions. Business dress was for empresses and other nobility up to 7 Pin (level). Formal clothes were worn at events like weddings or to funerals. Inside the palace, the clothes were decided according to the females’ Pin. The style of casual clothes varied, depending on their function. TOP
From the very brief picture of ancient Chinese attire presented here, it is easy to see that one outstanding feature of these historic dynasties was the strict system of full dress. It demonstrates that the ancients were careful about maintaining their standards and their responsibilities in society, regardless of whether they were sovereigns, officials, or civilians. Each class had their own integrity. The ancient people’s world-view and way of thinking manifested in the way they dressed. A description in Yi-Xi Ci (Book of Changes – Commentary) explains the relationship as follows: Clothes appeared in the time of Yellow Emperor Yao Shun, and thus ended the prehistoric state in which people wrapped their bodies with animal skins. People dressed according to this clothing style, bowing to ancestors and offering sacrifice to heaven and earth, having realised their control over the world. Qian kun refers to heaven and earth. People learnt from observation that in the morning before daybreak, the sky was black in colour (which was called xuan), so their top clothing was black in colour, as it should resemble heaven. The earth was yellow, so bottom clothing was coloured yellow to be like the earth. In this way, they expressed their adoration of heaven and earth. It is clear from their attire that these ancient people did believe in God, respected heaven, and upheld God’s will. As an important part of ancient Chinese culture, ancient attire also embodied the harmonious relationship between people and nature. In fact, ancient people’s way of thinking—that man is an integral part of nature—was based on their faith in God and their adherence to high moral standards. And it was exactly because of their kindness and gracious morality that God bestowed wisdom and magnificence on them, enabling them to develop a glorious life style and living environment. The costumes of the different dynasties all had their own distinctive features and appeared to have no close connection to each other. They represented the culture of the different dynasties and the wisdom that humans were endowed with during the different time periods. The attire of each dynasty vividly reflected and represented the life style, social status, ideology, and mentality of that time. This could be a result of the different characteristics that each dynasty possessed, as people of different dynasties came from different heavenly kingdoms. When being reincarnated in China, they brought to the human world the cultures of their own paradises, thus making Chinese culture bright and colourful, as well as rich and varied.
While pondering these beautiful, fascinating wardrobes of the ancients, one feels a part of their past, and it is easy to realise the broad and profound inner nature of Chinese people. One cannot help but be awed by these magnificent masterpieces that can only be found in the heavens and that have come to the human world by predestined relationships throughout the ages. (From Clear Harmony ) TOP
A Tradition of Elegance and symbolism
Archaeological findings of 18,000 year-old artifacts such as bone sewing needles and stone beads and shells with holes bored in them attest to the existence of ornamentation and of sewing extremely early in Chinese civilization. Variety and consistency in clothing were roughly established by the era of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperors Yao and Shun (about 4,500 years ago). Remains of woven silk and hemp articles and ancient ceramic figures further demonstrate the sophistication and refinement of clothing in the Shang Dynasty (16th to 11th century B.C.).
The three main types of traditional Chinese clothing are the pien-fu, the ch'ang-p'ao, and the shen-i. The pien-fu is an ancient two-piece ceremonial costume of a tunic-like top extending to the knees and a skirt or trousers extending to the ankles. The ch'ang-p'ao is a one-piece garment extending from the shoulders all the way to the heels. The shen-i is a cross between the pien-fu and the ch'ang-p'ao; it consists of a tunic and a skirt or trousers like the pien-fu, but the tunic and the skirt are sewed together and essentially one piece like the ch'ang-p'ao. Consequently, the shen-i was the most widely worn of the three types. Typical of these three types of clothing were wide and voluminous sleeves and a very loose fit. Tunic and trousers or tunic and skirt, utilized a very minimum number of stitches for the amount of cloth used. So because of their relatively plain design and structure, embroidered edgings, decorated bands, draped cloth or silks, patterns on the shoulders, and sashes were often added as ornamentation. These varied designs came to be one of the unique features of traditional Chinese dress.
Darker colors were favored over lighter ones in traditional Chinese clothing, so the main color of ceremonial clothing tended to be dark while bright, elaborate tapestry designs accented. Lighter colored clothing was worn more frequently by the common people for everyday and around the house use. The Chinese associate certain colors with specific seasons: green represents spring, red symbolizes summer, white represents autumn, and black symbolizes winter. The Chinese are said to have a fully developed system of matching, coordinating, and contrasting colors and shades of light and dark in apparel. TOP
Chinese Clothing Today
In modern society, men are seen at social occasions wearing the dignified and refined traditional Chinese long gown, and women often wear the ch'i-p'ao, a modified form of a traditional Ching Dynasty fashion, on formal occasions. The variations of height, length, width, and ornamentation of the collar, sleeves, skirt, and basic cut of this Oriental fashion are limitless.
Many accessories such as macramé are used to decorate shoulders, bodices, pockets, seams, and openings of clothing, as well as belts, hair ornaments, and necklaces. Some successful examples of combinations of modern and traditional fashion elements are the modern bridal tiara, based on a Sung Dynasty design and the Hunan Province style of embroidered sash made in the traditional colors of pure red, blue, and green. From these examples, it can be seen how traditional Chinese dress is the foundation of modern fashion. However, the Chinese have also adopted many Western styles of clothing such as business suits and jeans. (From Culture of China.Destiny) TOP
The cheongsam is a female dress with distinctive Chinese features and enjoys a growing popularity in the international world of high fashion.
The name "cheongsam," meaning simply "long dress," entered the English vocabulary from the dialect of China's Guangdong Province (Cantonese). In other parts of the country including Beijing, however, it is known as "qipao", which has a history behind it.
When the early Manchu rulers came to China proper, they organized certain people, mainly Manchus, into "banners" (qi) and called them "banner people" (qiren), which then became loosely the name of all Manchus. The Manchu women wore normally a one-piece dress which, likewise, came to be called "qipao" or "banner dress." Although the 1911 Revolution toppled the rule of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty, the female dress survived the political change and, with later improvements, has become the traditional dress for Chinese women.
Easy to slip on and comfortable to wear, the cheongsam fits well the female Chinese figure. Its neck is high, collar closed, and its sleeves may be either short, medium or full length, depending on season and taste. The dress is buttoned on the right side, with a loose chest, a fitting waist, and slits up from the sides, all of which combine to set off the beauty of the female shape.
The cheongsam is not too complicated to make. Nor does it call for too much material, for there are no accessories like belts, scarves, sashes or frills to go with it.
Another beauty of the cheongsam is that, made of different materials and to varying lengths, they can be worn either on casual or formal occasions. In either case, it creates an impression of simple and quiet charm, elegance and neatness. No wonder it is so much liked by women not only of China but of foreign countries as well. (From ChinaWindow.com) TOP
China Online ( A very good introduction to the origination, development and style of QiPao)
In the Yunnan local dialect, a small intermontane plain is called a bazi. Baofengba in Puning County is a village inhabited by the Hans. When I saw Luo Meiying, the township leader, she wore a typical peasant dress: a black cloth scarf wrapped apron on her head, a white tight jacket covered with a black lace vest, an embroidered apron around her waist, blue pants and embroidered cotton shoes. Sensing my curiosity, she told me that it was called a magpie dress because the black head and body and white wings.
The magpie dress was introduced to this Han village by Luo Meiying from her Yi village when she got married more than 12 years ago. She then changed the chintz scarf and white vest to black, making her look like a magpie which is regarded by the Chinese as a lucky bird. They believe that if a magpie sings in the tree in front of your house, your family will be fortunate.
Yi girls are known for their simplicity, beauty and kindness. Young men from Baofengba think themselves very lucky if they can marry Yi girls. They get to know each other while cutting firewood in the mountains, at country fairs and singing, dancing or drinking mountain wine at local festivals or activities.
When I visited a Yi village called Tianba, I saw a tiyue (dancing) scene. According to the Yi custom, Yi girls can only dance with young men from Han villages bring wine, sausage and candies to the appointed place and start a fire while waiting. When the Yi girls arrive, they all get up and greet them before sitting down around the fire, while the Yi girl gathers some brambles and puts them on the designated meeting spot to show her disappointment, thus breaking up the relationship.
But if a young man breaks his promise by not showing up at the appointed place, the Yi girl gathers some brambles and puts them on the designated meeting spot to show her disappointment, thus breaking up the relationship.
At Tianba, the old Yi houses with thick walls made of sticky soil look as a castle. In the past, there was always a dog crouching on the flat roof to watch our for people who came to attack the village. The frequent contact over the past few decades between the Yi and the Han has also resulted in intermarriage between the Yi and the Han. When the Yis found that the Han's brick houses with slanted roofs were durable and good for drainage, they also started to build their houses as the Hans do.
I was invited by a Yi family of Guo Xiaolan. They lived in a two-story house. Entering the arched gateway, I found myself in a small yard with a sitting room and bedroom in front and two rooms on each side: one that served as a kitchen and the other that served as a storehouse. It looked quite similar to the houses found in the Han village of Baofengba.
It was the slack winter season. A few young people from the Tianba amateur singing and dancing troupe were practising the Flower Lantern Opera, a folk opera which used to be popular among the Hans in Yunnan and Guizhou. During the Spring and Lantern festivals, a group of three to five performers would bring simple costumes with them and give performances from village to village.
After generations of intermingling with the minorities, the Han people have also been influenced by them in clothing and customs.
The Miao women are good at dyeing, weaving and embroidery. Not only do they wear colourful embroidered dresses, but they also dress their children in colourful clothes. Even the bundle cloth they use to carry baby on the back is also embroidered with beautiful patterns. Imitating the Miao women, the Han women also make embroidered hats for their children and carry their babies with embroidered bundle cloths on their backs. It is difficult to tell a Miao woman from a Han from their back. Assimilating and developing the best of different minorities, some Han women in minority-inhabited areas dress themselves in colourful minority costumes, and yet no one can identify them with any particular minority group.
The Han women living at Baofengba of Jinning all wear embroidered cotton shoes. As the shoe has an upturned tip which looks like a turtledove's head, it is known as turtledove shoe. Though most of the minority women living in Yunnan and Guizhou provinces also wear embroidered shoes, no one can say for sure who the originator is. (From ChinaWindow.com) TOP
Food, clothing, shelter and tranportation are usually regarded the four most basic neccessities of life by Chinese people.
In ancient society people lived in crude caves, naked. During the New Stone Age they invented bone needle and began to sew simple winter dress with leaves and animal skins. With the development of the society, people were engaged in agriculture and they started to spin and weave, even sewed coats with linen.
In the class society, dress became the token of social status. It was from the Xia and Shang Dynasties that dress system came into being in China. In the Zhou Dynasty, the system was perfected. From then on the distinctions as to color, design and adornment of dress were strictly made among the emperor, officials and the common people.
China is a multi-national country. Each nation has a traditional culture of its own. The mutual support and inspiration among different nationals made Chinese dress more plentiful and glorious.
During the Sui and Tang Dynasties, the economy boomed and people led a quiet life. People from different countries gathered in Changan and Luoyang to promote the international cultural exchange. Particularly the culture of middle Asia deeply influenced Chinese dress system.
Stringent rules are made for the color of ancient dress and adornment. Yellow is the most valuable color as a symbol of center. Green, red, white and black symbolize the East, the South, the West and the North respectively. Green, red, black, white and yellow are pure colors applied by the emperors and officials. The common people could only apply the secondary colors. With the development of the society, the colors of the dress, which are more harmonious and form a partial contrast, replace that of remote ages, which was very simple. These changes make the dress and adornment splendid.
On the other hand the ideology also directly influenced dress and adornment. During the Warring States period, many vassal states were competing with each other, hence the patterns of dress and adornment became diversified. During the Sui and Tang, the unity of ancient China and the prosperity of economy brought about new thoughts, and the dress became splendid, particularly the decolIetage appeared. Because of the intensity of the feudal ideology, the patterns of dress and adornment gradually became conservative from the Song and Ming Dynasties. Influenced by western cultures, the designs were more fitting and tasteful from late Ming.
The geometrical patterns, the pictures of animals and plants were widely adopted on ancient dress and adornments. Before Shang and Zhou, the patterns were primitive, succinct and abstract. After Zhou the patterns became much neater. The compositions were balanced and symmetric. During the Tang and Song more attentions were paid to the compositions. From the Ming and Qing Dynasties most of the patterns were realistic, and the flowers, animals and mountains-and-waters were all really true to life.
The articles of clothing of past dynasties are one chapter of Chinese long history and culture. They are not only the reflection of the politics and economy of a given society, but also the great contributions for world civilization. (From ChinaWindow.com) TOP
Colors and Clothing
Black, being the colour of faeces is associated with dirt, sin, evil, disasters, sadness, cruelty and suffering among other negative things. Black signifies bad fortune and must not be worn during festivals, wedding celebrations etc. or used in home decoration. Black symbolises a lack of civilisation and backwardness. However, traditions associated with this colour are quickly fading, and among the younger generations black can be frequently seen as a clothing colour.
White symbolises the mother's milk and is intermediate between red and black, balancing the two colours. It signifies moderation, purity, honesty and life, but is also used at funerals as it is believed it can harmonise all elements. It can be used in all rituals and ceremonies as it is essentially neutral. Other colours are classified according to their relative darkness and lightness and associated significance thereof.
There are no specific rules in Chinese custom governing dress. Traditional costumes are rarely worn and clothing is usually chosen for comfort or according to the fashion of the day.
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