The History of Chinese Clothing 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 char acteristics 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.

the ceremony would be held in southern suburbs. court dress was red. a woman wore a short jacket and a long skirt. There was a big difference in quality for women’s accessories worn inside and outside the imperial palace. Tang dynasty The Tang Dynasty The Tang dynasty was the most thriving. splendid. or a loose-sleeved shirt. and many others. “The Han dynasty inherited the style of the Qin dynasty. silver rings. law hats. half-length sleeve. so that one could put bamboo hat on the head. They held ceremonies to pray according to the four seasons. Hair was styled to cover the temples and frame the face. the clothing were mainly short jacket or shirt. A coat was considered informal dress.The Eastern Han dynasty started from 25 A.” This convention dictated that the quality and quantity of decoration s on the belt be used to indicate the rank of government officials. Since the Wei-Jin dynasty people still used these hats. Tang dynasty Center: Women colouring fabrics. and the sixand seventh-ranking officials wore silver belts. A man always dressed in a short jacket. and was ever changing. Tang dynasty Right: A gentlewoman in a court-style costume. long skirt. At the beginning of spring. including golden earrings. and gowns were low-cut with a high waistband. phoenix was decorated at the toe of the silk shoes or shoes weaved by grass. This style was the same for everyone — workers. according to the theory of Five Elements. we can tell that white was the colour for ordinary people. businessmen. red was regarded as the most respectful colour. The characteristics of Tang dynasty attire were distinctive and natural. This white layer was edged with red. In the ancient book History of the Wu Empire -. everything would be black.” From this description. high hats. and ended in 200 A.” “double handing-down bun” and so on. and long skirt with a shawl. displaying the beauty. Government officials dressed in colours that were appropriate for the seasons. During this period. and the decorations lustrous. and casual clothing was purple.The Story of Lu Meng. and a shawl. and both carriages and costumes would be red. there was “the rule of the wide belt. prosperous.” In the Han dynasty.” “cloud bun. with a short cloth skirt outside.D. The costumes of the Tang dynasty are like exotic flowers in Chinese history. mountain-like hats. Que-Di hats. trousers in the style of calf’s nose. the emphasis was on the jacket and skirt. Que-Fei hats. noble and poised. In the Han dynasty. The style of women’s clothing during the Tang dynasty is the most outstanding in China’s history. After the prosperous Tang dynasty. carriages and dress would be yellow. Women’s adornments were particular delicate. and scholars. coiling the hair in a “flower bun”. Tang dynasty attire had many differen t styles. Left: A lady with a flowery hairpin. and at the beginning of winter. Women’s outfits consisted of a shirt with short sleeves and a long skirt. and forever unique and amazing. which matched the red socks and shoes. red was still the popular colour. and carriages and clothing would be a gray-green colour. and freedom of people from heaven. At the beginning of autumn. sleeves became looser and larger. with such names as “gazing -gods bun. ordinary people could only wear a small bronze or iron knife. Jian-Hua hats. During the Wei-Jin period. officials of the fourth and fifth rank wore gold belts. and glorious period of ancient Chinese culture and art. Hair was coiled high in a bun. During the period of the Guangwu emperor.D. At the beginning of summer. officials lower than the first rank wore a sword or knife. grace. For example. According to History of the Song Dynasty. “ask the people who wear white clothing to be businessman’s servant. and a decorative belt hung down to the knee. they would hold a ceremony in the eastern suburbs. such as. it says. as it displayed the Han dynasty’s “fire virtue. hats for skilled craftsmen. In comparison. but a white inside layer had to be worn when performing sacrificial rites.” Until the second year of Yongping pe riod. Jin-Xian hats. a man’s rank and status was indicated by the style of his crown. officials and generals higher than the third rank wore jade belts. square hats. farmers. There were thirteen different types of hats. TOP . which enabled the look of the Tang dynasty style to remain elegant. and bracelets. The quality of the material was particularly fine and delicate. I n the Tang dynasty. swordsman’s hats.

they fluttered and danced in the breeze—hence the name “phoenix tail skirt. and wore shoes with embroidered flowers. it was called “pink cloud cape.” Other popular pleated skirts were made from a whole piece of silk and hand sewn into close pleats. black edges. Southern Song dynasty Right: “Precious Terrace Moon Tracing Chart” with gentlewomen in vests and “cloud bun” hairstyles. The winter clothing of government officials had nine ranks. One of these strips could be used as a sash. The body height was over three feet.” The Ming dynasty also had one special kind of cape. If several of these decorated strips or “garlands” were joined together at the waistband. The Yuan dynasty Mongolians called it “pan zi da wu. The bi jian was a double-sided leather coat. which was a little longer than the ma gua (a traditional Chinese gown worn by males). Clothing made of marten and sheepskin was very popular. in the form of a skirt. revealing the skirt only two to three inches. Some were braided and hung down on the shoulder. “Zhi Sun dresses” were popular. and females of all levels of “government uses”. At Chong Zhen time. white skirts were very popular. had moon-shaped shoulders called “the gold embroidered cloud shoulder jadeite tassel. The early Ming Dynasty’s skirts were all 6 inches wide. silk. The aristocrats were Mongolians who wore leather coats and hats as their national attire. as were accessories like hats. Because of its beautiful shape. TOP The Yuan Dynasty In the Yuan dynasty. which were black. The size of the pleats ranged from small and close to big and wide. but also the hair styles were very special. fragrance on the body. and one style was casual for daily use.” 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. The skirt hem had one to two inch embroidered edges.” Each strip was made from a different piece of coloured satin. while some were like cloud lights with delicate bands supporting the golden phoenix. They also wore long black cloth handkerchiefs and coats with wide hems. People without much money used paper decorations in their hair. Emperor Zhi Sun’s winter and summer clothing had fifteen ranks (by Zhi level division). Not only were the fabrics elegant. and could be made from materials of varying weight and quality. Pleated skirts were extremely popular. they were made from materials of varying colour and quality. Skirts were also highly decorated. The skirt installs often used light coloured fabrics in early Ming Dynasty. The materials and colours were well coordinated. At the end of Ming Dynasty. skirt clothes with big sleeves and round collars”. Song dynasty Centre: A bright yellow robe with gilded wide sleeves. while summer clothing had fourteen. it changed to 8 to 10 inches. This garment characteristically had wide sleeves. Because the gowns were so long.Left: A cross-collar slim robe with wide sleeves and a Dongpo scarf. another style called “formal clothes” was for ordinary people.” The name alone suggests how gorgeous the gowns must have been. Women wore mostly long.” Males typically wore a robe having a square towel and circle collar . and even common people dressed very fastidiously. they dragged on the ground. All government officials wore them to attend feasts inside the palace. Ming dynasty Right: Short top with long skirt tied with a silk waistband. fur and long pieces of woven wool. Yuan Dynasty women of the aristocracy had their own styles of dress. and a black ribbon soft turban hanging belt. a round blue collar. often made from red and gold embroidered brocades. This kind of clothing was worn by all classes of people. The official's costumes . worn by the both upper and lower classes. One was designed for the empress. Labourers were the only ones who wore cloth pants. so noblewomen had maids accompany them to care for the clothing. The gowns. the noble concubines. Musicians and bodyguards also wore them. the so-called “Flower hat. Ming dynasty The Ming Dynasty The Ming Dynasty female upper clothes were three collars with narrow sleeves. One particular design was called the “striped garland skirt” or “phoenix tail skirt. The clothing designed for Song Dynasty government officials was extremely luxurious. One kind of skirt had twenty-four pleats and was named “the jade skirt. TOP Left: A scholar in a black straight-lined robe. The Song Dynasty Song Dynasty clothing can be divided into three categories of style. loose gowns with wide sleeves and narrow cuffs. and each piece was embroidered with a flower-and-bird design in gold thread.

one feels a part of their past. fascinating wardrobes of the ancients. and mentality of that time. and thus ended the prehistoric state in which people wrapped their bodies with animal skins. or civilians. it is easy to see that one outstanding feature of these historic dynasties was the strict system of full dress. the sky was black in colour (which was called xuan). The Qi robe (Chinese cheongsam dress) and the short clothes have the shape of a pi pa (a Chinese musical instrument) front.were cloud satin round collar gowns. The ancient people’s world-view and way of thinking manifested in the way they dressed. was cut straight from top to bottom and did not have waist. big front and parallel front. ancient attire also embodied the harmonious relationship between people and nature. as well as the collar and sleeves. and it is easy to realise the broad and profound inner nature of Chinese people. which was not lined. ideology. the clothes were decided according to the females’ Pin. One cannot help but be awed by these magnificent masterpieces that can . The costumes of the different dynasties all had their own distinctive features and appeared to have no close connection to each other. as well as rich and varied. The style was slender and rectangular in form. slightly arrogant image that commanded respect. The matching skirts and pants were highly decorated in a variety of ways. and upheld God’s will. and the sleeves were long enough to cover the hands. When being reincarnated in China. they expressed their adoration of heaven and earth. It demonstrates that the ancients were careful about maintaining their standards and their responsibilities in society. The style of casual clothes varied. In fact. Qing dynasty Center: A purple satin robe with double sleeves. This style of robe hung one inch above the ground. Qing Dynasty women had separate clothes for formal. And it was exactly because of their kindness and gracious morality that God bestowed wisdom and magnificence on them. so their top clothing was black in colour. There were also cloud satin coat dress style. they brought to the human world the cultures of their own paradises. People learnt from observation that in the morning before daybreak. etc. social status. and clothes covering clothes add on the vest and long robe. so bottom clothing was coloured yellow to be like the earth. officials. Bright red shoes were the typical fashion. as it should resemble heaven. regardless of whether they were sovereigns. Inside the palace. The sides of the garment. Sleeves were also long enough to cover the hands. thus making Chinese culture bright and colourful. Qian kun refers to heaven and earth. It is clear from their attire that these ancient people did believe in God. The saddle-shaped collar was large enough to cover a person’s cheeks and protect the face. The box-like look of Qing dynasty clothing presented a solemn. including dye printing and embroidery. Qing dynasty Right: A blue satin imperial with golden dragons. Garments were often decorated with embroidered designs. While pondering these beautiful. A description in YiXi Ci (Book of Changes – Commentary) explains the relationship as follows: Clothes appeared in the time of Yellow Emperor Yao Shun. were decorated with inlays and embroidery. and business occasions. Formal clothes were worn at events like weddings or to funerals. A s an important part of ancient Chinese culture. and the sleeves themselves were each one foot wide. It was quite unique. enabling them to develop a glorious life style and living environment. There were two to three false sleeves. The earth was yellow. having realised their control over the world. bowing to ancestors and offering sacrifice to heaven and earth. TOP Left: An embroidered red satin robe for women. The entire garment. casual. respected heaven. They represented the culture of the different dynasties and the wisdom that humans were endowed with during the different time periods. Qing dynasty The Qing Dynasty Manchurian-style clothing with short narrow sleeves was the popular mode of dress in the Qing dynasty. Each class had their own integrity. 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. People dressed according to this clothing style. TOP Conclusion From the very brief picture of ancient Chinese attire presented here. as people of different dynasties came from different heavenly kingdoms. Plate buttons were placed on the frontright side as decoration. Business dress was for empresses and other nobility up to 7 Pin (level). This could be a result of the different characteristics that each dynasty possessed. In this way. depending on their function. The attire of each dynasty vividly reflected and represented the life style.

and sashes were often added as ornamentation. The Chinese associate certain colors with specific seasons: green represents spring. These varied designs came to be one of the unique features of traditional Chinese dress. TOP Chinese Dress Adornments Food. red symbolizes summer. So because of their relatively plain design and structure. In the class society. . The three main types of traditional Chinese clothing are the pien-fu. 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. Archaeological findings of 18.C. the system was perfected. but also an internal symbolism.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. design and adornment of dress were strictly made among the emperor. From then on the distinctions as to color. Each and every piece of traditional clothing communicates a vitality of its own. It was from the Xia and Shang Dynasties that dress system came into being in China. The Chinese are said to have a fully developed system of matching. draped cloth or silks. embroidered edgings. so the main color of ceremonial clothing tended to be dark while bright. patterns on the shoulders.). This combination of external form with internal symbolism is clearly exemplified in the pair of fighting pheasant feathers used in head wear originating in the battle wear of the Warring States period (475-221 B. The shen-i is a cross between the pien-fu and the ch'ang-p'ao.C.). Tunic and trousers or tunic and skirt. The ch'ang-p'ao is a one-piece garment extending from the shoulders all the way to the heels. and the shen-i. but the tunic and the skirt are sewed together and essentially one piece like the ch'ang-p'ao. dress became the token of social status. and contrasting colors and shades of light and dark in apparel. officials and the common people. even sewed coats with linen.only be found in the heavens and that have come to the human world by predestined relationships throughout the ages. Typical of these three types of clothing were wide and voluminous sleeves and a very loose fit. the ch'ang-p'ao. shelter and tranportation are usually regarded the four most basic neccessities of life by Chinese people. Lighter colored clothing was worn more frequently by the common people for everyday and around the house use. With the development of the society. naked. In ancient society people lived in crude caves. utilized a very minimum number of stitches for the amount of cloth used. Darker colors were favored over lighter ones in traditional Chinese clothing. decorated bands. the shen-i was the most widely worn of the three types. elaborate tapestry designs accented. During the New Stone Age they invented bone needle and began to sew simple winter dress with leaves and animal skins. and black symbolizes winter. Variety and consistency in clothing were roughly established by the era of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperors Yao and Shun (about 4. (From Clear Harmony ) TOP A Tradition of Elegance and symbolism An outstanding characteristic of traditional Chinese clothing is not only an external expression of elegance. In the Zhou Dynasty. Consequently. it consists of a tunic and a skirt or trousers like the pien-fu.500 years ago). Two feathers of a ho bird (a type pheasant good at fighting) were inserted into the head wear of warriors of this period to symbolize a bold and warlike spirit. 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. clothing. people were engaged in agriculture and they started to spin and weave. coordinating. white represents autumn.

After Zhou the patterns became much neater. Red. sadness. black and white. Influenced by western cultures. cruelty and suffering among other negative things. White symbolises the mother's milk and is intermediate between red and black. particularly the decolIetage appeared. the pictures of animals and plants were widely adopted on ancient dress and adornments. Other colours are classified according to their relative darkness and lightness and associated significance thereof. many vassal states were competing with each other. They are not only the reflection of the politics and economy of a given society. but is also used at funerals as it is believed it can harmonise all elements. During the Tang and Song more attentions were paid to the compositions. animals and mountains-and-waters were all really true to life. wedding celebrations etc.China is a multi-national country. The geometrical patterns. black. From the Ming and Qing Dynasties most of the patterns were realistic. and the dress became splendid. which are more harmonious and form a partial contrast. Green. Before Shang and Zhou. With the development of the society. the South. Because of the intensity of the feudal ideology. The articles of clothing of past dynasties are one chapter of Chinese long history and culture. succinct and abstract. The common people could only apply the secondary colors. During the Sui and Tang. hence the patterns of dress and adornment became diversified. (From ChinaWindow. Green. People from different countries gathered in Changan and Luoyang to promote the international cultural exchange. Stringent rules are made for the color of ancient dress and adornment. Black signifies bad fortune and must not be worn during festivals. Black. traditions associated with this colour are quickly fading. red. but the colour of one's clothing is generally suited to the environment: for example manual workers and farmers will often wear dark colours because of the nature of their work. replace that of remote ages. The compositions were balanced and symmetric. but also the great contributions for world civilization. sin. It signifies moderation. wealth. Some conventions are . red. white and black symbolize the East. which was very simple. Yellow is the most valuable color as a symbol of center. Particularly the culture of middle Asia deeply influenced Chinese dress system. evil. symbolises the positive aspects of life such as happiness. honesty and life. There are no specific rules in Chinese custom governing dress. the economy boomed and people led a quiet life. or used in home decoration. the colors of the dress. The mutual support and inspiration among different nationals made Chinese dress more plentiful and glorious. purity. On the other hand the ideology also directly influenced dress and adornment. balancing the two colours. disasters. and the flowers. During the Warring States period. the patterns were primitive. the patterns of dress and adornment gradually became conservative from the Song and Ming Dynasties. Each nation has a traditional culture of its own. white and yellow are pure colors applied by the emperors and officials. fame etc. Bright colours are preferred for clothing in Chinese culture. Black symbolises a lack of civilisation and backwardness. the unity of ancient China and the prosperity of economy brought about new thoughts. and among the younger generations black can be frequently seen as a clothing colour. However. Red is always associated with good luck. the designs were more fitting and tasteful from late Ming.com) TOP Colors and Clothing In Chinese culture there are three central colours: red. During the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Traditional costumes are rarely worn and clothing is usually chosen for comfort or according to the fashion of the day. being the colour of faeces is associated with dirt. the West and the North respectively. It can be used in all rituals and ceremonies as it is essentially neutral. being the colour of blood. These changes make the dress and adornment splendid.

for example t-shirts and jeans.com) TOP GO HOME . (From ChinaWindow.considered with regards to age: the elderly are not encouraged to 'dress young'.

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