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.

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

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

slightly arrogant image that commanded respect. Qing dynasty The Qing Dynasty Manchurian-style clothing with short narrow sleeves was the popular mode of dress in the Qing dynasty. as it should resemble heaven. In this way. The style of casual clothes varied. TOP Left: An embroidered red satin robe for women. regardless of whether they were sovereigns. People dressed according to this clothing style. was cut straight from top to bottom and did not have waist. ideology. The entire garment. 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. thus making Chinese culture bright and colourful. Qing dynasty Right: A blue satin imperial with golden dragons. including dye printing and embroidery. they brought to the human world the cultures of their own paradises. it is easy to see that one outstanding feature of these historic dynasties was the strict system of full dress. one feels a part of their past. Formal clothes were worn at events like weddings or to funerals. etc. Qian kun refers to heaven and earth. A s an important part of ancient Chinese culture. Inside the palace. The ancient people’s world-view and way of thinking manifested in the way they dressed. The saddle-shaped collar was large enough to cover a person’s cheeks and protect the face. and business occasions. the clothes were decided according to the females’ Pin. and the sleeves themselves were each one foot wide. One cannot help but be awed by these magnificent masterpieces that can . bowing to ancestors and offering sacrifice to heaven and earth. The style was slender and rectangular in form. or civilians. TOP Conclusion From the very brief picture of ancient Chinese attire presented here. ancient attire also embodied the harmonious relationship between people and nature. having realised their control over the world. as well as the collar and sleeves. and mentality of that time. Each class had their own integrity. were decorated with inlays and embroidery. There were also cloud satin coat dress style. social status. big front and parallel front. This could be a result of the different characteristics that each dynasty possessed. and thus ended the prehistoric state in which people wrapped their bodies with animal skins. so bottom clothing was coloured yellow to be like the earth. This style of robe hung one inch above the ground. fascinating wardrobes of the ancients. Plate buttons were placed on the frontright side as decoration. Garments were often decorated with embroidered designs. and it is easy to realise the broad and profound inner nature of Chinese people. Bright red shoes were the typical fashion. Qing Dynasty women had separate clothes for formal. Business dress was for empresses and other nobility up to 7 Pin (level). 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. Sleeves were also long enough to cover the hands. Qing dynasty Center: A purple satin robe with double sleeves. and the sleeves were long enough to cover the hands. and clothes covering clothes add on the vest and long robe. as well as rich and varied.were cloud satin round collar gowns. It is clear from their attire that these ancient people did believe in God. It demonstrates that the ancients were careful about maintaining their standards and their responsibilities in society. as people of different dynasties came from different heavenly kingdoms. depending on their function. The matching skirts and pants were highly decorated in a variety of ways. When being reincarnated in China. The Qi robe (Chinese cheongsam dress) and the short clothes have the shape of a pi pa (a Chinese musical instrument) front. It was quite unique. They represented the culture of the different dynasties and the wisdom that humans were endowed with during the different time periods. officials. People learnt from observation that in the morning before daybreak. There were two to three false sleeves. the sky was black in colour (which was called xuan). so their top clothing was black in colour. The attire of each dynasty vividly reflected and represented the life style. The sides of the garment. and upheld God’s will. The earth was yellow. casual. In fact. respected heaven. 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. which was not lined. The box-like look of Qing dynasty clothing presented a solemn. they expressed their adoration of heaven and earth.

and black symbolizes winter. In the class society. TOP Chinese Dress Adornments Food. 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. even sewed coats with linen. patterns on the shoulders. design and adornment of dress were strictly made among the emperor. Darker colors were favored over lighter ones in traditional Chinese clothing. dress became the token of social status. From then on the distinctions as to color. the shen-i was the most widely worn of the three types. but the tunic and the skirt are sewed together and essentially one piece like the ch'ang-p'ao. In ancient society people lived in crude caves. The shen-i is a cross between the pien-fu and the ch'ang-p'ao. the system was perfected. draped cloth or silks. (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. These varied designs came to be one of the unique features of traditional Chinese dress.C. The three main types of traditional Chinese clothing are the pien-fu. naked.only be found in the heavens and that have come to the human world by predestined relationships throughout the ages. Each and every piece of traditional clothing communicates a vitality of its own. 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.C. It was from the Xia and Shang Dynasties that dress system came into being in China. red symbolizes summer. officials and the common people. Variety and consistency in clothing were roughly established by the era of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperors Yao and Shun (about 4. So because of their relatively plain design and structure. In the Zhou Dynasty. embroidered edgings. Tunic and trousers or tunic and skirt.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. and sashes were often added as ornamentation. but also an internal symbolism. Typical of these three types of clothing were wide and voluminous sleeves and a very loose fit. so the main color of ceremonial clothing tended to be dark while bright. The Chinese associate certain colors with specific seasons: green represents spring. the ch'ang-p'ao. utilized a very minimum number of stitches for the amount of cloth used. elaborate tapestry designs accented. Lighter colored clothing was worn more frequently by the common people for everyday and around the house use. people were engaged in agriculture and they started to spin and weave. shelter and tranportation are usually regarded the four most basic neccessities of life by Chinese people. The ch'ang-p'ao is a one-piece garment extending from the shoulders all the way to the heels. Archaeological findings of 18.). white represents autumn. clothing.).500 years ago). With the development of the society. 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. and the shen-i. During the New Stone Age they invented bone needle and began to sew simple winter dress with leaves and animal skins. 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. coordinating. decorated bands. and contrasting colors and shades of light and dark in apparel. it consists of a tunic and a skirt or trousers like the pien-fu. Consequently. The Chinese are said to have a fully developed system of matching. .

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

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

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