There are several styles of ancient Chinese underwear from different time periods and inspired by various fashion tastes. There is the xieyi, which is a tunic-style undergarment worn in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220CE). Then there’s moxiong, which is a one-piece breast-binding garment worn in the Northern Dynasty (420AD-588CE). Also, the zhuyao —embroidered underwear worn by court ladies— was popular during the Qing Dynasty.
But out of all these diverse types of underwear, the Chinese dudou (肚兜) remains the most popular even today.
WHAT IS A DUDOU?
The dudou (literally ‘belly cover’) is a type of old-fashioned Chinese bra first worn in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and then in the Qing Dynasty. Unlike bras today, the dudou was worn to flatten the breasts as flat-chested women were thought to be graceful while busty women were considered a temptation.
However, when the Qing Dynasty fell in the early 1900s, the dudou went with it. The move to modernize China after the fall of Qing also included Westernizing undergarments. Soon, Western fashion like corsets and brassieres replaced the dudou.
WHAT DOES THE UNDERWEAR LOOK LIKE?
A dudou resembles a small apron. Dudou are square- or diamond-shaped and cover the bust and belly. They are backless and have cloth strings that tie around the neck and back; in some cases there would be gold or silver chains instead of string in order to show off wealth.
In comparing styles, Chinese dudou are similar to halter tops.
Dudou are made of brightly colored silk or crepe and sometimes embellished with embroidered flowers, butterflies, mandarin ducks, or other designs that represented happiness, romance, fertility, or health. Some dudou have a pocket in which to keep ginger, musk, or other Chinese medicinal herbs as such items are believed to keep the belly warm.
WHERE CAN I BUY A DUDOU?
The dudou that was once worn under clothes in ancient times is now sometimes worn as an outer garment in the summer. This fashion choice among the younger generation is often considered risque and disapproved of by older generations. Dudou can be bought in clothing stores all over China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Dudou can also be found in high-end fashion markets as foreign fashion designers like Versace and Miu Miu made versions of the dudou in 2000.