We will introduce the brief history of the development of Chinese costume. China has many ethnic groups with a long history while Han people dominate most periods in history. For thousands of years, generations of clothing designers have devoted themselves to building the Kingdom of Clothes, making the garments that cover the human body into an important component of Chinese culture. The progress of nation can be seen through its changes in clothing styles.

Clothing manufacture in China dates back to prehistoric times, at least 7,000 years ago. 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.

The idea of fashion reached a new height during the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods, when wars broke out frequently and the various states spared no effort to enhance their strength. The different styles of clothes showed people’s positions and the states they came from.

History of Chinese history

The Qin and Han dynasties (221 B.C. – A.D. 220) witnessed the unification of territory as well as written language. Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor of the Qin Dynasty, established many social systems, including one for uniforms to distinguish people’s ranks and social positions. China’s complete code of costume and trappings was established in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD). The yarn-dyeing, embroidering and metal-processing technologies developed rapidly in the period, spurring changes in costume and adornments.

Chinese clothing experienced a rapid development during the Wei, Jin, and Southern and Northern dynasties (220-589). Before 265, the cultures and esthetic views of the peoples in north and south China merged because of the moves initiated by frequent wars. Many philosophical schools of thought influenced both people’s lives and the conceptions of clothing design.The Tang Dynasty (618-907) wrote the most brilliant page in the history of Chinese clothing. People’s clothes were more varied than before because the state was more open to the outside world and people became more cosmopolitan in their thinking. The clothes for women could be called fashionable because they changed rapidly and were showy. Once only a new style came out, many people would be willing to take it.

History of Chinese clothing

Casual wear appeared during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), and clothes were simple and elegant.

During the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368), the Mongolian ethnic group, known as the People on Horseback, was in power. The style of clothing was mainly a combination of Mongolian and Han. Clothes were luxurious for upper class yet simple and unadorned in design.

Dramatic changes took place during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). A new conception came into being in clothing design, with no limitation to one style and advocating natural beauty, thus bringing vigor and vitality to the clothing culture.

During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), clothes became elegant, poised, and glorious. During the 200 years of the Qing Empire, the entire world witnessed dramatic changes such as the Renaissance in Italy and Columbus’s discovery of the Americas, but the changes did not affect traditional Chinese clothing because China had a closed-door policy. People still wore clothes showing rank and lifestyle. The retreat from outside cultures has left a precious heritage for traditional Chinese clothes.

Costume in the Han Dynasty

The costume of the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-8AD) followed the one established in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). In the Eastern Han Dynasty, people in black had to wear purple silk adornments to match their clothes. Ordinary people usually wore costume with a long hat at grand ceremonies offering sacrifices to gods or ancestors. The dress of the queen in these ceremonies consisted of dark-purple frock and black trousers.

There were specific stipulations on colors of court garments in the Han Dynasty. Officers must wear garments according to the five time periods, i.e. cyan garments in the spring, red in the first two months of the summer, yellow in the last month of the summer, white in the autumn and black in the winter.

Costume in the Han Dynasty

Female laborers of the Han Dynasty always wore short jackets and long skirts, and their knees were always decorated with long hanging waistbands. Male laborers often wore jackets and calf-nose trousers with aprons around the garments. Farmers, workers, businessmen and scholars were all in the same dressing style at that time.

•Influence to Home and Abroad
It’s no exaggeration to say that Hanfu lays the foundations for Chinese costume and deeply influenced Chinese costumes in a long time. Beside, Japan’s traditional costume Kimono and Korea’s traditional costume Hanbok are designed basing on the Chinese Hanfu.

Costume in the Tang Dynasty

Thanks to the unified and prosperous Tang Dynasty, costume in the Tang Dynasty plays a very essential role in Chinese history of clothing. The dresses of the Tang Dynasty were mainly made of silk, so they were famous for softness and lightness. The dresses of the Tang Dynasty boldly adopted the features of foreign garments in terms of forms and adornments; i.e. they mainly referred to the garments of other countries (such as the Central-Asia countries, India, Iran, Persia, northern countries and the Western Regions) and used them to improve the habilatory culture of the Tang Dynasty.

One of important features of costume in Tang Dynasty is how women’s dress and personal adornments of the Tang Dynasty were outstanding in entire China’s history. The clothing materials were exquisite, the structure was natural, graceful and elegant, and adornments were splendid. Though the forms of garments were still the continuation of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and the Sui Dynasty (581 AD-618 AD), they were influenced by cultures and arts of the Western Regions. The trades and cultural exchanges with Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Persia and other countries gradually became frequent, and they mutually dispatched emissaries and accepted students of other countries. In this way, a special open and romantic style of dress and personal adornments for women was formed.

Costume in the Tang Dynasty

Because of communication with the Western Regions, the influence of dressing culture of other minorities on the Tang court also reflected the change of thoughts and concepts. Chinese women were seriously restricted by the old Confucian or feudal ethical code before Tang Dynasty. The social status of ancient women was very low. They often served as Jileren (music performer), Guanji (official performer), Gongji (palace performer) and Jiaji (family performer) who were regarded as the playthings and goods that can be sold and bought by rich people for their will. While Some females in the Tang Dynasty who had rebel spirit would climb or jump over the walls and went to the nature to view the beautiful sightseeing in the spring by riding horses with men. Just as recorded by many historical materials, some girls therefore dressed as boys in order to go out. Social customs in Tang Dynasty was much open and tolerant, therefor, female wore male clothing was popular among female in Tang Dynasty.

The garments in the Tang Dynasty also greatly affected the garments of neighboring countries. For instance, Japanese kimono adopted the elites of the dresses of the Tang Dynasty in terms of colors and the Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) also adopted the advantages of the dresses of the Tang Dynasty.

Features of Chinese Clothing

Different from costumes of other countries, Chinese clothing features is very distinctive and with profound Chinese culture.Because of relatively plain design and structure of traditional Chinese clothing, 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

Darker colors were much more favored than 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 use.

Colors and Seasons

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.

Red Color

Red is favorite for most Chinese people since Red symbolizes good luck in traditional mind. Chinese people prefer to wear in red when they are celebrating some important festivals or events in their life, such as wedding ceremony.

Traditional Chinese Clothing

Chinese people were wearing silk while other people were still dressing in animal skins.

Clothing in China not only evolve over time; it often transformed dramatically following dynastic changes or the imperial decree of a new ruler. In ancient feudal society, people’s rank and position could easily be distinguished from their daily dress, especially for the ordinary people and the upper-class.

Among the upper dominating classes, only the Emperor was assigned the colour yellow and the dragon emblem on traditional Chinese imperial dress as an exclusive affirmation of their power.
There is no “typical” Chinese costume, although today, if any style of clothing epitomises “Chineseness”, it would be the Cheongsam, or Qipao, which evolved from ancient clothing of the Manchu ethnic minority. Cheongsam is Popular because it fits the Chinese female figure well, and has simple lines and looks elegant; it is suitable for wearing in all seasons by young or old and can either be long or short. It is recognised around the world and has inspired many foreign adaptations because of its simple yet exotic lines. It is popularly worn in North China as the wedding dress, traditionally in red. Cheongsam is usually embroidered with elaborate gold and silver designs. Brides in southern China wear Qipao or a two-piece dress name Qungua or Kwa, which is also elaborately adorned with a gold dragon and phoenix pattern.


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