Ancient Chinese Clothing: A Distinct Cultural Identity

Geography, social customs, and technological innovations played a key part in shaping ancient Chinese clothing habits. Though cultural values, social stratification, and gender decided the contours of dressing, practical usability reigns supreme. Regional variations and changes introduced over different periods of time brought in variations in design features and pattern. 

Features of Ancient Chinese Clothing

Ancient Chinese Clothing

The legends credit the Yellow Emperor for inventing the real clothes. However, the traditional form of Chinese clothing, including blouse, knee-length tunic, and ankle-long skirt, took shape during the Shang Dynasty about 3,500 years ago. The Zhou era that began in 1046 BC saw the introduction of the long gown.

New refinements, designs, colors, decorative patterns, cutting, and embroidery were introduced as a result of subsequent improvements over the various centuries and dynasties with each dynasty having its own type/design of clothes. Various dynasties favored different colors, such as red being the favorite of the Zhou, white of the Shang, black of the Xia, purple of the Tang, and types of embroideries to denote social position, occupation, and political authority.

What most people do not realize today is that some of the Tang Dynasty era clothing is still being worn in Korea and Japan today as part of their traditional dressing.  You can see this in period Korean and Japanese dramas today. 

Sericulture and silk production in China dates back to 27th century BC. The material was used to manufacture ancient Chinese clothing for the rich and affluent class. Common men used kudzu, ramie, and hemp fabrics made by primitive power looms. Drawloom fabrics were available there as early as 400 BC.

Different forms of fashionable clothes known were introduced by designers, such as...

Han Fu: A type of cross collar long gown, it was the common dress of the Han people. According to legends, the Yellow Emperor invented this ancient Chinese clothing. With simple designer patterns marked by loose wide sleeves and absence of buttons, Han Fu was worn by enlacing the right lap on the left side.

Tang Zhuang: A type of suit, the dress was a hybrid of Manchu jacket and has coiled front buttons. Attractive with traditional colors and designs with straight collars, it was a hit with Chinese aristocrats.

Qi Pao: Featuring coiled buttons with straight collar on beautifully decorated silk clothes, it was the chosen dress of rich females.

Dragon Robe: Made only for emperors, it featured embroidered dragons on bright yellow gowns with round collar and buttons.

Mandarin Collared Dress: State officials, known as Mandarin, wore embroidered gowns without collar.

Inlay, bordering, embroidery, coiling, and colorful insertions were the types of mechanisms used to beautify ancient Chinese dresses. Embroidery was first invented in China. Flora, fauna, natural landscape, architectures, and geometrical patterns were commonly used to decorate clothes.

The Modern Era

Nowadays, the ancient clothing has been replaced by modern, Western-style clothes as western culture has crept into Chinese societies as the rural urban migration continues in China. However, local people prefer to dress in traditional attire during religious ceremonies and festivals, such as ancient worship festival and spring festival.
In areas far away in the north and west, where a large numbers of ethnic minorities live, traditional costumes are a common sight. Older people living in villages continue with their ancient Chinese clothing practices, although in a modified form and in less numbers. Television and movies are agog with traditional Chinese dresses, offering an insight into the distinctive clothing practices.

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