By Jocelyn Neo | Epoch Times Staff
Many people assume qipao (cheongsam) to be the quintessence of traditional Chinese dressing, but qipao is actually the traditional clothing of the Manchus, not the Chinese.
The Han Chinese – the largest ethnic group in China – had their own traditional clothing for more than 3,000 years, and that was called “Hanfu”.
Hanfu started from the ancient China and its style changes every dynasty, more notably in the Tang, Song and Ming, due to the differences in cultural ideas and values.
In China’s history, the Tang dynasty (618 – 906) was considered a golden age where the arts, sciences and economy were flourishing. Due to its immense wealth, Tang-style garments were mostly bright, colourful and made of silk. On this account, many Western sources cited Hanfu as Chinese Silk Robes.
Also, “the dresses of Tang dynasty are more majestic and they reveal more flesh,” says Mr Michael Jow, the acting president of the Singapore Han Cultural Society.
One of the outfit Qi Xiong Ru Qun (齊胸襦裙), as explained by Mr. Jow, is a shirt jacket is tucked inside the skirt and the skirt is tied very high up on the chest and under the armpits. This outfit was very popular among women, from the ordinary households to the court ladies as it makes women appear slender and feminine.
Other than that, there were several choices of outfits for women, such as a loose-sleeved shirt with long skirt and long shawl, or low-cut gown with high waistband and full flowing skirt.
Another popular style was the big-sleeved shirt – the trademark of traditional Chinese clothing.
Tang-style dresses can be seen in drawings of Chinese fairy maidens.
Fashion styles changed in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), influenced by Confucian ideas of propriety. As people were more conservative, they preferred reserved, elegant and delicate styles with narrow sleeves.
“Song Dynasty clothing includes the skirt 襦裙 (ruqun – consisting of a blouse (襦, ru) and a wrap-around skirt (裙, qun; also called 裳, chang), and the long jacket 褙子(beizi),” shares Mr Jow.
The style is also simpler.
Common men wore plain robes and shirts with either a diagonal or straight collar and had a simple silk head covering called “Dongpo Wrap”. The name was derived from the famous Chinese poet, Su Dongpo.
The “Beizi style”, which consists of a knee-length outer jacket with straight collar, narrow or wide sleeves and cut through over two feet long under the armpits, was a common style worn by every lady in Song Dynasty.
On the other hand, upper class women preferred grand sleeves that were worn with a long skirt and a coloured silk shawl with a hanging jade piece.
The skirts had many styles, such as the tulip skirt dyed from tulip grass, the hundred pleated skirt (百摺裙) and the horse face skirt (马面裙).
The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) favoured dignified, subdued fashion, and pleated skirts.
In addition, “Ming Dynasty clothing was influenced by the Mongols due to a Yuan dynasty between the Song and Ming dynasty. Hence, the more prominent dressing of the Ming Dynasty is the Ao (襖 or襖裙),” says Mr Jow.
The Ao (襖) – the top shirt – is tucked outside the skirt, unlike in the previous dynasties. Generally, loose and billowing clothes were preferred.
There was also an elaborate clothing system in place for formal and daily wear for the different classes.
For instance, officials wore robes and gowns with circle collars, and have wide sleeves and black edges with a black hanging belt. The patterns embroidered vary according to social classes – embroidering of birds for civil officials and mammals for military officials. Needless to say, the Emperor wore embroidered dragon.
On the contrary, common men wore plain and straight long gowns, without any embroidery.
The court ladies wore big sleeves, short tops, decorated crowns and long shawls with phoenix and flower embroidery, with gold or jade hanging down.
Meanwhile, the common women wore a skirt and paddy robe, which is a rectangular piece of fabric spliced with other pieces of fabric, resembling a paddy field. The skirts were usually pleated, light-coloured and simple. They had designs and embroidery at the bottom two inches of the skirts. The decorations increased in the later Ming period. One example was the popular “Moon flower skirt”, a skirt spliced with 10 pieces of fabrics.
READ Singapore Han Cultural Society: Reviving Chinese Han Couture (Hanfu), visit http://epochtimes.today/news/site/article/18027/singapore-han-cultural-society-reviving-chinese-han-couture-hanfu/