Traditional Chinese Clothing

Traditional Chinese Clothing

A big thanks to Alina Karchina for writing this blog for us! 

Clothing is an important part of any culture. Since Chinese culture is more than 5000 years old, traditional Chinese clothing has an interesting history too.

Below we introduce the main features of Chinese traditional dress and the most well-known garments.

traditional chinese clothing

The style of Chinese clothing usually reflects Chinese peoples’ religious views and social life customs.

The design is usually straight cut, a loose shape and comfortable. Normally garments are light coloured, but you can also see reds, yellows and purples fairly often too. White is a funeral colour in China, therefore not often worn day-to-day.

Thousands of years ago, colours such as red and purple were allowed only for royalty and noblemen. Nowadays red is the most popular because believed to be a colour of happiness and wealth. Female clothes tend to more detailed, have more ornaments and styles than their male counterparts. The materials vary – cotton and linen for daily wear, and silk for special occasions.

There are four types of traditional Chinese clothing that are still very popular among the Chinese population today:

1. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Hanfu 汉服

2. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Zhongshan Suit 中山服
3. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Thangzhuang or Tang Suit 唐装

4. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Cheongsam or Qipao 旗袍

These four we we discuss in more detail below:

1. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Hanfu 汉服

Chinese Clothing: Hanfu

Chinese Clothing: Hanfu

Background:

The Chinese Hanfu is the oldest traditional costume. As the name suggests, it originates from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD).

The majority of the Chinese population refer themselves to Han Dynasty, as it was the longest and the most prosperous dynasty in Chinese history.

Name:

The literal translation of Hanfu from Chinese would be “Han dynasty clothes” – 汉(Han dynasty) + 服(clothes).

Main hallmarks:

  • Crossed collar
  • Right lapel
  • Sash instead of buttons
  • Colorful embroidery

Design:

The Hanfu has two main styles: a one-piece dress and skirt/trousers combo. The completed Hanfu apparel has three layers – underwear, an inner layer and overcoat. To complete the Hanfu traditional costume there are accessories such as socks, shawl, jade belt, and jade jewellery should be added.

Embroidery patterns usually reflect the social standing of the person who wears the clothing. Often Hanfu are decorated with the sun, moon, or animals like tigers, dragons and birds. The material is chosen carefully and is usually a luxury material like silk, brocade, or yarn.

2.Traditional Chinese Clothing – Zhongshan Suit 中山服

Traditional chinese clothing mao suit

Chinese Clothing: Mao Suit

Background:

The Zhongshan suit is better known overseas as a Mao suit. It first appeared during the time of Sun Yat-sen after the Republic of China was founded in the year of 1912.

Later on, Chairman Mao was often seen wearing this style of garment. So that’s why it became known as a Mao suit in English.

The main idea behind this garment is a combination of a Western style suit and traditional Chinese clothing.

Name: 

The name in Chinese is 中山服 (Zhōngshān fú). Zhōngshān is Sun Yat-sen’s name in Mandarin, and fú means clothing or suit. So the name ‘Zhongsan suit’ is a very literal translation.

Main hallmarks:

  • Turned-down closed collar
  • Four pockets
  • Five big central buttons in front
  • Three smaller buttons on each sleeve

Design:

This suit actually holds a strong symbolic meaning. The four pockets – loyalty, benevolence, decency, and shame. The five big buttons represent the 5 separated powers: administration, jurisdiction, legislation, supervision, and examination. The three smaller sleeve buttons symbolize the three social principles: nationalism, democracy and the nation’s livelihood. The turned-down closed collar is a sign of careful ruling.

All this together these features symbolize the unity of China.

3. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Tangzhuang or Tang Suit 唐装

traditional chinese tang suit

Chinese Clothing: Tang Suit

Background:

Again as the name suggests, the origin of this garment is the Tang dynasty. This clothing is called a suit but actually it is represented only by one jacket.

Name:

The name “Tang Suit” was given to this item of clothing by foreign countries. Throughout history the Chinese Tang dynasty was the most popular and well known dynasty overseas for 6/7 centuries.

During this time foreigners referred to Chinese as Tang people. So logically the clothes they wear  Thangzhuang (唐装) were also called Tang suits.

Main hallmarks:

  • Loose shape
  • Mandarin collar
  • Knot buttons arranged down the front.

Design:

The design of the Tang Suit often includes a pattern of Chinese characters, usually with the characters 福 (meaning happiness) and 寿 (meaning longevity). These characters were believed to attract fortune and happiness to the wearer.

This type of Chinese clothing had great influence on the traditional clothing of other cultures such as Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

4. Traditional Chinese Clothing – Cheongsam or Qipao 旗袍

Chinese Clothing: Qipao

Chinese Clothing: Qipao

Background:

The Cheongsam/Qipao style dress is said to originate from Qing Dynasty times (17-20th centuries), in particular from the style of Manchu women.

Name:

Back then Han Chinese people called Manchu people “the Qi people”. Manchu women wore long gown type garments. The word for gown in Chinese is “pao”. So here Qi-pao = the gown of the Qi people. Qipao is a garments only worn by women.

Main hallmarks:

  • Fitted cut
  • One piece dress
  • Right side buttoned with knot buttons
  • Two wide openings at both sides of the hips

Shanghai Glam – The History of The Qipao

Design:

The Qipao is a one-piece dress with a fitted cut. It is still very popular among women in China and also among tourists. I even bought one each for my mom and sister, because the dress is a perfect mix of tradition and beauty.

The best option is to get a Qipao made to measure so that it fits you exactly. The top right side of the dress is tied together with knot-style buttons, and there are usually 2 long slits down either side of the dress.

The History of the Qipao

The History of the Qipao

Now you know more about Chinese traditional clothing….

It’s time to check our other blogs about Chinese culture and explore China with LTL Mandarin School.

DON’T MISS – Want to know more about Chinese Clothing?

Our Blog on the Qipao and it’s history is just up your street.

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