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Chinese Imperial Dressing

In ancient feudal society, it was easy to distinguish ordinary people from the upper class according to their daily dress. Due to their work and their low stature, ordinary people usually wore dresses made of linen in dark colours while the upper-class preferred the dress making of silk with many valuable decorations.

As part of the upper class, the Emperor designated the colour yellow as his own and the dragon emblem to appear on traditional Chinese imperial dresses as an exclusive affirmation of their power. The Qing's Emperor and the empress' clothing truly represented the upper class' clothing.

The Qing emperor's clothing adhered to a rigid code that specified clothing for every occasion: ceremonial robes for the most formal ceremonial occasions, court wear for holding audiences, auspicious garments worn during the celebration of festive occasions such as Lunar New Year and his birthday, informal clothing to be worn in his private quarters and travel ensembles to be worn during the hunt, expeditions and inspection tours. Each ensemble consisted of several garments, headgear, belts, shoes and accessories. The ensembles included seasonal variants; winter garments, for example, were lined with fur.

Requisite silks, satins, brocades and damasks of the highest quality were woven in the imperial weaving factory in Suzhou and the clothing was sumptuously embroidered and embellished with gold, pearls and precious stones.

In the Qing dynasty, in some cases the empress held the royal court together with the emperor. When this happened, the empress had to wear a certain kind of court robe to show her status. Winter court hats of empress dowagers and empresses were made of marten and sewn with red wefts. Their hats adorned with pearl, gold pheasant patterns, gems and jade ornaments with a protective collar behind the neck with drooping bright yellow ribbons. The winter court robes of empress dowagers, queens and high-ranked imperial concubines were bright yellow and were also decorated with images of dragon patterns. Summer court hats were made of cyan velvet.

Empress dowagers, queens and high-ranked imperial concubines used cyan sheets with gold-wrapped metal trims to decorate their court costumes; images of dragons and Chinese characters Fu (blessing) and Shou (longevity) were embroidered on their clothes. Neck lines of dresses of empress dowagers and queens were made of golden filament and decorated with pearls and jade ornaments. Three sets of necklaces were hung on the chest when empress dowagers and queens wore court robes. When an empress dowager or queen was in auspicious clothing, she always wore a necklace made of pearls, jade and other top-grade materials. Court necklaces for imperial concubines were decorated with ambers, each having 108 beads in four parts divided by three big ones.