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History of Chinese Clothing

Throughout China's long history, clothes have always been closely related to the Chinese culture. Changes in clothes also reflect changes in history. A sentence in Yijing (Book of Changes) reads "Yellow Emperor, Emperor Yao and Emperor Shun managed to take charge of the world by putting on clothes." This means that the emperors dominated China by making the rules that reflected what they were wearing. Generally speaking, the history of Chinese Clothing can be divided into nine periods.


1. The Primitive Society
The earliest material for clothes was the skin and fur from the animals people had hunted. At that time the only need for clothes was body covering, protection and keeping warm. Gradually, as living conditions improved, people started to use shells, bones and stones to make some decorations for the clothes. With the appearance of society and various needs for clothes for different occasions, clothes started to have "classes."

 
2. Clothes in Shang and Zhou Dynasty
Shang and Zhou dynasty was a period featured the prosperity of Slavery Society. During Shang Dynasty, some owners of slaves and aristocrats started to wear expensive silk clothes. According some unearthed cultural relics, almost all people wore short jackets with narrow cuff for the upper garments and a kind of long skirt with a wide belt in between. There were also many decorative patterns on the clothes. During Zhou Dynasty, the "class"feature of clothes was more notable. People couldn't wear clothes which were not suitable to their identity. Also the types of clothes were separated according to the occasions such as religious ritual and festival.


3. Spring and Autumn and Warring States Period

With the development of commercial society and the handicraft industry, icreasingly more types and delicacy of clothes was largely promoted. More and more beautiful and delicate clothes started to appear. During this period, there were mainly two kinds of clothes: "deep clothes" and Hu clothes. 

"Deep Clothes" were normal kinds of clothes worn by ordinary people. They were often large and wide with some buttons on one side of the body. The nobler the people were, the wider their clothes were. 

The other kind of clothes are called "Hu clothes". These clothes were worn by other minorities that lived by horse hunting. The clothes went down to the knees and were matched with boots with hooks. They were designed for horse hunting.

 
4. Qin and Han Dynasty
The clothes during this period were not much different from what was worn in the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States Period. The most common type of clothes for women were called "Quju Skirt". "Ju""was the full front of a Chinese gown. The "Quju Skirt " was narrow, small but long. Every collar must be displayed, even with three layers of clothes. In Han Dynasty, the prosperity of the economy, culture and military was unprecedented, thus the etiquette of clothes improved greatly.


5. The Wei Jin Southern and Northern Dynasties
Turbulence and upheavals were common during this period thus the culture of the Han nationality and other minorities were mixed and blended. This was also the case with clothes. Although the clothes with wide and large cuffs were still popular, small, tightly fitting clothes commonly associated with minorities increased in popularity because they were more comfortable and suitable for labour and common work in people's daily lives.


6. Sui and Tang Dynasty
China became united during this period so the culture of clothes was also magnificent due to the development of society and economy. The common clothes for the upper-class were long gowns and they also often wore short hats. Short shirts were worn by ordinary people. During this time people used pattern and colour to distinguish classes. Ordinary people were not allowed to wear bright colors such as red and yellow. Women's clothes experienced some notable changes during these two dynasties. The traditional clothes for women in the palace were popular among the people, such as short shirts and long skirts. But it was also blended with some features from other minorities.


7. Song, Liao, Jin and Yuan Dynasty

In Song Dynasty, there were three kinds of clothes for upper class people: official clothes, everyday clothes and casual clothes. The etiquette of clothes became stricter. Shirts for common people became even shorter; the peasants were even called "the short shirt people". The clothes in Liao Dynasty were mainly long gown. The special part was that the right collar spread onto the left collar. It was contrary to the Han ethnicity who only did this with the dead. 

The aristocrats in Jin Dynasty were called Nu Zhen. They chose clothes based on the surroundings as they were hunters so they needed to dress in the colour of the environment for protection. Although Yuan Dynasty was founded by Mongolians, its clothing had a strong Han influence. The emperor's clothes involved more gold than ever.


8. Ming and Qing Dynasty

After Zhu Yuanzhang founded Ming Dynasty, he wanted to eliminate the influence that Yuan Dynasty had brought on people's clothes. So he gave orders that the clothes of people must follow what was worn in the Tang and Song Dynasty. Thanks to the development of the cotton industry, ordinary people could afford cotton clothes by this time. In the Palace, the phoenix coronet and robes of rank started to become popular among women. The Qing Dynasty saw people forced to have their hair cut and their clothes to be changed. Men had to cut the front part of their hair and wear their hair in braids. They needed to wear narrow clothes with tight cuffs and stockings. They also liked to wear decorations like jewellery. Women liked to wear vests outside their other clothes. Officials mainly wore long robes.



9. The Revolution of 1911 from now.

Soon after Qing Dynasty was destroyed by the revolution, the leader Sun Yat-sen ordered people to cut their braids and change their clothes. He himself invented a kind of suit called the "Chinese tunic suit". It absorbed many features from western suits to make it more comfortable and flexible. It was also called "Mao Suit" because Chairman Mao wore it at many official occasions. After the foundation of the People's Republic of China, the Mao Suit became even more popular and a one piece dress was also popular among women because of the influence of the Soviet Union. After the Chinese Economics' Reform, the style of clothes became increasing in variation. European fashion and Korean fashion is now very popular in Chinese culture.