The costume of the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-8AD) followed the one established in the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). In the Eastern Han Dynasty, people in black had to wear purple silk adornments to match their clothes. Ordinary people usually wore costume with a long hat at grand ceremonies offering sacrifices to gods or ancestors. The dress of the queen in these ceremonies consisted of dark-purple frock and black trousers.
There were specific stipulations on colors of court garments in the Han Dynasty. Officers must wear garments according to the five time periods, i.e. cyan garments in the spring, red in the first two months of the summer, yellow in the last month of the summer, white in the autumn and black in the winter.
Costume in the Han Dynasty
Female laborers of the Han Dynasty always wore short jackets and long skirts, and their knees were always decorated with long hanging waistbands. Male laborers often wore jackets and calf-nose trousers with aprons around the garments. Farmers, workers, businessmen and scholars were all in the same dressing style at that time.
•Influence to Home and Abroad
It’s no exaggeration to say that Hanfu lays the foundations for Chinese costume and deeply influenced Chinese costumes in a long time. Beside, Japan’s traditional costume Kimono and Korea’s traditional costume Hanbok are designed basing on the Chinese Hanfu.
Thanks to the unified and prosperous Tang Dynasty, costume in the Tang Dynasty plays a very essential role in Chinese history of clothing. The dresses of the Tang Dynasty were mainly made of silk, so they were famous for softness and lightness. The dresses of the Tang Dynasty boldly adopted the features of foreign garments in terms of forms and adornments; i.e. they mainly referred to the garments of other countries (such as the Central-Asia countries, India, Iran, Persia, northern countries and the Western Regions) and used them to improve the habilatory culture of the Tang Dynasty.
One of important features of costume in Tang Dynasty is how women's dress and personal adornments of the Tang Dynasty were outstanding in entire China's history. The clothing materials were exquisite, the structure was natural, graceful and elegant, and adornments were splendid. Though the forms of garments were still the continuation of the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and the Sui Dynasty (581 AD-618 AD), they were influenced by cultures and arts of the Western Regions. The trades and cultural exchanges with Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Persia and other countries gradually became frequent, and they mutually dispatched emissaries and accepted students of other countries. In this way, a special open and romantic style of dress and personal adornments for women was formed.
Costume in the Tang Dynasty
Because of communication with the Western Regions, the influence of dressing culture of other minorities on the Tang court also reflected the change of thoughts and concepts. Chinese women were seriously restricted by the old Confucian or feudal ethical code before Tang Dynasty. The social status of ancient women was very low. They often served as Jileren (music performer), Guanji (official performer), Gongji (palace performer) and Jiaji (family performer) who were regarded as the playthings and goods that can be sold and bought by rich people for their will. While Some females in the Tang Dynasty who had rebel spirit would climb or jump over the walls and went to the nature to view the beautiful sightseeing in the spring by riding horses with men. Just as recorded by many historical materials, some girls therefore dressed as boys in order to go out. Social customs in Tang Dynasty was much open and tolerant, therefor, female wore male clothing was popular among female in Tang Dynasty.
The garments in the Tang Dynasty also greatly affected the garments of neighboring countries. For instance, Japanese kimono adopted the elites of the dresses of the Tang Dynasty in terms of colors and the Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing) also adopted the advantages of the dresses of the Tang Dynasty.
The cheongsam, or Qipao (旗袍) in Chinese, is evolved from a sort of ancient clothing of Manchu ethnic minority. In ancient times, it generally referred to long gowns worn by the people of Manchuria, Mongolia and the Eight-Banner.
In the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), long gowns featured collarless, narrow cuff in the shape of a horse's hoof, buttons down the left front, four slits and a fitting waist. Wearers usually coiled up their cuff, and put it down when hunting or battling to cover the back of hand. Another feature of Manchu cheongsam was that people generally wore it plus a waistcoat that was either with buttons down the front, a twisted front, or a front in the shape of lute, etc. The biggest characteristic of cheongsam is that it accentuated female’s graceful figure.
When the early Manchu rulers came to mainland China, they moved their capital to Beijing. The Qing Dynasty unified China, and unified the nationwide costume so that cheongsam began to spread in the Central Plains as well. At that time, men wore a long gown and a mandarin jacket over the gown, while women wore cheongsam.
From the 1930s, cheongsam almost became the uniform for women. Folk women, students, workers and highest-tone women all dressed themselves in cheongsam, which even became a formal suit for occasions of social intercourses or diplomatic activities. Later, cheongsam even spread to foreign countries and became the favorite costume among foreign females.
Why do Han people like to wear the cheongsam? The main reason is that it fits well Chinese female figure, has simple lines and looks elegant. What's more, it is suitable for wearing in all seasons by old and young. The cheongsam can either be long or short, unlined or interlined, woolen or made of silk floss. Besides, with different materials, the cheongsam presents different styles. Cheongsams made of silk with patterns of flowerlet, plain lattices or thin lines demonstrate charm of femininity and staidness; those made of brocade are eye-catching and magnificent and suitable for occasions of greeting guests and attending banquets.
When Chinese cheongsams were exhibited for sales in countries like Japan and France, they received warm welcome from local women, who did not hesitate to buy Chinese cheongsams especially those top-notch ones made of black velour interlined with or carved with golden flowers. Cheongsam features strong national flavor and embodies beauty of Chinese traditional costume. It not only represents Chinese female costume but also becomes a symbol of the oriental traditional costume. It’s still a popular costume in contemporary China.