Traditional Dress for Chinese Women

Written by marisa swanson
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Traditional Dress for Chinese Women
Traditional Chinese garments have bright, intricate embroidery. (Chinese fashion image by Liu Xiang from Fotolia.com)

Chinese culture is thousands of years old, and so there is a rich history to draw from when talking about traditional Chinese clothing for women. Throughout different time periods and dynasties, Chinese clothing has evolved with the technology of their construction and the introduction of new fabrics.

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Ancient History

Very early in Chinese culture sewing and ornamentation existed. Clothing production dates back many thousands of years. Archeological finds that have been dated 18,000 years ago include sewing needles made of bone, shells and beads made of stone. Fast forwarding to the second century A.D., the first emperor of the Qin dynasty put in place laws that dictated what people could wear to indicate their rank in society. Throughout the millenia clothing continued to develop and change. The Qing dynasty (1644 to 1911) produced types and styles of clothing that are the most recognisable today.

Types

The pienfu and chenogasm are types of traditional clothing for women. The pienfu has two pieces, a tunic top that is usually a robe and is tied about the body, with a long skirt that extends to the floor. This type of dress is still presented in opera and Chinese stage productions. The chenogasm is still worn in modern versions today. This dress has centuries old roots, but became especially popular in the 1930s. This is a long, one-piece gown with a mandarin collar and three buttons on the right shoulder. It can be sleeveless, short-sleeved or long-sleeved. It is fitted at the waist (and sometimes at the chest) and extends to the floor with slits on the side. This dress is meant to show the Chinese female form. Today, chenogasm dresses are worn around the world, and short versions of the dress are available in many stores.

Features

Chinese clothing was often beautifully and painstakingly adorned with embroidery, silk screening and sashes. Colouring was important in Chinese dress, and different colours represented different things, as did images of different animals. Dark colours with bright embroidery were worn for special occasions. Light-coloured clothes were worn by common people for everyday use. Green represents spring; red symbolises summer; white represents fall; and black symbolises winter. Red also symbolises good luck for the Chinese and has therefore been a popular colour as well.

Wedding Attire

Red is worn by many brides in China. The Northern Chinese wear a dress called a quipao, which is a version of the chenogasm. It is often elaborately embroidered with sliver and gold thread. Southern brides where a dress that has two pieces called Qungua or kwa. This dress is adorned with a gold dragon and phoenix. A red veil covers the face of the Chinese bride until the ceremony is over and all of the guests have left. Only when they are alone is the groom allowed to take off the veil. The groom is the only person who is allowed to do this.

Empress Attire

As royalty the empress' attire was richly adorned and different garments were worn for different occasions. Clothing was only made from the most beautiful fabrics such as silk, brocade and damask. The empress had certain robes for court and also different hats for different seasons and occasions. These hats had fur in winter and were decorated with pearl, pheasant feather patterns and jade. The hat also had a protective train made from yellow ribbons that ran down the back. Jewellery was part of empress attire too. Three sets of necklaces were worn over court robes. During festivals there was always a necklace of pearl, one of jade and another of high grade material.

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