Types and Characteristics of Traditional Chinese Clothing

Traditional Chinese clothing reflects the Chinese people’s ancient way of life. It is an outward expression of elegance as well as a reflection of internal symbolism. For example, the battle wear of the Chinese warriors during the Warring States period in 475 to 221 B.C. featured a pair of fighting pheasant feathers in their headgear to symbolize bravery and courage.

Archaeological findings prove that ornamentation and sewing were already used in Chinese clothing as far back as 18,000 years ago. About 4,500 years ago during the period of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperors Yao and Shun, variety and consistency in Chinese traditional clothing were established. Sophistication and refinement can be gleaned from remnants of woven silk and hemp articles and ancient ceramic figures that date back to the Shang Dynasty from the 16th to 11th century B.C.

There are three main types of traditional Chinese clothing:

  • Pien-fu. An ancient two-piece ceremonial garb composed of a tunic-like top that extends to the knees, paired with a skirt or trousers that extend to the ankles.
  • Ch’ang-p’ao. A one-piece shoulder-to-heels garment.
  • Shen-i. Like the pien-fu, this type of traditional Chinese clothing consists of a tunic and a skirt or trousers. However, the upper and upper portions are sewn together like the ch’ang-pao. This is the most popular and widely worn of the three.

Characteristic of all three types were wide, voluminous sleeves and extremely loose fit. As ornamentation, embroidered edgings, decorated bands, draped silks or cloths, patterns on the shoulders and sashes were added. Ceremonial Chinese clothing tended to come in dark colors, while everyday clothes tended to come in lighter colors. Certain colors represent the seasons: black for winter, white for autumn, red for summer and green for spring.


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