Clothing for Men

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Clothing for Men


Turbans. Men’s costumes during the Tang dynasty (618-907) were composed largely of turbans, gauze hats, and robes with round collars. The turban was made of silk. Unlike ker-chiefs the four corners of the turban were deliberately cut into ribbon forms, two of which were tied at the back of the head so that they hung free, while the other two were first folded upward and then tied together at the top of the head. There-fore this headdress was named the upfolded turban. After the mid-Tang period designs of turbans underwent additional changes. The flaps, either round or broad, when stuck up looked like stiff wings, hence this design was called the Stiff-Flapped turban. By the end of the Tang dynasty the turban had evolved differently from the kerchief category, becoming a hat. The gauze hat, worn by Confucian scholars and solitary persons, was the common headdress for such events as imperial court congregations, hearings in the law courts, and formal banquets and receptions. Although the design differed according to the tastes of the wearer, people paid greater attention to new and unique patterns.

Song Cap. The Tang turban became the principal headgear worn by the Song dynasty. From the emperor down to civil officials and military officers, turbans were usually worn, except for participation in sacrificial rituals or significant court gatherings, where coronets were required. The most famous characteristic of the Song turban, which actually had developed into a cap, with two “legs”—filled with supporting wire, string, or bamboo strips, mounted with satin and gauze, and bent into various shapes—which were called straight, curved, or crossed according to their design. The first type was customarily used by emperors and officials; the second and third were worn by staff, assorted public servants and couriers, and musicians, who were of low social status. Covered with gauze, the turban initially had a rattan lining; a coat of paint was applied to the gauze to resist deterioration. The rattan lining was later eliminated, once it was discovered that the painted gauze was strong enough, and the cap was afterward called the paint-and-gauze turban. Tang turbans were normally made of black gauze, while those of the Song were not restricted to that color. At special events, such as weddings and banquets, bright colors were acceptable. Some turbans had gold silk threads, which were made into a variety of designs and attached on top.

Wrapped Turban. As turbans changed into caps worn by all civil and military officers, common people no longer wore them. Scholars and students gradually returned to wearing the wrapped turban, as they considered it extremely elegant. Called the scholar’s wrapper, this type of headdress had a high crown and short brim. There were also other wrapping turbans, such as scholar Chen’s wrapper, vale wrapper, high scholar wrapper, and uncontrolled wrapper. By the Southern Song dynasty (960-1125) the wrapping turban became so common that even high officials wore them. As a result, people slowly forgot the rules governing the coronet.

Yuan Headgear. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368) headgear for Chinese officials was almost the same as the turban, similar to those worn during the Song dynasty. The upturned turban was worn by the staff and servants and

was made of lacquered gauze with two tails stretching out on either side. Worn by gentlemen and scholars, such turbans followed the Tang type, their two tails slanting down behind the head to create a “/ \” shape. Common people wore turbans according to their individual tastes. Many Mongolian men wore ridged hats made of rattan strips, while some preferred bamboo hats. They wore their hair in plaits in different patterns; split it in the middle of the crown to create a cross; shaved the back of the head; trimmed the bangs in the front into different forms, such as square, pointed, or peach-like; or let their hair hang unaffectedly over the brow, plaited on either side of the cross and fastened into a ring that reached the shoulders.

Ming Turban. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) turban designs largely were the black gauze cap, net turban, quadrangular flat-topped turban cap, and six-in-one cap. Officials usually wore black gauze caps during routine court gatherings. Officials wore turbans when presenting reports or showing gratitude to the emperor. The shape of the turban was like those worn during Song times, but it featured ends that were stretched apart like straight rulers. Knitted of good black thread, horsetail, and palm thread, the net turban was a sort of hood that bound hair buns. A net turban not only maintained one’s hair in place, but also it indicated a man’s age. Net turbans were customarily worn underneath coronets, although they could be used individually. The quadrangular flat-topped turban cap, made mostly of black satin, was the normal cap for bureaucrats and intellectuals and was so named because of its right angles at the four corners. Worn customarily by ordinary people, the six-in-one cap, frequently called small circular skullcap, was a patchwork of six caps of gauze. Several other styles of caps were displayed during Ming times, such as the tall scholar’s turban, fidelity coronet, and sun-shading cap.

The Robe. Sporting a round collar, the robe was the main style of men’s costumes in Tang times. Ordinary people and officials often wore robes as casual dress, but not during sacrificial rituals. Most robes were made of fabrics woven with veiled-pattern designs and in different colors to demonstrate the rank of the wearer. In the lower half of the robe there was generally a horizontal band. This kind of apparel was called the band robe and it continued to be the official dress of scholars through the Song dynasty.

Boots. In the days of Tang, men frequently wore boots, formerly part of the Tartar gear. Later, not only military officials but also civil officials and even ordinary people were permitted to wear them, though there were different types of

boots. Although prior to this period one had to wear shoes when entering the imperial court, in the Tang dynasty boots were also tolerated.

Simplicity. The growth of idealist philosophy in the Song dynasty influenced the lifestyle of the people, whose opinions of aesthetics changed noticeably. In paintings, for instance, simplicity and delicacy were appreciated; inks and light colors were favored. The desire for simplicity was even more obviously revealed in clothing and related adornment, when people opposed too much display in dress. Therefore, clothing of the Song dynasty was rather moderate and conservative, with fewer differences and quieter colors, expressing a sentiment of simplicity and unaffectedness.

Official Dress. In Song times government officials wore mostly robes with round collars, except for sacrificial rites. These robes were of various colors—such as purple, crimson, red, blue, or green—to show rank and status. Although regulations concerning the proper styles and colors were created in the Tang dynasty, the Song government continued them. Officials of the sixth rank and above could have robes of purple or crimson with gold and silver fish-pockets—originally used to hold a “fish tally,” an adornment made of copper used to identify rank—hung around their waists. This three-inch-long ornament was carved with Chinese characters; afterward it became a badge to indicate rank, and it was cut into halves. One half was kept in the imperial court and the other piece in the local government. At the time of promotion the two halves had to be presented as proof of existing rank. The pass used for entering or leaving palace or city gates was also fish shaped. Since a fish’s eyes are open day and night, they were believed to stand for continuous watchfulness, which explains the significance of the shape of passes. According to the regulations of the Tang dynasty, all officials above the fifth rank were granted fish pockets to hold their tallies. Although the Song court no longer used the fish tally, the fish pocket was not abandoned and was still regarded as a great honor when worn. When officials of lower ranks were sent on uncommon missions, such as diplomatic ones, they were required to borrow special robes before departing, which were called borrowed purple or borrowed crimson.

Yuan Robes. The robe was the principal costume in Yuan times. Officials wore muslin robes similar to the Han model, with loose sleeves, round collar, and buttons on the left-hand side; the body length generally was long enough to touch the toes. Various colors were used to indicate different ranks. Single-color clothes ranks, with respective specifications, were used by the emperor and aristocrats at court feasts. Made of a special brocade, these clothes had a plentiful diversity of designs, each with its own adornments. For example, there were twenty-six different designs for the emperor alone and more than twenty styles for civil and military officers. In everyday life both aristocrats and common people wore tight-sleeved gowns; less frequently they wore short-sleeved over-jackets, as were favored by servants and entourages. Mongol men wore cuffs that were taut and under the robe over-trousers, which had neither waist nor crotch but were basically trouser-legs fastened to the belt.

Ming Officials. Clothing for men in Ming times indicated a restoration of traditional characteristics, and the gown became popular for men. Court garments for officials employed traditional rules, which called for the wearing of coronets or caps and formal costumes. In significant sacrificial rituals all civil and military officers, no matter their rank, were obligated to wear coronets or caps with their formal attire. Ranks were distinguished by the number of strips mounted and type of ribbon fastened on the strap. When participating in routine court meetings, an official normally wore his ordinary civic costume, which usually was composed of a black gauze cap, circular-collared upper garment, and leather belt. The early Ming government decreed that officials had to wear the over-gown as their ordinary dress, decorated with embroidered square patches that featured birds for civil officials and animals for military officers. Different designs were created for all nine official ranks as an index of hierarchical status.

Civic Costumes. Costumes and trimmings for men of other social classes were identified during the Ming dynasty. Government servants wore lacquered cloth coronets decorated with peacock feathers and knitted girdles of red cloths round their waists. Policemen of lower rank wore small caps, blue clothes with outer waistcoats of red cloth, and blue knitted girdles. Wealthy businessmen wore dresses of silk, satin, or gauze; they cautiously avoided being excessively obvious by confining the colors to blue or black. Yet, they adorned their collars with white gauze or satin to single themselves out from servants and government administrators.

Masses. The formal dress for common people during the Ming period could only be made of coarse purple cloth; gold embroidery was forbidden. Gowns could only be in such light colors as purple, green, and pink. Under no circumstances were commoners allowed to wear crimson, red-dish blue, or yellow. These regulations were enforced without any major changes during the Ming dynasty.

Footwear. Officials usually wore boots or closed toe shoes, called court shoes, while scholars and pupils often wore black double-vamp shoes. Most ordinary people wore normal shoes; in the southern regions they preferred straw sandals. Since the climate in northern China was cold, commoners wore leather boots with erect stitches. Women who had bound feet wore bow shoes with tall soles made of camphor wood. The shoes had external wooden soles, decorated with perfumed leaves, lotus seeds, or lotus flowers. Shoes with internal soles were named interior tall soles or Daoist priest’s coronets.


Tung-tsu Chu, Law and Society in Traditional China (Paris: Mouton, 1961).

Richard L. Davis, Court and Family in Sung China, 960-1279: Bureaucratic Success and Kinship Fortunes for the Shih ofMing-chou (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1986).

Zhou Xun and Gao Chunming, 5000 Years of Chinese Costumes (San Francisco: China Books and Periodicals, 1987; Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1987).

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Clothing for Men

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