Clothing for Women
Clothing for Women
Covering Kerchief. Women’s headdresses went through several phases of development, from the kerchief, which covered the whole body, to the comparatively revealing curtained hat and Tartar hat that became popular later. The covering kerchief was made of thin transparent silk gauze, a style initially worn by men and women of the western national minorities. In the Tang dynasty (618-907) men became less interested in this fashion, and women continued to wear it only when they traveled far from home and were afraid of being seen by men on the road.
Tang Curtained Hat. During the reign of Tang emperor Gaozong the use of the curtained hat became popular and slowly surpassed the covering kerchief. Also called the mat hat, the curtained hat was a sort of bamboo headdress with tall top and broad brim. Around the brim, either on two sides or at front and back, a piece of net-like curtain hung down the neck. In later modifications the curtain was replaced by a black silk kerchief that wrapped the two sides of the head so that the entire face was uncovered.
Tartar Hat. The Tartar hat, originally used in western China, was usually made of brocade and black sheep’s wool. The top of the hat was narrowed and covered with a pattern of flowers; some hats were inserted with jewelry.
Tang Hairstyles. Tang women wore buns of many types that were decorated with various sorts of embellishments, such as gold and bright green hairpins, together with combs made of rhinoceros horn. In early Tang, hair beautification was quite simple, but during the reign of Emperor Taizong the buns became taller and increased in number. During the earlier years of the reign of Emperor Xuanzong the Tartar hat was fashionable, but in late Tang many women chose switch buns, called false buns, and high buns were often ornamented with various kinds of flowers.
Facial Appearance. Women of the Tang dynasty valued facial appearance, and the application of powders or rouge was popular. Some women’s foreheads were painted dark yellow; dark blue was adopted to paint eyebrows in different styles. There were dozens of methods to paint the eye-brows; colorful decorations—made of specks of gold, silver, and bright green feathers—were often placed between the brows. Some women painted their cheeks with designs, such as a moon or coin, and applied rouge to their lips. However, during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong costumes were altered, and women did not apply red powder to their faces. They used only a black salve for their lips and made their eyebrows look like Chinese characters.
Tang Jackets and Skirts. The primary costume for women in early Tang times was the small-sleeved short jacket and long skirt with waist fastened under the armpit. After the mid-Tang period, sleeves became bigger and collars had various shapes: round, square, and slanting straight. Some collars were worn without undergarments to cover the bosom. Skirts were similar to those worn in previous dynasties, but the texture, colors, and designs, as well as embellishments, were different. The hundred-bird feather skirt was somewhat popular among aristocratic women, but the garnet skirt was more frequently worn by commoners until the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
Tang Upper Garments. Apart from robes and jackets, Tang women also wore a kind of upper garment, named half-covered arm. Only maids of honor wore this item at first, but later on it became a fashion among commoners. Yet, in stricter families women were not allowed to be dressed in this kind of garment. As a result, its attractiveness dropped after midway in the Tang period, and a system of capes emerged to replace it. The imperial court ordered that ordinary people should put on shawls before and capes after marriage.
Song Styles. Hairstyles for women of the Song dynasty were similar to those of the Tang, and the high bun was the most popular design. Women’s buns were frequently more than one foot in height, and some young women’s buns were combed into a heavenward design. Switches were usually used to make this type of bun. Women of wealthy families generally had hairpins and combs—made into the shapes of flowers, birds, phoenixes, or butterflies—that were pinned on top of the buns.
Song Coronet Combs. The coronet comb was another kind of headgear in vogue during Song times. It was a high ornamental wreath or band made of painted yarn, gold, silver, pearls, or jade, with two loose-hanging patches hanging over the shoulders, and a long comb of white horn set on top. Since these combs were almost one foot long and were heavy with ornaments, the wearer had to turn her head to one side when entering a carriage or going through a door. This type of coronet was popular in the northern Song dynasty.
Song Pin Flowers. It was popular in Song times to pin flowers on the coronet. Inheriting the fashion of the Tang, Song women created artificial flowers, such as peach, apricot, lotus, chrysanthemum, and plum. Some even combined different flowers and mounted them on the coronet. This custom was not restricted to women. The emperor and high-ranking officials also wore flowers as ornamentation on their headgear on important occasions.
Song Head Covers. When Song women left home, they wore a head cover, most probably a derivation of the turban. Women also wore this type of headdress on their marriage day to cover their faces. The representative of the bridegroom’s family raised the veil softly to expose the “flowery face.” This custom continued in the Ming dynasty.
Song Upper Garments. Song women’s upper garments were composed of coat, blouse, loose-sleeved dress, over-dress, short-sleeved jacket, and vest, which were often of muted, mixed colors, such as light blue, whitish purple, silver grey, and bluish white. Lower-class women usually wore jackets. Coats were worn in wintry weather and blouses in summer. The blouses were generally made of silk or satin. The over-dress was commonly worn by women in the Song dynasty, such as the empress, emperor’s concubines, servants, attendants, slave actresses, and musicians. Men wore them, too, but customarily within the official dress. The short-sleeved upper garment and waistcoat (without sleeves) were basically the same for commoners.
Song Skirts. The lower garment skirts were usually made of strong colors such as green, blue, white, and apricot-yellow. Skirt styles in Song times were inherited from preceding dynasties, including the crimson skirt, double butterfly skirt, and embroidered satin skirt. Noble women had their skirts dyed in tulip juice; when worn they produced a flow of perfume, which was extremely attractive. After the Northern Song period skirt style underwent some minor changes. The width of most skirts, for example, was enhanced more than sixfold and sported ruffles in the middle, historically named one-hundred-folds or one-thousand-folds. Such skirts were worn with a silk belt tied around the waist and a ring of ribbon sagging.
Song Shoes. Song women rarely wore boots because they were not compatible for bound feet. Consequently they wore footwear made of satin or silk and embroidered with various patterns, such as embellished, brocade, phoenix, and gold-thread shoes.
Yuan Styles. The robe was the leading item of clothing for Mongolian women and was customarily buttoned on the left-hand side. Upper-class Mongolian women often wore hats, whereas Chinese women generally combed their hair into buns.
Ming Hairstyles. In the early Ming period women’s hairstyles were similar to those of the Song and Yuan dynas-ties, but they became increasingly diverse. Among them was the peacock bun, with the hair combed flat and circular with expensive stones pinned on top in a flowery pattern. Some women combed their hair tall, laced it with gold and silver thread, and then embellished it with pearls and hard, deep-green precious stones. Seen from a distance, this type of hairstyle was similar to a man’s gauze cap. Some women copied a well-liked Han style known as the dropping-from-the-horse bun, in which the hair was coiled upward and laced so that it swayed at the back of the head. The switch bun was made on a ring fixed firmly with iron wire in a style wide-spread in former times. The drum, false hair one and a half times as tall as normal, was fixed firmly on top with hairpins. There were various styles of switches; noted ones included the hat bun, idler bun, pair-of-soaring-swallows bun, and the bun that loosened on contacting the pillow. Some buns were ready-to-wear and available in jewelry shops and continued to be fashionable in the late Ming dynasty.
Ming Hair Clasps. In Ming times young women wore hair clasps, initially constructed of palm fiber, which was formed into a net to hold the hair. Clasps made of yarn and satin became popular later. The clasp form changed frequently and gradually narrowed. By late Ming times these decorations had been transformed into narrow strips fastened onto the foreheads, named the marten-cover-on-brow and the fish-woman’s tie.
Ming Commoners. Clothing for ordinary women in Ming times comprised primarily gowns, coats, rosy capes, over-dresses (with or without sleeves), and skirts. These designs were similar to those of the Tang and Song dynas-ties, although they were somewhat modified.
Ming Elite. Mothers and wives of officials observed strict rules for their dress. There were two major types of clothing: formal and informal. Titled women wore formal dresses when meeting with the empress; getting together with uncles, aunts, or husbands; or going to sacrificial rituals. The outfit consisted of the phoenix coronet, pink cloak, loose-sleeved shirt, and over-garment. During the Ming government special rules were established for substance, color, prototype, and size in order to forbid certain classes from wearing clothes that did not match their rank. For instance, a loose-sleeved shirt could only be pink, and a sleeveless embroidered cloak or over-dress could only be blue-black. Size was also given for each part of the formal dress. Informal clothes of titled women included a long coat and long skirt. Since rules for informal clothes were
less severe, women could wear all sorts of gauze, satin, or silk; border ornamentations, however, were fixed.
Fans. The Chinese used fans to stimulate the fire in a home to keep it burning or to drive away insects. As time went on, fans were created in different shapes. In the Song dynasty (960-1279) there were two types of fans made by hand: the flat fan and folding fan. The flat fan was invented in the Han dynasty (206 B.C.E.-220 C.E.) and was made by attaching
pieces of paper or silk to wooden handles. The folding fan, created in Japan in the seventh century, arrived in China via Korea in the eleventh century and was made from small strips or ribs of bamboo or sandalwood that were attached. After the eleventh century many Chinese artists ornamented flat and folding fans with bird-and-flower paintings, embroidery, and calligraphic inscriptions or poems. The Chinese even mounted and framed the painted pieces of silks or papers for fans as pictures for exhibition, instead of attaching them to handles. The artists frequently carved scenes into the wooden frames. The Chinese also made expensive fans from feathers or woven bamboo, dried grasses, palm leaves, or wheat straw. By the Ming dynasty, the folding fan had become the main style used by artists, intellectuals, and scholars. On average a man’s fan usually had twenty or twenty-four ribs and a woman’s fan thirty or more.
Jade. The Chinese regarded jade as the most precious material, believing that it had supernatural healing qualities because it was so hard and seemed eternal. Its intensity and fineness were linked to the qualities of intelligence, decency, power, immortality, and integrity. Since it was too hard to be carved or cut exactly, jade had to be worn down by using an abrasive and water. Only diamond drills were capable of drilling holes in the gemstone. This time-consuming, careful process for carving jade no doubt enhanced its value. During the age of imperial China (618-1644) many well-off Chinese began to use such jade implements as hairpins, earrings, belt hooks, and lucky charms. Some bowls, plates, cups, and chop-sticks, were also made from jade. It was also used to make containers and rests for brushes, table screens, and signature seals as well as figures of plants, humans, animals, and fruits. Even the emperors held jade scepters as sign of their supremacy. As the gemstone produced an enjoyable musical sound when hit, pieces of it in different shapes were suspended on frames to create musical instruments. Many religious statues were carved in this material, especially Buddhist deities, guanyin (the goddess of mercy) with bowl-shaped lotus flowers (the Buddhist emblem of purity), and the Eight Immortals (eight superhuman figures representing good fortune in the Daoism).
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