I’ve seen a lot of people around asking what hanfu they should buy first and how to pick their first set, so I decided to do an article on some of the factors that you might not have though to consider when choosing your first set. Without further ado, here’s how to pick your first hanfu!
PRICE: HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?
No matter who you are or how much you predict you’re going to like hanfu, I recommend starting cheap. If you’re buying from an English site, I’d say around the $50-$60USD range is a fair bet; if you’re looking on Taobao I would day that 100-150RMB is a good range (not factoring in shipping) for your very first set. Use your budget as the first and foremost filter for finding your first set—keep it flexible if you’d like, but don’t waste money on your first set when you haven’t explored everything yet.
You can think about changing your budget once you get a feel for what you like: do you want to buy a lot of hanfu because you’re not a hundred percent sure what kind of hanfu you like or don’t like? Then stay at a lower budget first. Do you want to keep it a bit more low-key and get just one or two very specific sets that you really like to wear on special occasions? Think about expanding to maybe the $75-100 USD range or the 200-400RMB range.
Remember, if you end up not liking something that you bought, you can always try to resell it! There’s a lot of hanfu enthusiasts out there looking for more accessible hanfu and selling it to somebody else that likes it more secondhand can be a great way to both contribute to the community and get some of your money back.
AESTHETIC: WHAT KIND OF HANFU AM I INTERESTED IN?
When I look for hanfu, I tend to separate different sets into a couple of different aesthetics: daily, martial, traditional, cute, and ethereal. Not every piece of hanfu will fit into one of these aesthetics, and some can overlap between more than one, but these are the main categories of vibes that the hanfu puts out.
Daily hanfu is hanfu that you can wear out on a daily basis: simple, casual, and not much of a departure from most normal clothing. People who want to keep their style a little more low-key or want to wear their hanfu out casually just for fun will probably like this style a bit more than the other, more flashy aesthetics. You can pretty easily take these sets apart and pair them with other clothing too as an accent piece.
Martial hanfu usually has a really cool, wuxia-style feel. These ones are suited for people who are into the more edgy and cool looking vibe, and might want to take some pictures holding a sword or a bow and arrow. Many of these are simpler in design with a darker color and more structured feel, and some styles like the yuanlingpao sort of automatically lend themselves to this aesthetic. Look for styles like these if you want to look like a martial artist wandering the jianghu (world of wuxia).
Traditional hanfu takes its inspiration from history and culture more deeply than any of the other aesthetics, sticking close to traditional embroidery and high-quality fabric. The shapes of these might not be as practical or fantastical, but they will for sure bring you back in time to the world of the ancients. Many of these are modeled after clothing from the nobles and feature luxurious fabrics and designs with plenty of traditional detail. Some people enjoy wearing these for special occasions, and others like wearing them just for fun—they’re just closer to history and tradition than the rest of the aesthetic.
Cute hanfu usually takes inspiration from lolita and younger styles. Typically this is a little more modified than the other hanfu styles, but if your usual taste lies in youthful and bright colors, you might like the cute style a bit more. They’re quite striking and stand out really well, usually in pastels or warm colors, especially for girls, and are usually surprisingly comfortable, perfect for the inner girly girl.
Lastly is ethereal, one of the most popular categories: flowy, light, and layered. These often come with a ton of fabric and very immortal or fairy-like vibes, usually in pale, dignified colors and large sleeves or skirts. While they’re usually pretty difficult to move around me, they come in a lot of classic styles that are always sure to impress, and they tend to be the most popular aesthetic out of all of them, since they make use of hanfu’s flowy and diaphanous nature to show off its distinctions.
Try to pick from these aesthetics to see what you like—they should help you narrow down your search pretty significantly! Keep in mind how experienced you are with moving around in long sleeves and skirts (it can be really difficult to get used to at first, so limit yourself to the less burdensome styles first if you think you might have some trouble) and how comfortable you’d be with standing out (if not, try some of the more lowkey styles). Most important is how you want to feel: just a normal person with great fashion, a noble martial artist, an empress from ancient times, a cute fairy, a powerful and dignified immortal? Ask yourself these questions to help guide your searches.
LOCATION: WHERE SHOULD I BUY MY FIRST HANFU FROM?
Two questions: Can you read Chinese? And how long are you willing to wait?
If you can read Chinese, hands down I would recommend Taobao. While it can be quite difficult to navigate, even for people who can read pretty well, it’s got the widest variety of hanfu out there—you can find any kind of hanfu you want there, with a wide range of prices and styles. You will have to wait quite a while for international shipping if you use consolidated shipping, which is the only choice that most sellers offer, and signing up for an account can be a little confusing, but this is the biggest library of hanfu that you can find.
If you’re like most people and are less fluent in Chinese, don’t want to wait so long, or just want an easier to navigate site, right here on Newhanfu there’s a wide selection of hanfu that can be shipped in about a third of the time that Taobao offers—and the best part, it happens to be in English! It’s easy to sort and has plenty of sales so you can snag something discounted really easily.
The third option is good for people on a budget: secondhand hanfu. Your selection will be a lot smaller and you’ll have to dig pretty deep to search for someone offering something, but you’ll get it much faster, with cheaper shipping, a better price, and it’s a great way to make new friends! Remember, if you ever get a set that you don’t like, you can also sell it—there are plenty of people looking for their first sets 🙂
GENERAL TIPS: WHAT SHOULD I WATCH OUT FOR?
First off is practicality. Can you move around in it? Can you walk up the stairs in it? Are you going to be able to walk around in it and feel great? If so, go for it! You really have to imagine yourself wearing the set to determine if you’re going to like it—seeing it on the model and liking it isn’t quite the same as wanting to wear it yourself.
Quality and fabric are also important. Starting cheap is okay, but be sure to examine the differences between printed and embroidered details to make sure that it’s what you want. Most hanfu at an affordable price point is made of polyester, which is surprisingly comfortable, so don’t worry about it not being real silk or rayon or something. Do, however, scour the reviews for pictures of purchased products and especially issues that people have had with it, as those are often the biggest indicators of what you’re going to get.
Come up with a list of around 3-5 sets before you pick your first one and actually press purchase—don’t overwhelm yourself with the choices, you’ve got to get started somewhere! Remember that you can always resell and buy a new set later. If you really can’t pick, you can also ask for the opinions of family, friends, and even the Newhanfu community, which I do sometimes even though I’ve got a whole rack of hanfu myself.
Hope that this helps you pick your first set and that you’ll be willing to share your first hanfu with the Newhanfu community when you get it!
More Hanfu style selection guide: