So the Mamianqun, or 馬面裙, or horse-faced skirt, has been blowing up lately especially because of the Dior controversy—here's an in-depth dive into the history, construction, and features of the famous horse-face skirt.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE MAMIANQUN
The mamianqun or horse-faced skirt is a skirt that first originated somewhere close to the Song dynasty worn by high-class courtesans (who were like celebrities and fashion icons tbh) in the form of colorful pleated silk. It’s named this way because of its resemblance to the mamian fortress, which has stairs on either side (like the pleats) and a door in the front and back (like the skirt doors). The ‘doors’ sides of the fortress were known as the *horse faces* or mamian/馬面 because these were the faces of the fortress where the horses would pass through.
It became extremely popular in the following Ming dynasty and stayed popular through the Qing dynasty through Manchurian rule—it’s been around for a long, long time! Mamianqun are more convenient for movement and offer a regal, classy aesthetic as well as a very recognizable and unique silhouette. Even Princess Diana wore one once!
BASIC CONSTRUCTION OF A MAMIANQUN
The Skirt Doors
From the front a mamianqun looks a lot like a baidiequn: flat on the front and back, pleated on the sides. Let’s go over the main features of the mamianqun.
One of the most iconic features of the mamianqun are the skirt doors, 門. In construction, this skirt is made of two pieces of fabric, with a flat unpleated panel on either end of each piece for a total of four panels, or doors. These two pieces of fabric are connected by overlapping one door with another and sewing the whole thing together along the WAIST (the two overlapping doors are NOT sewed together!!! They can open freely, they’re only attached at the waist), so that when the whole skirt is laid flat there are three doors visible: one on either end and a pair overlapping in the middle. When worn, the two doors at either end also overlap at the back, resulting in only two pairs of overlapping doors visible at the front and back when worn.
Since the doors are not attached except at the waist, this construction allows the wearer of a mamianqun maximum mobility, as the two pieces of skirt fabric are free to spread away from each other while still being secured at the waist. You can ride horses in this, no problem.
As for the folds, the mamianqun folds aren’t knife pleats like they are on a lot of standard pleated skirts—they’re a special kind of pleat called 工字摺. The pleated section of the skirt has both sides first folded toward the middle, then back out again, each fold spreading outwards from the center, and so on until you’ve got the two sides pleating outwards in different directions. This allows for a distinctive trapezoidal folding when the mamianqun is worn, as the two sides of the pleats fall forward/backward, allowing for more movement. Usually there are 4-7 pairs of folds on the sides—one combination of the mamian and baidie skirts called the baidie mamian（百迭馬面）has even more.
FABRICS OF THE MAMIANQUN
Like most hanfu, the defining characteristics of a mamianqun depend on its pattern and shape, not its fabric. But the structure of this kind of skirt often lends itself to certain stiffer kinds of fabric, which keep its structure from flying everywhere, and different dynasties tended towards different styles of fabric.
For example, the Song Dynasty was the first time that the mamianqun got really popular. Song Dynasty aesthetics favored the sleek and elegant—the mamianqun there was often very simple, all one color, with softer fabrics and maybe some embroidered decorations. Most of the light colored, softer mamianqun you’ll see will be closer to the Song-dynasty style.
In the Ming dynasty, the mamianqun really blew up. It’s one of the most common skirts paired with the Ao（襖）or untucked top. Ming dynasty hanfu tends to look very rich and luxurious, and their interpretation of the mamianqun was no different—bold reds, blacks, and blues were often the main color of the mamianqun, usually made of thick silk or wool woven with gold thread embroidery. You can see the iconic gold patterns that span in stacks of striped sections around the skirt in a lot of merchant’s Ming dynasty wares.
As the ao top started getting longer, they started to cover more of the skirt, until soon all that could be seen was the bottom one third, since the rest was hidden under the top. As a result, the gold embroidery and decoration started to concentrate near the bottom, with the top of the skirt remaining a solid color without much decoration. These days most of the mamianqun you’ll see has most of its embroidery and patterns near the bottom hem.
As for Qing dynasty mamianqun, I’ll start off by saying that I’m not the most well-versed in this since I tend to concentrate on pre-Qing periods, but one thing I’ve noticed just from observation is the very clear contrast taping around the edges of the skirt doors in Qing style mamianqun, usually in white and decorated by floral embroidery. Princess Diana’s skirt here shows the same feature.
These days, mamianqun has been modernized in a number of ways. Apart from the Dior fiasco, people from all over have been experimenting with this distinctive design for a long time. I personally own a pocketed mamianqun short skirt that I rave about constantly just in case you haven’t noticed me screaming in the chat, especially since the folding pattern makes it stupidly easy to hide a massive pocket in this skirt.
Aside from pairing it with the standard hanfu top, a lot of people opt to pair Ming dynasty mamianqun with a simple button down shirt. Keep the shirt simple, usually just plain white, so that all the attention can be on the colorful skirt and its intricate designs. This is a great way to wear hanfu out on a daily basis—the more fitted silhouette of this skirt plus its skirt doors give it maximum mobility, and the Ming dynasty’s regal style can make you look very handsome and bold.
Alternatively, if you’d like a softer, more feminine feel you can opt for Song Dynasty inspired mamianqun, which usually come in lighter colors and simpler designs, though it takes longer to find them. Some of the fabrics people come up with for mamianqun are incredible these days, involving images of adorable cartoon rabbits and cats while still looking very classy from a distance—you’ve got plenty to choose from! Most will probably be made from polyester and chiffon. Hope y’all find this helpful and keep rocking those skirts!
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