The Shang Dynasty, which ruled over a vast area of China from roughly 1600 BCE to 1046 BCE, is known not only for its impressive dynasty achievements in bronze casting, architecture, and oracle bone script but also for its exquisite attire and makeup. Clothing and cosmetics were more than just functional items during this era; they were essential elements that reflected one's social status, class, and personal taste. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating world of Shang Dynasty fashion and beauty and learn about the various styles, materials, and colors used by ancient Chinese people to express themselves through their appearance.
The Clothing of the Shang Dynasty
Shang Tang, the head of the vassal state of the Xia Dynasty, led the vassal state to establish the Shang Dynasty in Bo (now Shangqiu) by winning the Battle of Mingtiao. The Shang Dynasty (about 1600 BC ~ 1046 BC) was the second dynasty in Chinese history, also known as the Yin Shang (殷商). It was the first dynasty in China to have direct written records in its own age. At that time, most of the texts were pictographic, or even just pictures. The Shang Dynasty has gone through three major stages, including the Pre-Shang Dynasty, the early Shang Dynasty, and the late Shang Dynasty. It has been handed down for 17 generations and was composed by 31 Kings during more than 500 years.
During the Shang Dynasty, clothing, dress, crowns, shoes, hats, socks, furs, scarves, and other clothing shapes appeared one after one, indicating that people's understanding of clothing gradually developed from the basic sexual competition and cold protection functions in the early Xia Dynasty to more comprehensive functions such as decorative embellishment. These kinds of new understandings have made the development of ancient Chinese clothing basically tend to be comprehensive and diverse.
The clothes of the Shang Dynasty were mainly made of leather, silk, hemp, and other materials. Due to the continuous progress of textile technology, silk, and hemp fabrics had occupied a very important position at that time. In that age, people had been able to finely weave extremely thin silk, and the color of clothing was also stronger and deeper than before. At the same time, Shang Dynasty costumes have at least 12 different forms.
The Shang Dynasty's clothing continued the form of the Xia Dynasty's upper clothes and lower dresses. Both men and women adopted such clothing patterns. The waist and sleeves of its clothing are basically designed to be tight, with a length of reaching knees, therefore easy for people wearing them to move.
The costumes of the Shang Dynasty also had a very strict hierarchy. The more advanced dyed fabrics, embroidery, and decorations were only available to the slave owner class. The clothing materials worn by folk women were basically rough fabric, which was generally the same as men's clothing. The only difference was the apron beneath waist for women, which was above knees. Such aprons were called Zhan.
The attire of high-ranking officials in the Shang Dynasty typically consisted of a short coat with a right lapel and a cross collar, with long sleeves going down to the wrists and narrow sleeve openings. They wore pleated short skirts around the waist, fastened with a wide belt, and wrapped their legs; on their feet were upturned pointed shoes.
As for noblewomen, they wore long coats that reached their ankles, with a turnover collar, long sleeves, a wide belt around their waist, and a knee covering called "Bi Xi," which was a large cloth worn at the front of the coat to protect the knees; it was narrower at the top and widened towards the bottom. And the crowned their heads with a round, curved headdress.
With the continuous development of society, people's pursuit of patterns also has shown subjective consciousness, which was also manifested as the germination consciousness of totem. At that time, people would worship some animals as totems (such as birds, fish, tigers, etc.). Their patterns were first used in the utensils (wine sets, tableware, daily necessities) used by people, but soon manifested in clothing. In the Shang Dynasty, men and women used a variety of jade ornaments, hats, hairpins, etc., which also had these patterns.
As for the clothing, the patterns were mainly based on the cloud pattern, the turtle pattern, and the geometric pattern. And they were shown in the form of two-sided continuous composition. The use of patterns in clothing was much more skillful than their use in bronze. The cloud pattern on the bronzes of the slave society appeared as a bottom pattern, while the cloud pattern on the clothing appeared as the dominant pattern. The decorations of pattern mainly appeared on the neck, cuff, front, hem, and bottom of the trousers, the edges of clothing, and on the belt.
The decoration patterns of the Shang Dynasty emphasized exaggeration and deformation. The structure was based on the geometric framework and symmetrical according to the central axis, and the patterns were strictly constrained within the geometric framework. The head, horns, eyes, nose, mouth, and claws of the animal on the patterns were especially exaggerated, composed of straight lines mainly and curves supplementarily, these patterns had a unified style. Meanwhile, the grim and ferocious aesthetic style, which was the inevitable style under the specific historical conditions of a slave society, was also a symbol of the majesty and mystery of the slaveowner class regime.
Most of the shoes in this period of time were made of kudzu and hemp, with leather and hemp as the bottom, and sometimes wood as well. But the people of the tribe mostly were barefoot without shoes to wear.
If talking about the clothing culture, we have to talk about accessories as well. These two often appeared together. In Shang Dynasty, both the male and female aristocrats had the habit of wearing jade. The governor even made a whole package of jade-wearing mechanisms in order to distinguish the classes and grades. People of Shang often wore jade which was carved into small animals, among which fish was the most common choice.
People in Shang Dynasty worshiped ancestors and divines very sincerely, therefore sacrifice rites became a major etiquette of Yinshang. Under such background, the sacrificial rites of Shang has developed more and more comprehensively, and the corresponding clothing have changed accordingly. The Mian Fu were worn by the emperors. The style, color, and pattern of crown costumes originated from the respect toward Heaven and Earth as well as the pursuit of the order Qian and Kun.
Such hierarchical differences shown in clothing during the Yinshang Dynasty were closely related to the more prosperous economy and more developed technology at that time comparing to the primitive society. During the Yin and Shang Dynasties, clothing can appear such a hierarchical difference, which is closely related to its more prosperous economy and continuous progress of technology compared with the original period.
At the same time, it was also because of the continuous accumulation of people 's experience and the continuous progress of cognition that it was possible to provide the society with a large number of clothing materials. Therefore, the ruling class could choose the superiors for their own use, and abandon the inferiors to the poor.
In order to be able to divide the grade on the texture, color and pattern of clothing materials, people’s wisdom also laid the foundation for the hierarchy of future generations, thus formally establishing the clothing system in later generations. The clothing system set relevant regulations on the clothes, background color and pattern worn by emperors and officials, as an important symbol to distinguish the grade of identity.
The Makeup of the Shang Dynasty
The makeup level of the Shang Dynasty was not developed, and there was no wig, but at that time, lead powder had begun to be used as a foundation, and the Shang Dynasty had unearthed cinnabar for lip makeup. At that time, women would scrape off their original eyebrows and use Dai to draw eyebrows. Moth eyebrows style were very popular eyebrow makeup at that time.
The male hairstyle of the Shang Dynasty was mainly braids. During this period, there were many types of male hair braids: combing all the hair to the top and braiding them in one, and then hanging it down to the back of the head; dividing all the hair into two parts and braiding them from left and right sides with the curled tips, hanging to the shoulders; braiding all the hair and combing them into a bun on the top of the head. In addition to braids, men at that time also favored crowns, scarves.
At the time the more popular style was rolling the head scarf into a long strip and fastening it on the head by circling around the forehead like a headband. To prevent freezing weather in winter, people would wear thick leather hats.
The hair style of women in the Shang Dynasty was generally similar to that of men. Their braids style was mostly curly and hanging to shoulders. They also wore scarfs and crowns which were like headbands. Some women would comb their hair into a bun on the top of the head, which was called “Ding Xin Bun”. The top of the bun was crossed by a hairpin made of bone. Sometimes the bun was crossed on the sides by two bird-shaped jade-made hairpins. The elder girls would comb their hair into braids, while the younger girls would comb two little horn-shaped ponytails.