Traditional Chinese hanfu costumes has been pursued by many young people. The bustling streets and crowded scenic spots are often decorated with people’s figure in hanfu. Some enthusiasts even actively hold activities for traditional cultural communication. Chinese ancient clothing culture has a long history, from the top officials to the common people, there are corresponding clothing requirements according to different social status in ancient China.
I. Classification of Traditional Chinese Hanfu Clothing
Ancient Chinese women's hanfu clothing can be divided into three parts: Shou Fu (首服, headwear), Ti Fu (体服, main clothing), and Zu Fu (足服, footwear). Although the styles are varied, they can be generally divided into upper and lower garments or up-and-down-attached style.
Before the Western Zhou Dynasty, clothing was mainly upper and lower garments. The upper garment was called "Yi (衣)", and the lower garment was called "Chang (裳)". During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period, people combined the upper garment and lower garment into one piece of clothing, which was called "Shen Yi (深衣)".
"Shenyi" has been the representative clothing of the Spring and Autumn and Warring States period. Many documents have recorded its characteristics. The annotation in The Book of Rites - Shenyi has stated: "The reason why it is called Shenyi lies in the difference between it and other clothings. The upper garment and the lower garment are not connected in the other remaining clothes, but the Shenyi is connected, which fully covers the body, so it is called Shenyi."
The upper body of Shenyi is fitted, and the lower garment is wide and long to the ankle or dragging to the ground. In the Warring States period, whether men or women, young or old, liberal or military officials, all wore Shenyi when going out, and Shenyi was also in accord with the living habits of people which required them to sit anywhere anytime at that era.
During the Western Han Dynasty, women's clothing had new developments, and the most obvious part was the dress, which was cut into a triangle shape which was wide on the top and narrow on the bottom. Because its shape is like a reversed "Gui (圭, an ancient astronomical instrument for measuring the length of the sun's shadow), it is called "Gui Yi (袿衣)".
In Gu Kaizhi's painting, a visual image of this clothing is provided in detail. The dress is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, and the triangular dress is layered on top of each other, which looks like a swallow's tail. When moves around, the dress part naturally floats with the footsteps, and its shape looks very beautiful.
Another type of clothing is "Chan Yu (襜褕)". Like Shenyi, Chanyi also fully covers the body, but it is different in the opening of the hem. This type of clothing has a kind of cotton innerwear, and a layer of outerwear is worn over the innerwear, for the purpose of obeying the rites and civilization. In order to make the clothing more beautiful, women often add edges on the collar, sleeves, placket, and hem.
Over time, Pao Fu (袍服, robe) became a ceremonial dress. After this clothing was widely used in the Han Dynasty, it became the only designated official clothes in the court, and even the emperor had to wear Paofu. Later, during the Sui and Tang Dynasties, its form changed, the cross collar became a round collar, the sleeves became narrower, and the length of the clothing was shortened to the calf.
The colors of the Paofu were also set by rules, the third-ranked official wore purple, the fifth-ranked official wore red, and the sixth and seventh-ranked officials wore green. The eighth and ninth-ranked officials wore cyan. In later generations, it was continuously subdivided based on these regulations. On numerous palace murals, pottery figurines, and wooden figurines, one can see the imagse of people wearing Paofu.
Shan (衫), which originated in the late Eastern Han Dynasty, is a single shirt without lining, with wide sleeves. It was used as a summer garment. During the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties, it was influenced by the clothing of the minority ethnic groups. The sleeves and clothing gradually became narrower until the prime time of Tang Dynasty. Officials wear it as a leisure garment, and scholars without official positions could wear a kind of shan made of white twill cloth, with horizontal stripes near the knees, called "Lan Shan (襕衫)". Poor people usually slit the crotch of the Shan for convenience of movement.
From the late Tang Dynasty and the Five Dynasties period, wide-sleeved robes began to become popular again. The government could not prohibit it, and some officials had to relax the rules in their own jurisdictions to please the people. During this period, women's clothing was as thin as cicada wings, almost transparent but cannot be seen through. And the delicate skin was vaguely visible, with a unique charm.
II. Accessories of Hanfu
A complete traditional Chinese hanfu outfit naturally cannot lack of accessories, here "accessories" refers to the clothing accessories matched with the hanfu upper garment and lower garment. Such as shoulder ornaments, waist ornaments, etc., which are the finishing touch of the overall hanfu outfit. In addition to their decorative function, they are also often used as symbols of identity in hanfu, indicating the wearer's status.
Pi Jian (披肩, shoulder cape), also known as the "shoulder collar", is a clothing accessory that has appeared since the Warring States period, worn on the shoulders. This type of cape was usually made of thick material with a middle opening, a straight collar in front, and a square, circular, or diamond shape, similar to the style of a bib for infants.
The Pi Jian is one of the typical clothing styles in hanfu that not only has practical value but also takes into account the decorative effect. Because the formal dress of ancient women was embroidered and inlaid, which was not easy to disassemble and wash, the stains on the collar would affect its beauty over time. Using a Pi Jian to solve this problem not only made cleaning easier but also strengthened its decorative function, therefore it has enjoyed people’s love for a long time.
Especially in the Han Dynasty, both men and women liked to wear it. By the Sui and Tang dynasties, the use of Pi Jian gradually decreased and became a costume specifically for music and dance performers. In the Five Dynasties period, a kind of Pi Jian with a ruyi design at both ends appeared - "Yun Jian", which was widely popular until the Ming and Qing dynasties, becoming one of the more important clothing accessories in hanfu.
The Pi Bo (披帛) was originally a long silk scarf worn by ancient women on their shoulders and arms. It originated in Central Asia and was introduced to China during the Qin and Han dynasties. It was usually made of lightweight fabrics such as silk and gauze, and was only used by royal concubines and performers. It gradually became popular during the Sui and Tang dynasties, and became an indispensable part of ancient common women's hanfu.
Xia Pei (霞帔), which has already appeared during the Northern and Southern Dynasties, was popular in the Southern Song Dynasty and still in use during the Ming Dynasty. It can be seen that it was originally a common dress for palace ladies, and was gradually given to non-palace ladies (Mingfu) to wear. It is a long strip of silk belt that noble women in ancient times wrapped around their shoulders, necks, hanging in fornt of their chests. It usually has a gold or jade pendant at each end, with colorful embroidery and exquisite workmanship, bright and beautiful like a sunset glow, hence the name.
As a ceremonial dress for noblewomen, Xiapei has always been a symbol of their status. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, ordinary women could only borrow it twice in their lifetime, once on their wedding day and once when they passed away.
However, the Xia Pei in the Qing Dynasty was significantly different from that of previous dynasties. The width of the cloth was enlarged, and the rear piece was added to form a vest-like style. This style was passed down to the Republic of China and still popular today.
The belt, due to the traditional Han clothing style of loose and expansive clothing without buttons, became an indispensable part of traditional Chinese hanfu. It has been passed down and continuously developed, forming one of the many types of clothing accessories with a variety of names and styles.
Since the pre-Qin period, the color and decorative patterns of the belt have always been a symbol of people's status and identity. Whether its function is practical or decorative, it must be strictly based on their respective status. Therefore, the ceremonial dress of the nobles throughout the ages usually used two types of waist belts: one is the "Da Dai (大带)" made of cloth used to tie the waist, and the second is the "Ge Dai (革带" made of leather, used to tie various external ornaments to show off their status.
Shou (绶), a strip-shaped ornament made of silk, was called "Zu (组)" in the pre-Qin period and was often used to tie and wear items. During the Qin Dynasty, the Shou was divided into different levels based on its color and length, and a system of official seals and knots was established, making it a symbol of political power and social status.
The Han Dynasty was the very period of time that the Han nationality was formed as well as the Han costumes were set, and the period of time that the feudal society became mature. In addition to indicating status and identity through hats, clothing, and belts, the Han Dynasty further improved and developed the length, color, and weaving methods of the Shou based on the previous dynasty's system, making the wearer's status and identity clear to all.
Just by introducing clothing accessories, it is not difficult to see the intricacy and complexity of hanfu's categories and styles. If a single category is used to define and analyze it, it is far from enough. The entire system of hanfu's derivative development is complex and diverse, not only borrowing many design concepts from ethnic minorities' clothing, but also reflecting the inheritance and development of Chinese Han culture. It is an important source of information and strength in the history of world clothing.
III. The Inner Beauty of Hanfu
After discussing the external aspects of hanfu, let us talk about its internal beauty now. Hanfu has always had the balanced practicality and aesthetics since its establishment. Whether is the artistic perspective or practical functionality, they are both essential components of hanfu's beauty.
Affected by the geographical and climatic conditions, hanfu's style and materials have produced a distinct softness and hardness difference between the northern and southern areas. Due to the warm and humid climate in the south, people often used cotton, hemp, and silk as clothing materials. The styles were gentle, delicate, and flowing, exhibiting a soft beauty.
In the north of China, where it’s cold and dry, clothing materials needed to adapt to the environment and often used animal fur, wool, and brocade to resist the cold. The clothing styles were heavy, rough, and loose, exhibiting a hard beauty.
Due to the development of science and technology, the artistic charm of hanfu has been fully performed, forming a perfect combination of practical and artistic beauty. From a functional perspective, the constant updating and improvement of production technology have caused social class and institutional changes, which have also influenced the evolution of hanfu's different levels, responsibilities, and forms, with a strong political color. This has had a significant impact on the development of hanfu's styling.
The clothing of civil officials in various dynasties has always been characterized by wide robes and large sleeves, with a scholarly temperamant. The clothing of military officials is concise and heroic, which are closely related to their actual combat effectiveness, exhibiting a simple and lively practical beauty.
Therefore, the practical beauty of hanfu has strong social utilization. It is the foundation and core of hanfu's beauty, surpassing other forms of hanfu’s beauty. From the establishment of hanfu’s form, for thousands of years, its image characteristics, such as upper and lower garments, wide robes and large sleeves, cross collar, belt and edge inlay, have consistently followed the philosophical concept of imitating nature through flat cutting.
Hanfu's styling beauty exists in the combination of internal and external forms of expression. Taking the internal aspect as an example, Chinese traditional culture advocates the meeting of two elements, achieving a perfect balance of Yin and Yang in movement and change. Hanfu's styling beauty is precisely the expression and embodiment of the internal form of traditional Chinese aesthetic thoughts through the external form of upper and lower garments.
People have a natural sensitivity and perception of color, among which, the feeling of color is one of the most popular forms of beauty. Therefore, hanfu's establishment is closely related to color in this colorful world. The influence of color in hanfu is the most direct and pure expression method. It not only accurately and unmistakably shows the identity and status of the wearer through a complete set of clothing color systems but also is extremely delicate and exquisite in color matching and application. It not only demonstrates the practical functions of hanfu to people, but also showcases the artistic charm and aesthetic value that hanfu embodies. The Confucianism, which has ruled the minds of the Chinese people for thousands of years, highly praises the "five-color" system established during the Zhou Dynasty.
While emphasizing the hierarchy of color, it also regards "virtue" as an important theoretical basis for its color aesthetics, believing that the beauty of color depends on the beauty of virtue, and emphasizes discovering and appreciating the charm of personality from the display of colors, giving color a humanistic connotation. From the perspective of traditional Chinese etiquette culture, the broad and generous clothing image of hanfu is a perfect manifestation of the concept of harmony between man and nature, man and society.
From ethical morality to aesthetics, from compliance and obedience to the sublimation of aesthetic consciousness, it is precisely the essential characteristic of hanfu culture. On the one hand, its overall image reflects the ideological concept of the Chinese nation's reverence for the ritual system and compliance with the heavenly mandate and royal power. On the other hand, it also reveals the humanistic spirit of generosity, kindness, humility, caution, subtlety, and longing for peace that hanfu embodies.