Have you noticed the weather doesn’t cool down right away when the fall season starts? It’s a phenomenon sometimes referred to as the “Indian summer” if you live in North America, or “old women’s summer” if you live in Europe, and in China, people call it “Autumn Tiger”. It can get really hot during the day but quite chilly at night, so this is a time when people can catch a cold easily.
In ancient China, there’s a history of people wearing vests to keep warm during this time of the year, it was believed that the vest was first developed around 2,000 years ago, and later doubled as a fashion statement as time went on.
Now let’s take a look at the history of this hanfu and How to wear it.
The history of Hanfu vest
Short sleeves or sleeveless garments have been around for a long time. The earliest artifacts found in China were from the Warring States Period (475–221 BC).
During the Han Dynasty, the terms were coined in one of the oldest dictionaries – The Shiming or “Explanation of Names”, sleeveless vests were called Liang Dang (裲裆), half sleeves were called Ban Xiu(半袖) or Xiu Jue (绣䘿). We can find many examples from the Han Dynasty until the Northern and Southern Dynasties.
By the Sui and Tang Dynasties, half sleeves became more popular, and they were called Ban Bi (半臂) during this period of time.
During the Song Dynasty, they were called Bei Zi (褙子) or Chuo Zi (绰子), at the same time, they were given another name called Da Hu (褡护), it’s a Mongolian word which means fur coat or jacket, Da Hu became popular during Yuan and Ming Dynasties.
According to the History of Yuan, Empress Chabi, wife of Kublai Khan, invented a vest for riding and hunting, it is shorter on the front and longer on the back, its name Bi Jia (比甲) is the most frequently used term today for Hanfu vest. However, there were no archeological findings of this particular item, only in other styles.
After The Hongwu Emperor founded the Ming Dynasty, he ordered to “Revive all clothing and accessories back to the Tang Dynasty standards”. So they went back to the Tang Dynasty term Ban Bi again, the short version extends below the waist, with square or round collars, and buttons in the middle. You can find examples of kids wearing it in this famous painting, it can also be knee-length or even longer, the male version is called Zhao Jia (罩甲), women can wear it as both casual and formal attire.
By the Qing Dynasty, it reached its peak in popularity, it became part of the formal outfit for empress and concubines, called Chao Gua, the casual version also expanded into a variety of styles, they were commonly known as Kan Jian (坎肩) or Ma Jia (马甲). These terms are still in use today.
How to wear Bijia
①Wear the Bijia with standing collar shirt:
The first one is from the Ming Dynasty, paired with a standing collar shirt on the inside and a one-piece pleated skirt with plum blossom embroidery.
The hole on the waist makes it more convenient to wear, insert the belt through the hole, and tie it up in the front.
This vest has a round collar, there are pearl buttons on the body, and a silver button on the collar, the middle seam on the back represents a person’s righteousness. This vest and shirt came as a set, so the embroideries are matching nicely.
②Wear the Bijia with cross collar shirts:
Other than standing collar shirts, you can also wear cross collar shirts with vests.
This vest has straight parallel collars, with a pair of pink ties. According to Qing Dynasty scholar Li Yu: vests can make women look slimmer, which is desirable during the Qing Dynasty.
The vest is also a versatile piece of garment for days that have dramatic temperature changes.
You can click on the video to see more details about how to wear Hanfu Bijia:
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