When people watching Chinese costume drama, the similarities of the clothing from different dynasties always make them confused. Do people live in the Tang dynasty wear as same as people live in the Qing dynasty? Does Yang Guifei (the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang) and Little Swallow (the main character of My Fair Princess) have the same taste in dressing?
The first fact that causes such a phenomenon of similarities is the lack of historical knowledge by the production team. However, it is also well known that Hanfu from different dynasties does have something in common. Lots of clothing elements have affected the evolutions of Hanfu. This article will focus on a critical one among them: Shenyi.
Shenyi: the traditional dress for male
In the Shang and Zhou Dynasties, the clothing for male nobles was sewn into two parts. The upper part is called Yi (衣, blouse) and the lower part is called chang (裳, skirt). After the warring states period, male nobles started wearing the one-piece gown as female. This is a significant change of Hanfu evolutions. The popularity of it is understandable as It is more convenient to wear and cheaper to produce. Shenyi, a production of age, sewn yi and chang together.
The upper part of Shenyi is made up of 4 panels of ramie fabric, representing four seasons of a year. 2 panels are folded and sewn to cover the upper body. Another 2 panels of ramie fabric are sewn onto each side of the Yi as two sleeves. The lower part is made up of 12 panels of fabric sewn together, representing 12 months a year. Its sleeves are wide with a black cuffs. A wide sash is tied in the front. It is great wisdom of utilizing the principles of nature in sewing.
Straight or curved hem?
From the pre-Qin period to the Han dynasty, the populations of Shenyi have been over 3000 years. It is worn in both formal and casual occasions, playing the business casual clothing in ancient China. Even though Shenyi has come to people’s lives for such a long time, it can be simply categorized into two forms: straight and curved hem.
Hem is referred to a hanging or flaplike part, which is the part of the buttons on modern clothing. The differences between straight and curved hem are as suggest as the names. Typically, a straight hem is where the shirt is an equal length all the way around. The style of it is simpler and more solemn. Many well-known litterateurs such as Su Shi wore straight hem Shenyi in the portrait. The curved hem had elongated sections at the front and rear, which had been specifically designed to encourage tucking. The curved hem Shenyi had been all the rage in the Han dynasty, people wore it from the noble to the ordinary folks.
A comparison between Pienfu, Changpao, and Shenyi
Pienfu is an ancient two-piece ceremonial costume of a tunic-like top extending to the knees and a skirt or trousers extending to the ankles
Changpao is a one-piece garment extending from the shoulders all the way to the heels. It was invented by the Manchu ethic during the Qing dynasty. There are three different styles of Changpao: Danpao (单袍), Jiapao(夹袍), and Mianpao(棉袍).
Shenyi is a cross between the Pienfu and the Changpao. It consists of a tunic and a skirt or trousers like the Pienfu, but the tunic and the skirt are sewed together and essentially one piece like the Changpao. In addition, Shenyi has the longest history and been the most common one among these three.
There are so many different styles of Hanfu that you can find in Newhanfu’s articles. Among all these styles, Shenyi represented a classic one that influenced the ideas and designs of many others. It is not exaggerated to say that Shenyi is a critically important creation in the history of Hanfu.