The Art of Traditional Chinese Dress, Five Necessities of Chinese Culture
Clothing can be an expressionist term. People express themselves by what they wear. That is very true in Chinese culture.
A clatter and crash of drums and gongs sound at a theater of Chinese Opera in Taipei as a young warrior appears on stage in traditional Chinese costume. From his head ascend two tall plumes, tracing in the aireach movement and gesture he makes. Some might think these plumes are simply ornamental, but in fact they originate in the battle wear of the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.). Two feathers of a ho bird (a kind of pheasant good at fighting) were inserted into the headwear of warriors of this period to symbolize a bold and warlike spirit, that that of the ho. An outstanding characteristic of traditional Chinese clothing is not only an external expression of elegance, but also an inter symbolism. Each and every piece of traditional clothing communicates a vitality of its own. This combination of external form with internal symbolism is clearly exemplified in the pair of fighting pheasant feathers used in headwear.
Objects found in archaeological remains of Chinas Shantingtung culture, which flourished over 18,000 years ago, such as bone sewing needles, and stone beads and shells with holes bored in them, attest to the existence of the concept of ornamentation and the craft of sewing already in that age. Variety and system in clothing were roughly established by the era of the Yellow Emperor and the Emperors Yao and Shaun (about 4,500 years ago). Remains of woven silk and help articles and ancient ceramic figures further demonstrate the sophistication and refinement of clothing in the Shang dynasty (16th to 11th century B.C.).
The three main types of traditional Chinese clothing are the pien-fu, the chang-pao , or long robe, and the shen-i. The pien-fu is an ancient two-piece ceremonial costume, including a tunic-like top extending to theknees, and a skirt reaching to the ankles; one had to wear a skirt on certain occasions in order to be properly dressed. A pien is a cylindrical ceremonial cap. Typical of these three types of clothing, besides their wide cut and voluminous sleeves, were a design utilizing mainly straight lines, and a loose fit forming natural folds, regardless of whether the garment was allowed to hang straight or was bound with a sash at the waist. All types of traditional Chinese garments, whether tunic and trousers or tunic and skirt, unitized a minimum number of stitches for the amount of cloth used. And because of their relatively plain design and structure, embroidered edgings, decorated bands, draped cloth or silks, embellishment on the shoulders, and sashes were often added as ornamentation. These decorative bands, appliqud borders, and richly varied embroidered designs came to be one of the unique features of traditional Chinese dress.
Darker colors were favored over lighter ones in traditional Chinese clothing, so the main color of ceremonial clothing tended to be dark, accented with elaborate embroidered or woven tapestry designs rendered in bright colors. Lighter colors were more frequently used by the common people in clothes for everyday and around the house. The Chinese associate certain colors with specific seasons, for example, green represents spring, red is for summer, white for autumn, and black for winter. The Chinese can be said to have a fully developed system of matching, coordinating, and contrasting colors and shades of light and dark in apparel.
Fashion designers today in the Taiwan are finding new ways to freely combine modern fashion aesthetics and trends with traditional Chinese symbols of good fortune. The great wealth of source material hasresulted in a plethora of eye-catching designs for childrens and young peoples clothing, including guardian deities, lions, the eight trigrams, and masks of Chinese opera characters. Another more ancient source of printed, woven, embroidered, and appliqud design for clothes is Chinese bronzes. Some of these distinctive and unusual designs include dragons, phoenixes, clouds, and lightning. Motifs from traditional Chinese painting, whether bold or refined, often find their way into woven or printed fashion designs, creating a beautiful and striking look.
Traditional Chinese macram has broad applications in fashion; it may be used to ornament borders, shoulders, bodices, pockets, seams, and openings, as well as in belts, hair ornaments, and necklaces. Some successful examples of combinations of modern and traditional fashion elements are the modern bridal tiara, based on a Sung Dynasty design originally worn over a coiled coiffure; the Hunan Province style embroidered sash made in the traditional Chinese colors of pure red, blue, and green; and traditional sachets and pendants.
The chi-pao is a traditional Manchu design still popular today.
In modern Taiwan society, men are frequently seen at social occasions wearing the dignified and refined traditional Chinese long gown, Women often wear the chi-pao, a modified form of a traditional Ching Dynasty fashion, on formal occasions. There are endless variations of height, length, width, and ornamentation in the collar, sleeves, skirt length, and basic cut of this elegant and very feminine Oriental fashion. From these examples, it can be seen how traditional Chinese dress is the spring of modern fashion.
In the wax museum of the Chinese Culture and Movie Center in Taipei, and at the Museum of Costume and Adornment of Shih Chien Home Economics College, you can see comprehensive and carefully researched collections of traditional Chinese mens and womens fashions from over the ages. A visit to one of these collections is both enjoyable and educational.
The people of Taiwan not only incorporate traditional Chinese dress into modern life; they have taken the silk making, spinning, and weaving techniques developed by the ancient Chinese a step further, and created modern textile industries around them. Through these industries, Taiwan residents can enjoy beautiful fashions with traditional features and modern chic.
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