Fashion / Style

Explore the Style and History of Traditional Chinese Clothing

traditional Chinese clothing

In ancient Chinese society, clothing was a symbol of status and profession. The dressing for the rich and the poor differed in various aspects. The rich wore clothing that were made of silk while the poor wore clothes that were made out of hemp. There were rules to the colors that were accepted where the emperor wore yellow colors while the poor in the Sui dynasty wear only allowed to wear blue or black. The color of the clothing was a symbol of emotion where red was worn to symbolize happiness while white was worn to symbolize morning.  Let’s explore the style and history of traditional chinese clothing.

traditional Chinese clothing

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In ancient Chinese culture, an individual’s rank in society determined to a greater extent the kind of clothes worn. The limitations ranged from the length of the skirt, the wideness of the sleeves as well as the amount of ornamentation. During this time fashion was generally very simple and unisex. Chinese fashion evolved through the dynasties nonetheless, the clothing was very limited.


Hanfu was the original Chinese clothing that mainly consisted of loosely-fitted robes. Women were mainly associated with tunics that reached the ground while women were associated with tunics that reached their knees. The Chinese outfit has gone through several modifications resulting in three different kinds of variations. The Pien-fu is one of the variations that entails two piece ceremonial costumes made of tunic that extended to the knees. It was worn with trousers by men and ankle length skirt by women. Ch’ang P’ao is another two piece ankle length tunic dress while the Shenyi referred to as two piece top and trouser skirt that was cut to make one piece of garment.


traditional Chinese clothing

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The ancient Chinese wore tunics mainly consisted of long and short sleeved robes that were worn with or without robes. Women mostly wore tunics that were very long touching the ground with a belt around it while men wore short tunics that reached their knees. At first, the tunics did not have buttons however as time went by buttons were incorporated into the garment. Other people wore an outer jacket during winter so as to keep them warm. This kind of outfit is was mostly worn during the Xia dynasty that is between 2070 and 1600 BC.

Adornment and Jewelry

Adornment and jewelry has been part and parcel of Chinese culture for many centuries. They were not only used for fashion statement but also as a sign of social status. There were many rules attached to the jewelry whereby it was very easy to distinguish an individual with the kind of jewelry that they were wearing. Men generally wore buckle or belt hooks while women wore hairpins and combs. In ancient Chinese silver was more popular than gold. Other materials were also used in making jewels like glass, feathers and blue gems.

The ancient Chinese were very fond of jade in that they believed that jade had human like qualities that described hardness, beauty and durability. Early designs were very simple yet they evolved over time.

Pien fu

Pien fu is a unique type of ceremonial dress that consists of two pieces. One piece constitutes a tunic which extends to the knees while the other is a dress that reaches the ankles at the bottom. This kind of outfit was mainly worn for formal occasions and was available in two distinct colors each of which represented a unique meaning. For instance, green symbolizes harmony, wealth and growth while black was mainly grown during winter.


Sheni entails a combination of tunic and skirt stitched together to form a single long suit. It was very popular among scholars and government officials in ancient china. The sheni is basically an alteration of tunic and a skirt stitched together to form a single long suit. It took its inspiration from Pien fu with some alterations like addition of folds and draping using excessive folds.

Chang pao

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Chang Pao refers to a single suit that covers most parts of the body from the ankles to the shoulders.  Chang Pao is basically a combination of several Chinese outfits that constituted a loose fitting dress worn by men. The fashion clothing was introduced into China by the Manchu travelers who were passing through China during the cold winter.


It is a traditional Chinese outfit that was worn during formal occasions, such as ceremonies and official functions. Scholars wore the outfit during the Song and Ming dynasties while the shang dynasty wore the outfit during formal occasions and as a court dress however, its popularity decreased during the Tang Dynasty.

Clothes of the head

Caps or hats are traditional Chinese clothing an important piece of Chinese clothing that have long been associated with ancient Chinese history. The hat was mainly seen in men once they reached the age of 20 as a symbol of adulthood. The hat was very unique to today’s styles in that it covered only some part of the calvaria with its narrow ridge as opposed to covering the entire head like it is seen in most modern cap. The cap is also an indication of social status or hierarchy where the poor were not allowed to wear hats.

Dragon robe

The dragon robe was considered an emperors dress during ancient china and certainly a part of traditional Chinese clothing. The Chinese considered the dragon an important symbol of power that emerged from the heavens. Dragon robe is designed with round collar bones that has buttons on the right side. The buttons were mainly yellow in color since it was the official color for the emperors. Other animals were also featured in the dressing mainly eagle, snake, tiger and the devil.

In ancient China, clothing was very symbolic and is still part of Chinese culture. In the modern world you will find ancient Chinese embroidery being showcased in diverse places like the palace drama. The clothing basically plays a very significant role in Chinese civilization where it constitutes basic features such as cross-collar. As much as fashion changes very rapidly, there are several types of ancient Chinese clothing that are still relevant in modern society.

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