Traditional Chinese Clothing

On July 20, 2011, in Featured China Stories, by Jack Li

Classic Hanfu

Images of flowing silk, immaculately braided hair, and bound feet… where do they come from? None other than dynastical China! Fashion in China has grown in innumerable ways throughout the centuries, each dynasty heralding the arrival of a different style in order to cut ties with its predecessor. Don’t wait another day! Fly with Air China and find a local, traditional hutong-style hotel to stay in via China Hotels to take a step back in time and learn more Chinese fashion in an authentic setting.

Classic Hanfu

In the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1000 BC), the hanfu consisted of a simple, gender-neutral tunic and sash. The following Western Zhou Dynasty established a precedent of using clothing as a status marker in strict hierarchical society. Those of higher class would wear hanfu of different skirt length, sleeve width, and degree of ornamentation. In addition to the garments, hats and hairpieces could be worn by men and women. Commoners wore a cap different from that worn by the privileged, which was different still from that worn by officials and academics. White socks and black cloth shoes were the norm.


Over time, hanfu clothing evolved to consist of at least two or three layers in different colors. Styles for men and women began to diverge with women’s clothing accentuating the body’s natural curves. Different dynasties introduced new trends, such as decoration with floral patterns and use of metal buttons.

Manchu Qing

Silk robes were the historical dress of the Han Chinese people for thousands of years until conquest by the Manchus in 1644 and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty. At this time, a new style called tangzhuang was introduced. This included the changshan worn by men and the iconic qipao for women.


Furthermore, the Manchu hairstyle known as the “queue” was forcefully introduced to the Han Chinese as a symbol of submission to Qing rule. The Qing slogan was: “Keep your hair and lose your head, or keep your head and cut your hair.” Resistance to the queue was bloody. It was not until the early 1910s, after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and establishment of the Republic, that the Chinese no longer had to wear it.

Modern Day

Today, Han Chinese clothing is only worn as part of festivals, rite of passage ceremonies, historical reenactment (common in hotels and restaurants frequented by foreigners), or hobby. There exists a hanfu subculture, a movement created to reintroduce traditional hanfu styles that were banned by the Manchu Qing Dynasty.

Chinese clothing styles have changed incredibly over the centuries. What are you waiting for? Come to China with China Travels and learn more about this astounding evolution for yourself!


Jack Li
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