It is difficult to define traditional Chinese clothing as one specific style since there are so many different types of clothing and styles depending on the time and dynasty, they appeared in. However, if we were to highlight two very distinct traditional garments as the most well-known and influential, these would be the Hanfu, which literally means “Han Dynasty clothing” in Chinese, and the qipao, which translates as “the Qi people gown”. Although, these are both some of the oldest traditional clothing, they still have a great influence in modern Chinese fashion, referred to as the modern qipao or “New” Hanfu and qipao.
Let’s look at the history behind these two traditional garments and their evolution to their modernized version in today’s Chinese fashion.
Hanfu is a traditional Chinese outfit which has been prevalent for a long time in Chinese history as it appeared firstly in the Qin Dynasty, 200 B.C, until the Ming Dynasty, around the year 1600. As mentioned before, Hanfu refers to the Han people clothing, thus it was created for the Han people and distinguishes itself from the clothing of other ethnic minority groups. In the Western Zhou Dynasty, hanfu was used to indicate a person’s social status as it was a time of strict hierarchical set up. Can you believe that the differences in the length of a skirt or the wideness of a sleeve were an indication of a person’s rank in society?
A traditional Hanfu is a long gown, with long sleeves and a sash used to secure the garment around the waist instead of buttons. It is characterized by colorful embroidery and a crossed collar with a right lapel (the left collar crosses over the right one). The two main designs a Hanfu can have is either as a one-piece dress or as a two-piece skirt or trouser combo which includes underwear, an inner layer and an overcoat. To complete the traditional costume accessories such as a jade belt and jewelry as well as a shawl are added.
On the other hand, the “new Hanfu” has more influence from the Western style of clothing and thus, integrates these aforementioned traditional characteristics of the traditional Hanfu with a more functional and stylish touch. The goal of the new Hanfu was to bring back wearing it in everyday life since it had become a garment used only for special occasions or formal events. This was because the traditional Hanfu gained a reputation for being inconvenient and difficult to wear compared to alternative modern clothing. By making the modern Hanfu comfortable and more varied in style it became popular to wear everyday especially for young people, children and teachers. The main elements of Hanfu are still maintained like the cross-collar, silk embroidery and retro patterns but designers have focused on making the shape of the Hanfu more fitted and unique to each body. Designers are willing to adapt Hanfu to the needs of today, which keep changing and shifting, and bring its own flair and style to present life.
Qipao was a garment which appeared in the 1920s inspired by the long gown type garments worn in the Qing Dynasty by the Manchu people. It evolved to become the qipao which was named “national dress” up until the 1950s. Traditionally, it was a long, loose dress which had no slits or very short slits in the side. It is usually made of silk and is embroidered with different kinds of flowers, with thick laces trimmed at the collar, sleeves and edges. Qipao was initially designed for upper class women as it tried to convey their elegance and modesty and so it was not meant to be very displaying!
This meant that, originally, the dress covered the whole body almost completely and very loosely. This was hardly considered fashionable or stylish even at that time! That’s why in the 1930s, the traditional qipao was redesigned, adding western patterns to exalt the beauty and curves of a woman’s body. Today, qipao has regained its popularity and is mostly worn for special or formal occasions and has a much more westernized influence and appeal. The main differences which characterize the modern qipao are its fitted cut, right side knot buttons and two wide openings at both sides of the hips. With this regained popularity, factory made qipaos has become widely sold in Chinese shops, but it is hard to find good quality tailor made ones. If you are looking for an excellent quality qipao, Interact China is the right place to buy it! We partner with professional tailors to provide you with a handmade craftsmanship with delicate details and quality materials. Below are some examples of the qipaos we sell, which are divided into Deluxe velvet, premium silk and vintage cocktail qipaos.
Despite the distinctive characteristics which draw the Hanfu and qipao apart, they both have a deep cultural meaning which is kept alive through the transformation to more modern versions of the original garment. So, which one do you prefer? We would love to know your thoughts in the comments and hope you have learnt a bit more about the culture and history of traditional Chinese clothing!
About Interact China
“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”
Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.
So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.
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