Modern Garments and Adornments of the Han People

Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

Emerging and developing in close relation to the times in terms of politics, economy, military, belief, as well as folk customs and aesthetic tastes, the rich and time-honored culture of the Han garments and adornments has been a testimony to the intelligence and innovation of the Han people to satisfy their material and spiritual needs, but also the diverse and continuous cultural exchanges between the Hans and the ethnic minorities in the past thousands of years. With distinctive features regarding materials, colors, forms and ornaments, the Hans’ garments and adornments reveal with every stitch and thread the values and aesthetics of honesty, elegance, decorum and implicitness shared by all the Han people.

Women’s light-purple padded satin jacket with standing collar and butterfly-shaped frogs details

Bias-cut plain satin tapes with different width in black, light magenta and green grass were used for the piping on the collar, diagonal button placket and cuffs. The hem of the collar is even more exquisite, with a 0.5cm-wide black satin strip stitched above a strip of light magenta under which there is a bias-cut tape of grass green, all of the three having their own 0.1cm-wide piping.

Rose-purple women’s satin padded jacket with necklace patterns on shoulder details

The most eye-catching part of this jacket is the embroidered yingluo-style necklace pattern by gold couching embroidery above the bust. Yingluo was originally a neck ornament for Buddha statues in ancient India and was introduced to China together with Buddhism. With flexible forms, yingluo can refer to either a simple circle made of precious metal, a necklace with a pendant, a string of beads, or a locket.

Fifteen strands of gold threads were divided into five groups, each of which woven into a 0.4cm-wide braid, intertwining with a 0.4cm-wide blue and white stripe, creating 16 groups of ruyi patterns fixed with yellow silk stitches.

Women’s dark-green padded satin jacket with hidden floral motifs and endless-knot-decorated hem details

The multi-layered feature and the application of endless knot patterns in the hem is the highlight of this satin jacket in terms of embellishment.

Women’s rose-color satin sadded jacket with twelve floral medallions and Ruyi-pattern-embellished hem front

The rows of ruyi-shaped cloud patterns done by gold couching embroidery on the 8.8cm-wide hem bound with cobalt blue satin on positions of collar, diagonal placket and bottom stand out as a contrast to the hem foundation, in terms of palette, texture and light effect, creating a sense of rhythmic movements.

The embroidered floral medallions on this jacket feature various lifelike animals, birds, butterflies and plants, etc. The expressions, hair and feathers of animals and birds are so vivid and lively thanks to the combination of various types of stitches, such as layered, flat, long and short, satin, scale, seed and pad, just as what the satin stitches, long and short stitches, layered and flat stitches and split stitches have contributed to the depiction of flowering plants, and outline stitches to floating clouds and flowing creeks. It is amazing that so many different kinds of stitches were chosen based on subjects that could be arranged on the same garment with a rich color palette and without creating a messy image.

Ink-blue slim-sleeve satin wedding dress with vertical placket and patterns of dragons and phoenix front

This piece is ornamented with various auspicious motifs, with the dragon and the phoenix as the main ones. Both dragons and the phoenix are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology, with the former associated with supremacy or nobility and the latter with beauty and happiness. They have been combined to form a fixed decorative pattern named “Dragons and Phoenix Bring Good Fortunes”, usually appearing on wedding garments and ornaments.

In gold or silver couching embroidery, the target areas on the foundation fabric would first be carpeted with gold or silver threads, which are then fixed by stitches with super thin silk threads.

A new combination of patterns named “three abundances”, motifs of pomegranates, peaches and chayote (a vegetable in the shape of Buddha-hands), were embroidered on this satin vest. All the three vegetables are endowed with auspicious meanings in traditional Chinese culture. Pomegranates symbolize an abundance of offspring, just as peaches stand for an abundance of longevity and chayote for an abundance of fortune.

Red satin horse-face skirt with scale pleats and applique embroidery hem front

Garments like this one are known as horse-face skirts in China due to the shape of panels. The highlight of this skirt in terms of decoration lies in its hem, which is decorated with patterns made by gold couching embroidery and padded applique embroidery.

Colorful horse-face skirt with scale pleats and patterns of butterflies around flowers details

The four groups are composed of two pairs of motif combinations located in symmetry, of which the upper pair, each having a length of 12cm and a width of 5cm, features butterflies, plum blossoms and round moons, while the lower two, each 8cm long and 5cm wide, have patterns of butterflies and peach flowers.

Blue satin lined crotchless trousers with patterns of phoenix and flowers front

Originating in the Qin dynasty (221-202 BC), crotchless trousers are a type of apparel that stretches from above the knees to the ankles, with the hips and outer sides of the thigh exposed. Worn by both men and women, such a kind of garment usually went with the regular trousers with crotch, serving as both cover and ornament, similar to the function of the present-day oversleeves. Such a design, which was also seen during the later Song (960-1279 AD) and the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), reached popularity in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD).

Apricot satin Chinese bellyband with phoenix, vase and lotus motif front

Given their features of abrasion-resistance and relief-style effect, seed stitches are often used as supplemental stitches for subjects with a prominent texture such as stamens, or used for the entire patterns of flowers, animals or figures. It is the seed stitches that were used for the motifs of peaches, chayote, gourds, grapes, pomegranates, etc. in the floral medallions on this bellyband.

The seed-like spots in these motifs, with natural and beautiful colors, are densely-and well-arranged, making these objects vivid and lively.

Ruyi-shaped hand-dyed-blue satin cloud shoulder with motifs of auspicious animals front

Cloud shoulder with gold couching and applique embroidery patterns front

The making of a cloud shoulder covers almost all the aspects of needlework, such as embroidery, painting, hemming, inlaying, applique, patching, pinning, etc., in which embroidery remains as the main category for creating patterns.

Forehead band with geometric, floral and bird patterns front

Invented by ancient ethnic minorities living in the north of China for the purpose of keeping warm, a forehead band - also called hair band, head band or head wrap - is a scarf usually embellished with pearls or embroidery, and tied around the forehead.

Heart-shaped violet-blue satin earmuff with patterns of five bats surrounding a longevity character front

The embroidery technique of split stitches was used for the floral patterns on the pouch while chain stitches applied for the hem. Named for splitting one normal strand of threads into several - up to a dozen fine flosses - split stitches fall into the category of straight stitches.

Hoof-shaped bicolor satin pouch featuring patterns of melon vines, bats, deer and peaches front

Long rectangular white satin pouch featuring patterns of pines, cranes and pavilions front

Ethnic Costume Museum, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology
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