Attire and Adornment Exhibition of Ethnic Minority Groups

Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

Northern Ethnic Groups

The garments and adornments of ethnic minorities differ a lot between those living in the south of China and those in the north. People from ethnic minority groups of south China, most living in mountainous regions, usually wear separate tops and bottoms made mainly of cotton or linen. What are displayed at this exhibition are the most gorgeous garments and adornment worn by the ethnic minorities on occasions of important festivals, revealing the diversity of models, wide option of colors in the clothing and ornaments for these people.

Fishskin apparel is exclusive to the Hezhe people. Every year when it comes to the fishing season, the Hezhe women would engage in processing fish skin, which involves procedures of skinning fish (usually big fish of ten or dozens kilograms), stripping fat, dehydrating, boiling and removing scales. Ready-made fishskin materials would then be used to make apparel. Given their light, warm-keeping, wearable, water proof and moisture resistant features, fishskin apparel, except those made of the skin of yellow croakers, is usually made for winter wear.

Such fishskin trousers usually go with jackets, boots and crossbody bags. The traditional apparel of the Hezhe people is usually made of the skin of fish, or fur of roes or deer. Both men and women of the Hezhe ethnic group like to wear long leather robes or short jackets with a standing collar, a diagonal placket stretching from collar to the right side of waist, to go with a vest, trousers, boots and crossbody bags, all made of fish or animal skin. While wearing roe-fur robes in winter, the Hezhe people would like to put on a roe-skin robe, hemmed with black fabric or decorated with cloud motifs on the placket, collar and cuffs, as well as two rows of leather or fishbone buttons along the placket.

Process of making fish skin apparel

This robe belonged to a Mongolian woman from the Baerhu branch, the apparel of which usually shows traces of influence from East Europe, such as the generally round shape, standing collar, diagonal plackets, and the long and bubbled sleeves that diminish the girth of wearer visually. This piece adopted purple-ground jin-silk with motifs of clouds, dragons and flowers for the shoulders and the body. While padded with cotton battings on the shoulders to create a raised outer layer, the gown’s body features a lower left slit, flanked by a pair of “一”-shaped frogs.

Vests like this vertical-placket one made of colorful silk textiles and adorned with wide hems and satin strips in various colors were often worn by married women with robes for holiday occasions. The round collar, vertical placket, pleats around waist as well as back slit to allow room of activities are all typical features of the nomadic attire.

With a standing collar, wide sleeves, a diagonal button placket, side slits and a diagonal button placket, this gown is in green jacquard satin embellished with crane medallion motifs, coupled with rose satin for the lining of panel as well as peach blossom satin lining for sleeves. The garment is 143cm in height, with the collar 6cm high, the bottom 99cm wide and two sleeves combined with shoulder 138cm wide.

The hem of the collar, the diagonal placket, side slits, bottom and central seams on sleeves is decorated with three parallel lines of satin strips, namely, a 3.5cm wide pale lavender foundation satin strip with floral and butterfly patterns, a 7cm wide black satin band with colorful embroidered figures of flowers and butterflies, and a 2.4cm plain black satin ribbon. Beautifully-shaped cloud motifs in the form of ruyi added to the two side slits give some more liveliness to the garment.

The highlight of this robe lies in the folded cuffs featuring embroidered blossoms of peony, peach, and orchid as well as butterflies and phoenix on a white foundation satin. The embroidery, with an elegant palette as well as vivid shapes of birds and flowers, reveals the refined fashion taste of the owner.

The garment is 135cm in height, with the collar 5cm high, the lap 71cm wide and width between two cuffs 122cm wide when the garment is flattened. With a stand collar, a diagonal button placket, wide sleeves with narrow cuffs, this robe is in peach blossom jacquard satin featuring motifs of butterflies and small floral medallions, with the latter also called ball flower patterns literally in Chinese. Satin with a lighter color was chosen for the lining, which has been dirtied and discolored. The decorative patterns are densely-arranged on the outer fabric. While orchid blossoms and butterflies are as vivid as in real life thanks to their ingeniously-designed forms, the small floral roundels scatter around freely, appearing individually or in groups of two or three.

With a height of 139cm and a width between two cuffs 192cm, this formal dragon robe made of kesi, a silk tapestry literally meaning “cut silk”, was worn by members of the imperial family with emperor-granted titles. It features a round collar, a diagonal placket stretching from collar to the right side of waist, “hoof sleeves” named after the hoof-shaped cuffs and side slits. Its outer fabric of blue kesi, lined with satin of the same color, is decorated with motifs featuring dragons with five claws, clouds, bats, sea ripples, etc. Its collar, placket and cuffs are all hemmed with black-foundation kesi embellished with dragon motifs, while five gold-plated chased copper buttons can be found on the collar, diagonal placket and side slits.

This robe worn by members of the imperial family for formal occasions features a round collar, a diagonal placket stretching from collar to the right side of waist, “hoof sleeves” named after the hoof-shaped cuffs and side slits. Its outer fabric of blue kesi, lined with satin of the same color, is decorated with spectacular gold-couching motifs featuring dragons with five claws, clouds, bats, sea ripples, etc., which were done by fixing gold threads on the foundation with colorful flosses.

The robe is covered with patterns of dragons, clouds and ripples with dragons as the main element and clouds the supplement. The dragons are in various forms, with some riding the clouds while some others flying casually among clouds. The patterns of ripples, conveying people’s wish for fortune and immortality, originate in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD) when some artists endowed images of seamounts inhabited by immortals with longing for fortune and longevity.

On positions of bust, back, shoulder and lap of this red satin robe there scatter eight floral medallions featuring butterflies and peacocks, ingeniously done by plain embroidery. The blanks around these medallions are filled with auspicious motifs such as phoenix, peony blossoms, plum blossoms, chrysanthemum, etc. And the collar, cuffs, diagonal placket and bottom flap are hemmed with black satin belts with embroidered floral patterns, outlined with strips in gold-wefted brocade. Robes with “arrow sleeves” with hoof-shaped cuffs were usually worn by women of the Eight Banner, representative of nobilities in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD)., when they practiced shooting bows. But the sleeves of this one are comparatively broad, indicating a combination with features of the Han-style apparel.

Designed for noble Manchu women to wear on a daily basis in the spring and autumn, this overcoat features a standing collar, a diagonal placket, folded cuffs, side slits stretching upwards until armholes. It is decorated with ingeniously-crafted piping as well as hems showing sumptuous floral motifs, such as the cloud pattern adorning the upper end of side slits.

Though having kept the general shape of Manchu attire, this piece unveils the influence of the Han culture on apparel-making of the Manchu people as shown by the auspicious decorative patterns. It was made of blue satin with hidden floral medallions and lined with white satin. Six pair of "一"-shaped frogs can be found on the collar and along the placket, two pairs on collar, one on front placket and two in armholes.

The motifs of phoenix flying around peony blossoms on the white folded cuffs are in vivid forms and a harmonious palette, revealing the ingenious skills of the crafters. With phoenix the king and queen of birds, and peony the king of all flowers, the combination of the two became a fixed pattern as early as in the Song and Yuan dynasties (960-1368 AD), and reached popularity during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911 AD). It has been most often seen on apparel and accessories for nobilities, conveying people’s wishes for peace and prosperity. The patterns of flowers, butterflies and phoenix are well-positioned with proper density on the black satin strips. The butterflies on apparel of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD) are usually in natural forms but full of liveliness, as crafters during that period attached great importance to depicting butterflies realistically.

Peach Blossom Sesame Gauze Unlined Cape with Dragon Medallions, Rolled Sleeves and Hem

With a height of 135cm, a width of 115cm between two cuffs, a cuff width of 35.5cm, a lap width of 104cm and a side-slit height of 68.5cm, this unlined cape made of peach blossom sesame gauze decorated with double-dragon medallions features a round collar, a diagonal placket, wide rolled sleeves and hem embellished with butterfly and floral motifs. Five gold-coated chased copper buttons can be found on this piece. Given the good air permeability and the quality of not losing shape easily of the material it adopted, this cape was a perfect spring and summer wear.

This women's robe made of red gold-wefted brocade features a diagonal placket stretching from collar to the right side of waist. The hem on positions of the collar, cuffs and bottom flap of this robe is composed of alternating otter fur in two different colors. And long the inner edge of the otter fur there is piping made of blue and red gold-wefted brocade, giving this piece a sumptuous and spectacular look. Such robe were usually worn by noble Tibetan women to go with a wide satin jacket with long sleeves as underwear, and tied with a waist belt, which would help to raise the bottom of lap to touch the feet. Tibetan women's robes are usually hemmed with luxurious-looking otter fur on the placket, lap, cuffs and collar.

This loose robe with wide sleeves and a diagonal placket stretching from collar to the right side of waist was designed for the wearer to get accustomed to the big temperature difference between daytime and night on the Tibetan plateau. Made mainly of Tibetan wool felt, a kind of fabric with a firm textile, a soft feel and a glossy surface hand-woven by the Tibetan people, this robe is hemmed with wide tiger fur on the collar, cuffs, lap bottom and side slit. And along the inner edge of the tiger there are decorative tapes in yellow, red and blue gold-wefted brocade, with narrow red piping along the outer border. Abstract cloud patterns can be found in the corners of the lap. Tibetan men's apparel are usually found with hem of tiger or leopard fur, a tradition dating back to the Gushi Kingdom era in Turpan which is believed to enhance the masculinity of the wearer.

Blue and red gold-wefted brocade was used for the crown and inner liner of this hat. On the tip with a pleat-embellished edge, there are seven rings made of wool felt in different colors circling five “米”-shaped white embroidered patterns on a black foundation. Each of the ring has golden piping, and the inner circle of the brim is decorated with hems in blue and red gold-wefted brocade.

This silver accessory item inlaid with turquoise and coral was crafted by the use of the chasing technique. On the face of the piece there are ingeniously-chased dragon motifs and intertwining leaves patterns. The belt with colorful piping attached to the item is made of a kind of fabric woven with peacock feathers and gold threads.

Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology
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