Hanfu: Beautiful, Elegant, Traditional Han Clothing of China

Hanfu: Beautiful, Elegant, Traditional Han Clothing of China

Hanfu (汉服)


What is Hanfu?

Our students from summer camp were bowing and wearing hanfu as a demonstration.

According to “Dictionary of Old Chinese Clothing”, the term “hanfu” means “dress of the Han people.” In other words, it is a concept to distinguish Han people’s dress from clothes of other ethnicities. While the term/concept of “hanfu” was not commonly used in ancient times, it can be found in some historical records from Han, Tang, Song, Ming dynasties and the Republican era in China.

What did ancient Chinese wear?

From the beginning of its history, Han clothing was inseparable from silk, supposedly discovered by the Yellow Emperor’s consort, Leizu. The Shang Dynasty (c. 1600 BC – 1000 BC) developed the rudiments of hanfu. It consisted of a Yi, a narrow-cuffed, knee-length tunic tied with a sash, and a narrow, ankle-length skirt, called chang, worn with a bixi, a length of fabric that reached the knees. Vivid primary colors and green were used, due to the degree of technology at the time.

What are hanfu made of?

A whole set of the Han Chinese Garment has three layers: underwear, an inner garment, and an overcoat. The three layers embrace ten elements: collar, hem, sleeve, lapel, belt and so on. Also, accessories such as socks, shawl, and jade belt are used on hanfu. There are three main styles of hanfu: the jacket and shirt, one piece dress, or jacket and trousers. The basic type is the jacket and skirt. Later robes became the customary costume. However, the jacket and skirt were women’s favorites.

In addition, hats (for men) or hairpieces (for women) may be worn. One can often tell the profession or social rank of someone by what they wear on their heads. For example, The typical types of male headwear are called jin (巾) for soft caps, mao (帽) for stiff hats, and guan (冠) for formal headdresses. Also, officials and academics have a separate set of hats, typically the putou (幞頭), the wushamao (烏紗帽), the si-fang pingding jin (四方平定巾; or simply, fangjin: 方巾) and the Zhuangzi jin (莊子巾). A typical hairpiece for women is the ji (笄) but there are more elaborate hairpieces.

Some nine categories of fabrics were used such as brocade, damask silk, cotton, yarn and so on and dyed by environmental friendly dyestuff from plants extracts.

Depending on the dynasty and time period, hanfu ranges from translucent silk robes to robes that resemble a Japanese kimono. Each period also has its hairstyles and make-up looks.

What makes hanfu distinct?

Firstly, the hallmark of hanfu is in its cross collar, right lapel, and tying with a sash in place of buttons. Also, flat pattern cutting makes the clothes wide and loose and the wearer both look and feel comfortable. The fabrics for making the clothes were meticulously chosen.

Patterns adopted from ritualistic Chinese symbols were also important for hanfu. They reflect upon different social standings of the bearers. Usually, objects depicting the sun, moon, elephants, tigers, dragons, to birds were embroidered.

Hanfu has a number of distinct characteristics. For instance, one of them is the style on its front. Below is a picture that depicts a typical woman’s dress.

There are two parts overlapping on the front. This is called “Jiao Ling” (Crossing Collar), which is the main feature of nearly all Asian costumes (influenced by China). The order of the two parts is quite important. From the wearer’s point of view, the crossing is always on his/her right side, which is called “You Ren” (Right Front). Some ethnic groups in Asia have costumes almost identical to hanfu, but they prefer to put the crossing on the left side. Therefore, the front style is an important symbol of group differentiation and culture identity. An easy way to recognize hanfu is that its collar forms a “y” shape if you look at the dress from the front.

Hanfu is making a comeback

Notably, hanfu has recently become revived among the youth in China. As Chinese people become more self-conscious over recent years, they started taking an interest in traditional dresses again. They are keen to renew the traditional costume, known as “hanfu”, which has been around for three thousand years, as opposed to qipao, which has only been around for three hundred years. Hanfu gets its name from the Chinese people, who are known as the Han race, as opposed to other ethnic groups such as the Man people, and “fu” means clothing.

Want to learn more?

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