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Evolution of Chinese Clothing and Cheongsam/Qipao by lilsuika Evolution of Chinese Clothing and Cheongsam/Qipao by lilsuika
Edit (2/9/13): Corrected some goofs I accidentally overlooked, mostly the collars in Fig 1 and 5. Too many tired late nights and the way the reconstructed outfits were in 5,000 years of Chinese Costume threw me off when I should've known better... Anyways, if you catch any errors or have suggestions, please let me know. :)

Refs: [link] [link] [link] [link] or [link] .

If you want to reblog, please link from my tumblr, due to the fact that I’d like to keep track of my art and because there may be additions/corrections in the future.


Chinese clothing has approximately 5,000 years of history behind it, but regrettably I am only able to cover 2,500 years in this fashion timeline. I began with the Han dynasty as the term hanfu (meaning: dress of ethnic Chinese people) was coined in that period. Please bear in mind that this is only a generalized timeline of Chinese clothing primarily featuring aristocratic and upper-class ethnic Han Chinese women (the exceptions are Fig. 8 (dancer), Fig. 11 (maid, due to the fact I couldn’t find many paintings in the Yuan period), and Fig. 15 (her status is unclear to me, I included her to show that not all Qing women bound their feet)).

My main resources: 5,000 years of Chinese Costume, China Chic: East Meets West, and Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation and Hong Kong Museum of History. 5,000 years of Chinese Costume is an invaluable resource (though sadly currently out of print), I would highly recommend this book if you can get your hands on it.

NOTES OF INTEREST (aka giant wall of text below):

Han Dynasty:
“In the Han Dynasty, as of old, the one-piece garment remained the formal dress for women. However, it was somewhat different from that of the Warring States Period, in that it had an increased number of curves in the front and broadened lower hems. Close-fitting at the waist, it was always tied with a silk girdle.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 32)

Wei and Jin dynasties:
“On the whole, the costumes of the Wei and Jin period still followed the patterns of Qin and Han.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 54)

“From the costumes worn by the benefactors in the Dunhuang murals and the costumes of the pottery figurines unearthed in Louyang, it can be seen that women’s costumes in the period of Wei and Jin were generally large and loose. The upper garment opened at the front and was tied at the waist. The sleeves were broad and fringed at the cuffs with decorative borders of a different colour. The skirt had spaced coloured stripes and was tied with a white silk band at the waist. There was also an apron between the upper garment and skirt for the purpose of fastening the waist. Apart from wearing a multi-coloured skirt, women also wore other kinds such as the crimson gauze-covered skirt, the red-blue striped gauze double skirt, and the barrel-shaped red gauze skirt. Many of these styles are mentioned in historical records.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 65)

Southern and Northern Dynasties:

“During the Wei, Jin and the Southern and Northern Dynasties, though men no longer wore the traditional one-piece garment, some women continued to do so. However, the style was quite different from that seen in the Han Dynasty. Typically the women’s dress was decorated with xian and shao. The latter refers to pieces of silk cloth sewn onto the lower hem of the dress, which were wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, so that triangles were formed overlapping each other. Xian refers to some relatively long ribbons which extended from the short-cut skirt. While the wearer was walking, these lengthy ribbons made the sharp corners n the lower hem wave like a flying swallow, hence the Chinese phrase ‘beautiful ribbons and flying swallowtail’.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 62)

“During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, costumes underwent further changes in style. The long flying ribbons were no longer seen and the swallowtailed corners became enlarged. As a result the flying ribbons and swallowtailed corners were combined into one.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 62)

Sui Dynasty:
“During the period of the Sui and early Tang, a short jacket with tight sleeves was worn in conjunction with a tight long skirt whose waist was fastened almost to the armpits with a silk ribbon. In the ensuing century, the style of this costume remained basically the same, except for some minor changes such as letting out the jacket and/or its sleeves.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 88)

Tang Dynasty:
“The Tang Dynasty was the most prosperous period in China’s feudal society. Changan (now Xian, Shananxi Province), the capital, was the political, economic and cultural centre of the nation. […] Residents in Changan included people of such nationalities as Huihe (Uygur,) Tubo (Tibetan), and Nanzhao (Yi), and even Japanese, Xinluo (Korean), Persian and Arabian. Meanwhile, people frequently traveled to and fro between countries like Vietnam, India and the East Roman Empire and Changan, thus spreading Chinese culture to other parts of the world.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 76)

“…all the national minorities and foreign envoys who thronged the streets of Changan also contributed something of their own culture to the Tang. Consequently, paintings, carvings, music and dances of the Tang absorbed something of foreign skills and styles. The Tang government adopted the policy of taking in every exotic form whether or hats or clothing, so that Tang costumes became increasingly picturesque and beautiful.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 88)

“Women of the Tang Dynasty paid particular attention to facial appearance, and the application of powder or even rouge was common practice. Some women’s foreheads were painted dark yellow and the dai (a kind of dark blue pigment) was used to paint their eyebrows into different shapes that were called dai mei (painted eyebrows) in general.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 89)

“In the years of Tianbao during Emperor Xuanzong’s reign, women used to wear men’s costumes. This was not only a fashion among commoners, but also for a time it spread to the imperial court and became customary for women of high birth.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 89)

Song Dynasty:
“The hairstyle of the women of the Song Dynasty still followed the fashion of the later period of the Tang Dynasty, the high bun being the favoured style. Women’s buns were often more than a foot in height.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)

“Women’s upper garments consisted mainly of coat, blouse, loose-sleeved dress, over-dress, short-sleeved jacket and vest. The lower garment was mostly a skirt.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)

“Women in the Song Dynasty seldom wore boots, since binding the feet had become fashionable.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 107)

“Although historians do not know exactly how or why foot binding began, it was apparently initially associated with dancers at the imperial court and professional female entertainers in the capital. During the Song dynasty (960-1279) the practice spread from the palace and entertainment quarters into the homes of the elite. ‘By the thirteenth century, archeological evidence shows clearly that foot-binding was practiced among the daughters and wives of officials,’ reports Patricia Buckley Ebrey […] Over the course of the next few centuries foot binding became increasingly common among gentry families, and the practice eventually penetrated the mass of the Chinese people.” (Chinese Chic: East Meets West, pg. 37-38)

Yuan Dynasty:
“Han women continued to wear the jacket and skirt. However, the choice of darker shades and buttoning on the left showed Mongolian influence.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 131)

“After the Mongols settled down in the Central Plains, Mongolian customs and costumes also had their influence on those of the Han people. While remaining the main costume for Han women, the jacket and skirt had deviated greatly in style from those of the Tang and Song periods. Tight-fitting garments gave way to big, loose ones; and collar, sleeves and skirt became straight. In addition, lighter more serene colours gained preference.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 142)

Ming Dynasty:
“The clothing for women in the Ming Dynasty consisted mainly of gowns, coats, rosy capes, over-dresses with or without sleeves, and skirts. These styles were imitations of ones first seen in the Tang and Song Dynasties. However, the openings were on the right-hand side, according to the Han Dynasty convention.” ((5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 147)

Qing Dynasty
When China fell under Manchurian rule, Chinese men were forced to adopt Manchurian customs. As a sign of submission, the new government made a decree that men must shave their head and wear the Manchurian queue or lose their heads. Many choose the latter.

On the other hand, Chinese women were not pressured to adopt Manchurian clothing and fashions. “Women, in general, wore skirts as their lower garments, and red skirts were for women of position. At first, there were still the “phoenix-tail” skirt and the “moonlight” skirt and others from the Ming tradition. However the styles evolved with the passage of time: some skirts were adorned with ribbons that floated in the air when one walked; some had little bells fastened under them: others had their lower edge embroidered with wavy designs. As the dynasty drew to an end, the wearing of trousers became the fashion among commoner women. There were trousers with full crotches and over trousers, both made of silk embroidered with patters.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 173)

The Manchurians attempted several times to eradicate the practice of foot-binding, but were largely unsuccessful. Manchurian women admired the gait of bound women but were effectively banned from practicing food-binding. Hence, a “flower pot shoe” later came into creation and it allowed its wearer the same unsteady gait but without any need for foot-binding. Photograph of flowerpot shoe here: [link]


“Ever since the Tang Dynasty, the design of Chinese women’s costumes had kept to the same straight style: flat and straight lines for the chest, shoulders and hips, with few curves visible; and it was not until the 1920’s that Chinese women came to appreciate ‘the beauty of curves’, and to pay attention to figure when cutting and making up dresses, instead of adhering to the traditional style.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 214)

“The most popular item of a Chinese woman’s wardrobe in modern times was the qi pao. Originally the dress of the Manchus, it was adopted by Han women in the 1920s. Modifications and improvements were then made so that for a time, it became the most fashionable form of dress for women in China.
Two main factors account for women’s general preference for the qi pao: first, it was economical and convenient to wear. [...] Second, it was more fitted and looked more flattering.” (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 214-215)

"The qi pao underwent numerous changes in style after its first appearance, and by the 1930's it had entirely changed from its original form to become unique among women's costumes." (5,000 years of Chinese Costume, pg. 215)

Women traditionally bound their breasts in the Ming and Qing dynasties with tight fitting vests and continued to do so in the early 20th century. A ban on bound breasts began in 1927, in which the government started advocating for the “Natural Breast Movement”. Despite this, bound breasts still widely continued into the 1930s. The government also banned earrings as it fell under the criteria of deforming the natural body. The 1930s also saw the introduction of the western/French bra come to Shanghai.

“The little vest was designed to constrain the breasts and streamline the body. Such a garment was necessary to look comme il faut around 1908, when (as J. Dyer Ball observed): ‘fashion decreed that jackets should fit tight, though not yielding to the contours of the figure, except in the slightest degree, as such an exposure of the body would be considered immodest.’ It became necessary again in the mid-twenties, when the jacket-blouse—a garment cut on rounded lines – began to give way to the qipao. At this stage, darts were not used to tailor the bodice or upper part of the qipao, nor would they be till the mid-fifties. The most that could be done by way of further fitting the qipao to the bosom was to stretch the material at the right places through ironing. Under these circumstances, breast-binding must have made the tailor’s task easier.” (Finnane 163, Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation)

Successful eradication of bound feet would not come until the 1949 when the People’s Republic of China came into power.

Under the People’s Republic of China, very few mainland women wore the cheongsam, save for ceremonial attire. In this era, clothing became de-sexualized for mainlanders.

It was the flip side in Hong Kong, as the cheongsam (Cantonese, qipao in Mandarin) continued its function as everyday wear which lasted until the late 1960s. The cheongsam in the 1950s and 1960s became even tighter fitting to further accentuate feminine curves. Western clothing became the default after the late 1960s, though the cheongsam continued to survive as uniforms for students (who donned a looser and more androgynous version), waitresses, brides, and beauty contestants.

21st century
Designers today are creating new forms of the qipao/cheongsam. The fish tail appears to be a current popular trend.

More on Cheongsam/Qipao 2.0 here: [link]

You can also see a more indepth timeline of the Cheongsam/Qipao here: [link]
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TheAngelAmongDevils Featured By Owner 19 hours ago  New member Hobbyist General Artist
This Helped Me
ArtsyBlueWolf Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2015  Hobbyist Artist
These are so beautiful!!!
Untraceablemystic Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Your work is very lovely and full of detail! Is it okay to use the outfits as reference? So long as we make the outfits differ from the ones here?
dudgus2429 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2015
bohimi1 Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2015  New member Professional General Artist
Most faces look similar ???
invertedrealities Featured By Owner Jan 31, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you so much for linking to your references! I've been interested in the men's side of Chinese fashion for an art project and your links will help me tremendously.
Joeyjeelove Featured By Owner Dec 22, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Wonderful! I love cheongsam so much. I'm a fan of the costume XD
Arhodiana Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Amazing! This is a real help to me! :love:
Cocoa-and-tea Featured By Owner Oct 29, 2014  Student General Artist
This is amazing!!
leyuen Featured By Owner Oct 26, 2014
would you be doing an evolustion of other asian clothing's? like japan and korea?
DojangDoll Featured By Owner Oct 10, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
This is fantastic! I'm learning about the different dynasties in my classes, so besides it making sense, it's cool to see how the clothes changed with the different dynastic rules.
Great job, and thank you for making this.
ideal-insomnia Featured By Owner Aug 23, 2014
Thank you so much for this! This reference is invaluable!
Zedahd Featured By Owner Aug 20, 2014
Found your blog excessively interesting indeed. I really enjoyed studying it.Designer sarees
SlimeFox Featured By Owner Aug 8, 2014
Nicely drawn and well documented.
I was wondering what foot-binding was, and eeew...
They say "one must suffer to be beautiful" but this is just horrifying! It's like an atrophy. OMG ANOTHER SHOCK.
Anyway, I like the qipao dress the most. X3 Emote :eeeee: 
lamperouge0 Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2014
This is great! Your art is beautiful.
Contingent Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014  Professional General Artist
Very educational.
EmmetEarwax Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
plate 7 - Judge Dee's time. It doesn't assist me in visualizing the man.
Kazumirose Featured By Owner Jun 23, 2014  Student Writer
Love it! I learned quite a few things there.I loved 1368-1644, 420-589, and 1940s-1960s the best. 
Cagou-rieur Featured By Owner Jun 17, 2014
Very interesting !
Yagamiseven Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2014
sampea Featured By Owner Jun 9, 2014
Starrhia Featured By Owner May 31, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Wow, the amount of research and scope that went into this collection is breathtaking! Fantastic work! Fig. 6 reminds me a lot of the Korean hanbok. Is there any sort of connection between the two?
Wanadoos Featured By Owner May 30, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Hi, I'm doing a project on 18th century fashion, and I was wondering if I could use the Qing era images for my presentation? It would help a lot. Beautiful artwork by the way!
Randamu-Chan Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Wow! Thanks!
mechaW999 Featured By Owner May 23, 2014  Student Artist
You gotta love the eastern culture.
Bronzewinged Featured By Owner May 22, 2014  Hobbyist
I've found an unusual goldmine of information here. 
It's so rare to find information about Chinese culture unless you know where to look. Thank you for compiling this. I like your artstyle, it fits your theme.
Silkkat Featured By Owner May 22, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
This is amazing. I see you've put a significant amount of effort in this, and it seems to be really well done! I love this, it's really helpful. Thank you for creating this.
verge-1 Featured By Owner May 9, 2014  Student
amazing how these style of clothing still exisit not only in china but else where in other asian cultures
bena-ndr Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2014  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Very very useful (OAO) Thank you for this! :heart:
EluoPoussmousse Featured By Owner Apr 8, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is amazing, it's super useful for me because I wanted to design a chinese outfit at a certain dynasty.
Good job on the research and on the drawing !
Shinzhon Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
There's so much research behind this, I don't even realize I'm sure. That's astonishing ! 
EstelleDusk Featured By Owner Mar 4, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Thank you for this. I probably search through a million sites before something like this before I found it. Again, thank you, so much ^_^
LittleKidsin Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2014  Student General Artist
Gah! thank you so much for these! this couldn't exist at a more perfect time!! <3333333 
These are just so gorgeous! ; v ;
RPiedra Featured By Owner Feb 24, 2014  Student General Artist
Amazing! This was very interesting and helpful thank you so much for the research and the lovely deviation
Epiblast Featured By Owner Feb 23, 2014
Awesome reference!
trinioly Featured By Owner Jan 26, 2014
wow...i love your work. Me va a servir mucho :) te lo agradezco. 
AmberLynnL Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Love love love!!
kagnomi2 Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2014
Absolutely gorgeous and a great reference point. Thank you so much for the research and work you put into this art! May I ask if you designed the women to reflect the ideal beauty standard of the time (ie plump/skinny, tan/pale, etc)?
thedirectormrevil Featured By Owner Jan 12, 2014
amazing-thanks-was looking for a little historical fashions for a project i'm attempting to write
Miyeong Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2014   General Artist
I used the hair style of Southern and Northern Dynasties in my Drawing ^^ Thanks for sharing!
Follyfoot Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2014  Student Digital Artist
Goodness! :faint: This is very beautifully done. I love how much thought and work you've put into this. It really shows. :) Thanks for sharing!
TmntTerry Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2013  Student Filmographer
This is great, it will help me with reference for designing some costumes in various styles.
KiriSosha Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I love these
somebodyoranybody Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
real a amazing timeline. It is interesting to see how the clothes changed and the drawings are really cool.
somebodyoranybody Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
*really an (sorry for typos)
Erose355 Featured By Owner Nov 16, 2013  Student Filmographer
One word Amazing!
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