Ancient Chinese Clothing: History, Types, Features

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In ancient China, clothing served as a status symbol. The wealthy and the less wealthy dressed very differently.


The impoverished, or peasants, wore hemp-based clothing. It was made of coarse, plant-based fibers. It was sturdy and suitable for use in the fields. Hemp was typically used to make loose-fitting shirts and pants.

The Wealthy

Higher rank individuals wore silk clothing. Silk is a soft, delicate material produced from the cocoons of silkworms. The first people to produce silk were the Chinese, who for hundreds of years kept the process a secret.

Long robes were the norm for silk clothing. They might be dyed with special colors or elaborate patterns.

Rules of Clothes

Colors and who could wear what kinds of clothing were subject to a number of restrictions. Silk was reserved for a select group of people, such as high ranking officials and members of the emperor’s court. In fact, wearing silk garments could result in punishment for those in lower positions.


The permitted colors for clothing were also governed by rules. Yellow attire was reserved for the emperor. Poor individuals were only permitted to dress in blue or black under the Sui Dynasty. Additionally, clothing color represented emotions. When someone passed away, white clothes was worn in observance, while crimson was used to express delight and joy.


During the Yuan Dynasty, cotton clothing was brought into China when the Mongols conquered the country. Because cotton was more affordable, warmer, and softer than hemp, it quickly gained popularity among the underprivileged.


Ancient Chinese culture attached importance to hair. On top of their heads, men twisted their hair into a knot and covered it with a square cloth or hat. Women would coil and braid their hair in a variety of ways, then accessorize it with hairpins. Before being married, girls were not permitted to curl their hair using hairpins.

Hair was typically worn long. Prisoners occasionally had their hair chopped short, which was frequently seen as a punishment. Monks shaved their heads to demonstrate that they were unconcerned with appearance or the importance of long hair.

Accessorising and Jewelry

Fashion included adornments and jewelry heavily. They were worn to denote rank in addition to just for aesthetic purposes. In order for other people to readily determine a man’s position, there were many strict rules about what he could and may not wear. The belt hook or buckle was the most significant piece of jewelry for men. These might be made of bronze or even gold and be richly ornamented. The hair of women was frequently accessorized with combs and hairpins.

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