between Manchu and Han Chinese Apparel
Manchu clothing style reflected a specific range of technical, cultural,
and historic factors within East Asian garments. These factors imparted
particular characteristics and shapes to garments. Tapered sleeves,
flared cuffs, curved-front overlaps, skirt vents, or loop and toggle fastenings
were used by the Manchu to emphasize their ethnic separation from, and
control over, the Chinese empire.
The garments worn by the Manchu were very functional garments, and thus,
they contrasted sharply with voluminous coats of the Han Chinese.
Chinese upper garment was a long coat which was either calf-length or full-length,
and was constructed from narrow widths of fabric.
It had a center back seam and wide sleeves which were made from additional
widths of cloth joined to the sides at the shoulders. This design
reflects the rectilinear properties of woven cloth, as well as concerns
for fabric economy. Weaving technology in East Asia was based on
the back strap loom that originally produced widths of cloth insufficient
to cover the body. As a result, upper body garments had a center
back seam where two lengths of cloth brought over the shoulder were joined.
The front was left open for easy removal, but kept closed by a belt, or
later, by pairs of ties. To this basic shape, sleeves of any length
or width could be added, as well as extensions at the sides to increase
the width of the garment. Additional fabric sewn to the front edges
provided overlap for more secure closure.
To the Han Chinese, woven cloth was valued and symbolized wealth.
Weaving was a time consuming process, and silk weaving was very important
to the Han Chinese economy. Silk was both a source of revenue and
a reward for government service. Han garment construction methods
reflected these economic concerns by minimizing the amount of cutting needed
as well as fabric wastage. Han Chinese used excess fabric to indicate
wealth and prestige. This would be symbolized by garments that used
abundant quantities of cloth either through length and width, or through
excessively long and full sleeves. The Han conveyed status by wearing
larger and larger garments one over another which gradually immobilized
On the other hand, when Manchu
garments began to be made of fabric, Han Chinese economic principles and
methods of fabric utilization were ignored in order to continue utilizing
the shape and structure that had once dictated survival in the forests
and grasslands of North Asia. Rectangles of cloth were literally
cut down to conform to the shapes of animal skins, and the excess fabric
simply eliminated from the construction.
The basic Manchu garment was a long coat split in the center front
and sides for ease in riding. Narrower sleeves ended with a horse
shoe cuff which could be folded back. Necklines were rounded and
a front right overlap extended to the sideseam.
A. C. (1958).
Chinese Costume in Transition. Singapore:
V. (1982). Fashion in China. Dress,
J. E. (1983).
Decoding Dragons: Status garments in Ch'ing
Dynasty China. Eugene, OR:
University of Oregon Museum of Art.
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Copyright Belinda T. Orzada, University of Delaware, 1997. All rights