The Fashion of China and How the World Sees It

The history of traditional Chinese fashion stretches farther back in time than the 7th century. The traditional style of dress for many centuries, through the Han Dynasty up until the Qing Dynasty was established was known as the Hanfu. This was the overall name for the silk robe worn by the people of China. These Hanfu ranged from different styles, to different colours with varying embroidered patterns. The silk garments were often made in vivid primary colours, though green was also a popular choice. Much of the embroidery on the more formal clothing was done in gold and red: regal colours.

As we have now, back during the Han Dynasty there were many different styles if Hanfu for each occasion, and obviously slight differences between the men and women’s styles. One style of an informal women’s Hanfu is known as a Shenyi Quju. This specific style of Hanfu is one of the simplest, as it consisted of a full body robe made of only one piece, rather than several separate pieces. The robe would have overly large sleeves and a diagonal hem which would be wrapped around the waist and tied in place with a sash. As is common in the western world today, the more extravagant the event, the more regal the Hanfu to be worn. Typically, as the company one would be with becomes more regal, the clothing choice tended to become very colourful and elaborately embroidered, often with gold silk thread on a red or dark background.

For centuries, the practice of foot binding was a discipline millions of women had to endure. This was the practice many women would put their daughters through, of breaking the child’s toes and the arch of the foot and strapping them back and together so that the foot would not grow. This was typically started between the ages of 2 and 5, and would often render the children unable to walk. It often took the girls years to learn to walk again, and many of them lost the ability to work because of the pain in their feet. The ideal length of what was know as a Lotus Bud foot was roughly 7 and a half centimetres, and generally amongst women of the time, the smaller their feet were, the more attractive they were. It was a way for women to display their wealth and beauty, a way to attract a husband. Now, despite the fact that feet binding isn’t happening any more, women are still putting themselves through the agony of wearing the highest heals they can. Even though a significant amount of chinese traditional dress is no longer seen except from in exhibits, many of Chinas most influential designers are taking into their designs, the beautiful embroidery, and the vivid colours.

China’s stake in the fashion world is small, but growing steadily, with designers like Qiu Hao, Jenni Ji of La Vie and Uma Wang making their mark. As China is a changing world, one can expect the fashion to follow suit and become much more westernised. The designer Ne-Tiger, however are deliberately trying to incorporate the intricacies of traditional chinese design into their fashions. Lead designer Zhang Zhifeng has been particularly outspoken about traditional fabrics, and patters, loving the combination of modern designs and traditionally cultural elements. Uma Wang, another of China’s most influential designers isn’t as traditional as Zhifeng, however, has become renowned for her ability to mix different fabrics and textures and coming up with incredible designs with subtle detail. In 2011, Wang was awarded the Audi Award for Best Progressive Designer.

The world sees Chinas growing place in fashion as a fast growing market, and an interesting place to launch next. It’s a place where designers are able to access the extensive fabric industry easily and cheaply. China is not only great for their own designers, but also world wide designers, such as Versace, Tiffany and co., Emporio Armani and Valentino who were amongst the first to launch in the country.

Not only is the world now focusing on the high-end fashions of China, but also on the street fashion of teenagers and young adults around the country. The everyday fashion around the larger cities ranges from barbie doll pink and puffy skirts to steampunk and dark gothic looks. As is current fashion in and around the larger cities, street fashion has taken to layering, playing with different fabrics, patterns, colours and accessories. It has become known that unlike many western countries, girls in and around the cities are less likely to show skin so layering has become very popular, wearing leggings or jeans with a skirt or dress on top with a waistcoat and jacket on top of that. The desire amongst Chinese youth to be quirky and odd is steadily increasing.

Catriona Suiter

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