Chinese Clothing and Textiles

Textiles and clothing have long been a sign of rank in China. For example, during the Song dynasty, 960 to 1279, officials wore long robes, often adorned with dragons, whose color marked their proximity to the Emperor—purple was lower than cinnabar and green, which were both lower than the dark blue worn by the highest officials. In other dynasties, different colors predominated, as in the short-lived Sui dynasty (581 to 618), during which yellow was the emperor’s color, and the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644), when red was the imperial hue.

Similarly, the embroidery on these pieces conveyed one’s status, transforming decorations into official badges rather than expressions of a wearer’s personality, or even their wealth since some designs and types of fringe treatments could not be purchased at any price but could only be conferred.

Silk was the fabric of choice for such officials. The material dates to China’s prehistoric times, with examples going back as far as 2800 BC. By 800 BC, silk production was highly organized. Sometimes silk was made into a fabric such as twill, other times it was used as embroidery on a base of hemp cloth. The material came into full flower during the Tang dynasty, 618 to 907, when tapestry-weave techniques from the West were introduced. Embraced as kesi, these silk tapestries, particularly those with gold thread, became a major genre of decorative art in China.

Of course, robes and garments were not the only articles of clothing to telegraph one’s place in Chinese society. Belts called chaodai and especially hats also sent strong, unambiguous signals. During the Qing dynasty that followed the Ming, court officials were expected to wear a round guanmao indoors and out. The types of fur that lined these officials’ hats were themselves signs of rank, as were the insignia on the hat’s exterior. The emperor got pearls and dragons in gold, while lesser officials got rubies, sapphires, crystals, and gold, in descending order of importance. Before long, beads in the color of these gemstones and precious metals were substituted for the real thing.

As with many goods, textiles were mass-produced in China, where a seemingly limitless supply of workers made up for the relatively late arrival of the Industrial Revolution. These workers turned out garments as well as items such as embroidered shoes. Today, the highly decorated Lotus shoes designed for women whose feet had been bound when they were young girls are collected as decorative and cultural objects rather than as vintage footwear. The painful practice of foot binding stunted the growth of the feet, which was worth it to status-hungry Chinese families, for whom small feet had been a mark of beauty for roughly 1,000 years. Naturally, though, the girls, who often had difficulty walking as adults, were not expected to complain.

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Asian Art Museum

Asian Art Museum

You can get happily lost searching through the 10,000 or so objects on the Asian Art Museum's website. For example,… [read review or visit site]

Jan-Erik Nilsson's extensive reference on antique Chinese porcelain. Jam-packed with information (e.g. on porcelain… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

Chinese Blue Porcelains, Famille Rose Porcelains, Dragon Silk18th/19th C. Chinese Pair Silk Sided Kesis , Middle Of War2 Early 20c Chinese Silk Embroidery Forbidden Stitch Textile Robe Sleeve BandRare Antique Chinese Silk Dragon Robe Early 19th Century Sadly At Fault Chinese Antique Silk Embroidery - Butterflies & Flowers Qing Dynasty Finest RobeAntique Chinese Imperial Kesi Silk Robe Fabric Hand Bag Purse Coral Lapis StonesRare Antique Section Of A Chinese Mandarin Court 5 Clawed Dragon Robe.Lot #2 Antique Vtg Chinese Silk Textile Shoes For Lotus Bound Feet Foot BindingAntique 19th C. Chinese Embroidered Silk Lotus Shoes For Bound Feet Foot BindingFine Pair Antique Chinese Embroidered Silk Lotus Shoes - Bound Feet2 Late 19c Chinese Silk Embroidery Textile Robe Sleeve Band Cuff Panel With LadyLot #1 Antique Vtg Chinese Silk Textile Shoes For Lotus Bound Feet Foot BindingKnife & Chopstick Holder? Fine Old Chinese Embroidered Silk Floral Decorated Robe Cape TapestryFine Old Chinese Embroidered Silk Phoenix Decorated Robe Hanging W/ TasselsLate 19c Chinese Silk Embroidery Gold Threads Fan Holder Case Pouch ButterflyAntique Chinese Emroidery On Silk - 18th CenturySuperb Antique 1800s Chinese Qing Rank Badge Embroitery Gold Thread ColorfulLate 19c Chinese Silk Embroidery Cloud Collar With Tassels Figure FigurineAntique Chinese Needlepoint Embroidery Chopstick Holder BatsAntique Chinese Finely Embroidered Sleeve Bands With CockerelsRare China Chinese Qing Dynasty Hand-sewn Peacock And Flowers Silk Embroidery18th-19th C. Chinese Framed Embroidery : FloralA 19th Century Chinese Silk Embroidered Peacocks With Detachable Carved PanelBeautiful Antique Vintage Blue/beige Hand Embroidered Chinese Silk Panel.Chinese/japanese Embroidery Of A Dragon- On Silk - A/f - Needs FramingChinese Textile Embroidery Beautiful Antique Vintage Blue Hand Embroidered Chinese Silk Panel.Chinese ? Embroidery Panel Antique 18th Century . ?Vintage Antique Chinese / Japanese Foot Binding Silk Lotus Shoes VgcA Pair Qing Dynasty Embroidered Ranking Badges, Framed. Chinese Stone Belt BuckleChinese Silk Dragon Roundel. Qing DynastyPair Of Antique Chiese Textiles19th C. Qing [ching] Dynasty Chinese Silk Embroidered Robe Trim Segment- 6 Feet!19th C. Qing [ching] Dynasty Chinese Silk Embroidered Bird Elements19th C. Qing Dyn. Chinese Silk Embroidered Leisure Sleeve Bands- Unused!Antique 19th Century Qing Dynasty Silk Embroidered Han Woman’s Skirt19th C. Qing [ching] Dyn. Chinese Silk Embroidered Lotus And Vase Sleeve BandsChinese Bronze Gold-plating Belt Buckle Hook Monkey Boby Fine Antique Chinese Qing Silk Embroidered Robe Panel Or Mat Peacock Embroidery Vintage Hand Embroidered Silk Chinese Robe Forbidden Peking Stitch CouchingAntique Asian Silk, Embroidered Robe19th C. Chinese Framed Embroidery: White CranesEstate Chinese Character Bamboo Decorated Silver Belt Buckle Signed ChinaChinese Lotus Silk Embroidered Bound Feet Binding 19th Century W/display Box 19th Century Chinese Export White Metal Belt With Unique DesignVintage Chinese Pair Of Ladis Bound Feet Embroidered Shoes (f59)Vintage Silk Embroidered Chinese Military Style JacketChinese Silk Roundel. Qing DynastyExquisite Antique Chinese Embroidered Shoes Bound Feet Foot Binding 1890Fine Antique Chinese Qing Manchu Mandarin Silk Satin Cap Hat - SymbolsLarge Unusual Antique Chinese Silk Gold Thread Embroidery Scroll Panel 19c1940's 8 Immortals Designs Tok Wei Tapestry Gold Threads Nonya China SingaporeVintage 1930's Chinese Embroidered Silk Calling Card Case - FlowersAntique Vintage Chinese Silk Hand Embroidery Bird Cushion Front Late 19th/early 20th C. Qing Ching Dyn. Chinese Silk Embroidered Shi-shi RoundelBeautiful 1940's 1950's Jade And Silk Covered Chinese Nesting Boxes Very Nice!.Xl --lined, Silk Oriental Robe--vintageLate 19th/early 20th C. Qing [ching] Dynasty Chinese Silk Embroidered Roundel