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]

Gotheborg.com

Gotheborg.com

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    

2 Fine Pairs Antique 19c Qing Chinese Silk Embroidered Lotus Shoes Bound FeetRare 19thc Chinese Carved White Hetian Jade Mandarin Hat Feather Finial PendantFine 19thc Chinese Qing Dynasty Celadon Jade Butterfly Form Belt Hook BuckleFine Chinese Embroidered Silk Rank Military Badge 19thcAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Embroidered Silk Brocade Robe - DragonsChinese Silk Embroidery Exquisite Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Rank Badge / Panel (first Of 2)Rare 18/19thc Chinese White Black Jade Trumpet Form Mandarin Hat Finial PendantAntique 19thc Late Qing Chinese Hand Embroidered Silk Floral Pleated SkirtSuperbly Worked Antique Chinese Embroidery Rank BadgeB) Exquisite Fine Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Rank Badge / Panel Antique 19thc Late Qing Dynasty Chinese Hand Embroidered Green Silk Short RobeRare Antique Chinese School Art Silk Qing Dynasty Embroidery Square - 19th C.V Fine 18/19thc Chinese Carved White Jade Mandarin Hat Flute Finial Bead PendantAntique Chinese Forbidden Stitch Scholar Immortals Figures Silk Embroidery PanelAntique 19th Century Qing Chinese Skirt Hand Embroidered Dragon Blue/cream/blackChinese Silk EmbroideryChinese Qing Embroidered Silk Court Or Wedding Dress Or SkirtPair Of Fine Antique 19th Century Chinese Embroidered Silk Scent Pouch/purseVintage Hand-embroidered Chinese Silk Robe-late Qing Or Republican Period10 Rare Chinese Qing Dynasty Carved Jade Flower Form Silk Robe Buttons PendantsAntique Chinese Court Silk Robe Embroidered Bat Knot Vase Conch Lotus Gold Fine Antique 19c Qing Chinese Silk Embroidered Purse Bag TextileSuperb Large Antique Chinese Silk Hand Embroidered Embroidery Wall Panel BirdsA Fine 19th Century Chinese Figural Silk Panel - Cantonese ? Antique Gold ThreadExcellent Pair Of Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Sleeve PanelsAuthenic Antique Chinese Mandarin Pufu Silk Robe With Rank Badge, Circa 1905Chinese Embroidered Silk Jacket, Ca 1900. Chinese Antique Silk Kesi19c Han Chinese Woman's Semiformal Summer Skirt Gun Red Silk Damask EmbroideredFine Antique 19th Century Chinese Embroidered Silk Scent Pouch/purse Antique Chinese Red Wedding Silk Emroired Silk Beautiful Skirt As Found Antique Chinese Beige Silk Emroired Flowers Phoenix Bird Robe Coat Chinese Antique Flower Silk Kesi Chinese Antique Blue Silk KesiChinese Antique Blue And Black Silk Kesi A Pair Of Late 19th Century Chinese Embroidered Silk Pictures (forbidden Stitch)A Pair Of Shoes, 'jin Lien'A Pair Of Shoes, 'jin Lien', Blue19th C. Chinese Silk Worked Scroll With Script And GrassesAntique Chinese Silk Work Embroidered Ladies Hat With Silver Bullion Work19thc/20thc?? Framed Chinese Military Rank Badge Metalic Thread Mandarin Square Antique Chinese Embroidery Dragon On Silk Fabric Peking Stitch , Remnant Single Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Sleeve Panel, Bordered And Backed Chinese Vintage Embroidered Silk Panel Peony Butterfly Free ShippingAsian Silk Style Large Tapestry Embroidered Dragon Kids Instruments CelebrationExquisite Tiny 19thc Chinese Silk Double Purse, Butterlies Cockerel FlowersChina Late 1800's China Trade Wood Silk Embroidery Mirror Export Butterflies Yqz3 Pairs Of Vintage Chinese Lotus Shoes / Slippers Chinese Asian Oriental Silk Embroidery Tapestry Textile Framed Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Panel, Bordered And Backed Long Antique Chinese Queue Braid W Silk Tassels Human Hair Pair Of Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Sleeve Panels, Bordered And Backed Chinese Silk Embroidery Antique Silk Chinese Embroidery Sleeve Panel, Bordered And Backed Antique Chinese Plain Blue Silk Summer Robe 2 Vintage People Of The Rebulic Chinese Silk Embroidered Purses Dragon BatsChinese Buddhism Cloth Silk Happy Laugh Maitreya Buddha Thangka TangkaChinese Silk Art Romance Of The West Chamber 41 X 33.5Antique 19/ 20th Chinese Embroidered Silk Collar From Woman's Robe Embroidery!