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    

Fine Old Antique Chinese Silk Embroidered Imperial Court Five Claw Dragon Robe Huge Antique Vintage Hand Embroidered Silk Piano Shawl Victorian Chinese CantonEstate Lot Chinese Dragon Phoenix Fu Loin Silk Panels Rank Badges Shoes EtcAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Mandarin's Dragon Robe - Ji-fuAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Robe - DragonsImportant And Rare Chinese Embroidered Silk Dragon Robe, Qing Dynasty.Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Photograph - 1894Estate Lot 6 Antique Chinese Imperial Precious Vase Censer Objects Silk PanelsPair Of Carved Wood Hanging Toggles Key Chain Silk Tassels Chinese Children YqzExquisite 19thc Embroidered Chinese Silk Damask, Butter Fly & FlowersFine Old Chinese Embroidery Silk Auspicious Buddha Scholar Signs Wall HangingAntique Chinese Silk Embroidery Forbidden Stitch Magua Surcoat Short Jacket RobeAntique Chinese Scholars Silk Embroidered & Silver Pouch Silk Robe Pouch TobaccoEstate Lot Chinese Red Gold Lace Dragon Summer Robe Imperial Figures Blue RobeChinese Qing 2nd Rank Lion Military Mandarin Officers Square Rank BadgeAntique Photo Album - China - 191319thc Chinese Kosu Robe 5 Claw Gold Thread Dragon TextileAntique Chinese Regal Mandarin Square Status Badge From Robe Gold Thread SilkAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Embroidered Manchu Lady's Shoes And HeadwearAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Silk Embroidered SkirtAntique Chinese-asian Woven Silk Tapestry-textile / Cranes-peacocks /late 19th CAntique Chinese Qing Dynasty Dragon Rank BadgeBeautiful Antique 19/ 20th Qi'ing Chinese Chi'ifu Brocade Dragon Robe EmbroideryFine Old Chinese Painted Wood Silk Robed Village Mother & Child Doll FigurineAntique Rare Important 19th C.chinese Silk Embroider Panel 1920-30's Hand Embroidered Large Silk Piano Shawl W Fringe19thc Chinese Kosu Robe 5 Claw Gold Thread Dragon TextileAn Important Super Large And Quality 19th Century Chinese Silk ScrollAntique Chinese Embroidered Silk Sleeve Panel20th C. Chinese Cizhou Pottery Boy Form Pillow, With Under-glaze BlueAntique Chinese Print On Silk Superb Antique Chinese Framed Silk With Foo Dog & Insect C.1900 Genuine Silk Chinese Kimono From Hong Kong, Pink, Excellent Condition!2 Vintage Chinese Embroidered Birds Flowers Rectangle PicturesVintage 1920s Chinese Embroidered Robe Purple Silk Flowers & Gourds Fully LinedRare Antique Chinese Bound Foot Shoe, Silk, Wood? Heel, 3"x1 3/4", As IsChinese Vintage Gold Brocade Fringe Silk Tablecloth Panel 53" X 53" Superb Antique Chinese Framed Silk With Two Peacocks C.1900 Antique Chinese Lotus Shoes Bound Feet Late Qing Dynasty Amazing Size ! Tiny !Beautiful Antique 19th Qi'ing Chinese Woman's Embroidered Silk Robe Embroidery!Antique Chinese Ivory Colored Silk Embroidered Sleeve Bands VgcGorgeous Antique Chinese Qing Dynasty Dragon With Pearl Textile Awesome DetailsAntique Chinese Leather Head Pillow.original Item Extremely Rare ! Antique Chinese Kesi Woven Silk Panel - 100 Children PlayingPair Antique Chinese Embroidered Silk Belts #5.Miao Silver Embroidery Carve Dragon & Buddha Rare Chinese Characteristics StatueTribal Chinese Minority People's Old Hand Batik Embroidery Flex SkirtVery Nice Chinese Silk Tapestry Embroidery Panel 24x12" Children People DragonsAntique Chinese Silk Embroidery With Wall Hanger Qing DynastyAntique / Vintage Chinese Embroidered Dragon And Butterflies On Silk TableclothMiao Silver Embroidery Carve Dragon & Buddha Rare Chinese Characteristics StatueAsian Painted Embroidery On Silk Chinese Girls W/ Chickens Framed Under Glass Asian Orienta Art Chinese Embroidery With Silk Border*fish & Flower* Asian Orienta Art Chinese Embroidery With Silk Border*fish*Miao Silver & Embroidery Carve Dragon & Buddha Chinese Characteristics StatueChinese Gold Metallic Embroidery Of A Phoenix Framed 19 1/4" By 16 1/4"Old Chinese Silk Embroidery Framed 18" By 12"Anitque Chinese Embroidered PanelChinese Old Hand Embroidery Child Ox Hat