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Menswear in China, Qing dynasty (1636–1944)

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Video transcript:

Welcome back to my channel, friend!

I’m Phu, founder of Aventail.

In today’s video, I’ll introduce you to the menswear system in Qing dynasty (1636–1944), which is the last imperial China dynasty. Now China has multiple ethnics and cultures, with different systems of menswear, this video only covers the mainstream Han and Manchu system.


  • Brief history about Qing dynasty in China

The Qing dynasty is created when a Manchu clan, whose people lived in North East of China, conquer China from the Ming dynasty. Like previous nomad rooted dynasty Jin, Yuan, the Qing assimilated Han culture, language, custom and went on conquest. Under the Qing, China had the largest extend border, with a large network of tributary states, the richest economy in the world, a diverse culture with many local ethnics and foreign visitors. However, it also continued the policy of closed border from the Ming, failed to industrialize, and later collapsed due to internal pressure.

  • Ming vs Qing system

During Qing dynasty, 2 system of menswear existed side by side: the Han and Manchu. The Han menswear system is the continuity of previous Han menswear systems, which had existed and evolved over thousands of years. The Manchu brought with them their menswear system and initially forced it upon Han Chinese. In later years, The Han voluntarily adopted Manchu clothes, probably because those clothes were more convenient. Han clothes evolved from sedentary lifestyle, which made them long and loose, more fitting for a rich society with abundant of clothes and leisure time. Manchu clothes have the characteristic of a typical nomad culture, they use trousers instead of skirts, the clothes are narrow fitting, better for riding horse and live a movement intensive lifestyle.

  • Casual wear

A full set of clothes typically consists of 2 or more layers depending on the weather and situation. For 2 pieces garment, it may include a Han shirt yi (衣) or a Manchu shirt pao (袍). The bottom can be a dress called chang (裳) or a trouser called ku (褲).

Inner garment: there are 2 most common types: Zhongyi (2 pieces) and zhongdan (1 pieces).

Main layer: Several styles that are popular:

  • Shanqun (衫裙): a short coat with a long skirt
  • Ruqun (襦裙): a top garment with a separate lower garment or skirt
  • Kuzhe (褲褶): a short coat with trousers
  • Zhiduo/zhishen (直裰/直身): a Ming dynasty style robe
  • Daopao/Fusha (道袍/彿裟): a style of robe for scholars
  • Changshan (長衫): Manchu influenced long shirt, often worn with magua(马褂) or riding jacket

Overcoat: Zhaoshan (罩衫): long open fronted coat

  • Formal wear

Although Chinese have different formal wear system for different occasions and religions, the most common formal wear for civilian in Qing dynasty is called Xuanduan (玄端). It consists of a black or dark blue top garment that runs to the knees with long sleeve (often with white piping), a bottom red chang, a red bixi, an optional white belt with two white streamers hanging from the side or slightly to the front called peishou (佩綬), and a long black guan. Additionally, wearers may carry a long jade gui (圭) or wooden hu (笏) tablet (used when greeting royalty)

  • Court dress

The Qing required men who served as court and government officials wear Manchu clothes, called Changshan (長衫). The Changshan can be worn individually, with magua, and later with western overcoat. Yellow color was reserved for the emperor. Bureaucrat or mandarin wore a coat with Mandarin Square to signify rank. Clothes in court never served as fashion but always to signify who that person was and what position the person hold.

  • Footwear

Standard men’s footwear was a black cloth boot and white soles. The style didn’t change from 17th century all the way to 20th century until they switched to western footwear. Royalty shoes may have more decorative features, but they were not reflected in painting. Children shoes were surprisingly more decorated then adult men as you can see here. This is a pair shoes with lion decorative from 19th century children shoe. Women shoes, on the other hand, were much more elaborated and not covered in this video.

  • Headwear

Royalty and mandarin wore Qing Guanmao (清代官帽). It has 2 style, the black velvet cap in winter, or a hat woven in rattan or similar materials in summer, both with a button on the top. The button or knob would become a finial during formal court ceremonies, and are removed for casual occasions. Red silk tassels extended down from the finial to cover the hat, and a large peacock feather could be attached to the back of the hat, if that person’s merit is approved by the emperor. Depend on the person rank and position, the hat finial can have different material and shape.

Civilian may have a straw hat like this. Or a melon hat like this.

  • Hair style

The famous queue. You’ve probably seen this hair style somewhere for dozens of times. This is not the traditional Han Chinese men hair style though. For thousands of years, Han men and women didn’t cut their hair because of Confucius teaching: the hair belongs to your parents, so you don’t cut hair to respect them. The Manchus forced every man to cut hair following Manchu style, resistances were punishable by death. Men following religious orders like Taoist or Buddhist were allowed to keep their hair styles. The fall of the Qing led to a complete change of men hair style to short hair almost overnight.

  • Clothes material

The most common materials were silk, cotton and linen, all were made domestically. Because of wide material selection, they can export their surplus, and made very intricate clothes design. Wool wasn’t as popular as like in the west, unlike later time. Leather and fur were used to make hat and winter clothes. Straw was made into hat and raincoat for the peasants and fisherman. The Qing was pretty much self-sufficient in clothes making without any import.

I hope through this video, you can have an overview of menswear in Qing dynasty. I’m making this video not as an insider but an outsider trying to understand, If I have incorrect information, feel free to comment down below.

One quick question, what is the similarity between this Changshan and this suit? Three, Too, One… Go!

They are both blue, and so is this blue Aventail belt.

Aventail belt is a holeless size adjustable belt made of full grain vegetable tanned leather. You can watch the belt introduction video link in the description. The belt is available in dozens of colors, link in the description.

Have a nice day and see you in the next video!

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