The transience of fashion for Chinese women in the last century

2015-12-11 09:12:23 GMT2015-12-11 17:12:23(Beijing Time) SINA English

Li Jing

Eileen Chung (1920 – 1995), a renowned Chinese writer who had an ardent love for Qipao, said that “People don’t have the ability to improve their livelihood. They are only capable of creating their own close-fitting environment – the garments, we all live in our own garments.”

“People don’t have the ability to improve their livelihood. They are only capable of creating their own close-fitting environment – the garments, we all live in our own garments.”- Eileen Chung “People don’t have the ability to improve their livelihood. They are only capable of creating their own close-fitting environment – the garments, we all live in our own garments.”- Eileen Chung
Women of Manchu ethnicity has their own tradition of dressing, their iconic Qizhuang, hairstyle and “high heel” shoes are standard clothing in the palace in Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).This photo shows Manchu women in the palace near the end of the Qing Dynasty. Women of Manchu ethnicity has their own tradition of dressing, their iconic Qizhuang, hairstyle and “high heel” shoes are standard clothing in the palace in Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).This photo shows Manchu women in the palace near the end of the Qing Dynasty.
Traditional clothing for women of the majority Han nationality included an upper wear and a skirt. The blouse often had a very low brimmed collar and two wide sleeves, while the skirt was made long and wide, too. This photo was taken in Hong Kong around 1880. Traditional clothing for women of the majority Han nationality included an upper wear and a skirt. The blouse often had a very low brimmed collar and two wide sleeves, while the skirt was made long and wide, too. This photo was taken in Hong Kong around 1880.
As western culture spread to China in the early 20th century, women’s fashion was also influenced by the trend. Low collars grew taller, baggy gowns became tighter jackets, the beauty of women’s figure was more and more stressed. Prostitutes were among those who stuck tightly with the fashion trends. This photo shows two women with bound feet in a brothel in the early Republic of China period (around 1911). As western culture spread to China in the early 20th century, women’s fashion was also influenced by the trend. Low collars grew taller, baggy gowns became tighter jackets, the beauty of women’s figure was more and more stressed. Prostitutes were among those who stuck tightly with the fashion trends. This photo shows two women with bound feet in a brothel in the early Republic of China period (around 1911).
Female students were also self-conscious in terms of vogue. This photo shows female students graduated from the Beijing Huiwen School (now the No.26 Middle School of Beijing) in 1907. They were still dressed in the Manchu Qizhuang inherited from the Qing Dynasty, but the design was much simpler. Haircuts of female students were also unique. Female students were also self-conscious in terms of vogue. This photo shows female students graduated from the Beijing Huiwen School (now the No.26 Middle School of Beijing) in 1907. They were still dressed in the Manchu Qizhuang inherited from the Qing Dynasty, but the design was much simpler. Haircuts of female students were also unique.
This young woman was dressed in a typical student uniform in the period of the May 4th Movement (1915 - 1921). It even had a name called “New Clothes of Civilization”. The uniform first appeared in 1913, composed mainly of a short coat and a long skirt. In 1919, during the May 4th Movement, it was slightly changed to a short bluish coat and a black skirt, usually dressed with white cotton socks and black cloth shoes. In 1920, it was already the fashion icon of the epoch. This young woman was dressed in a typical student uniform in the period of the May 4th Movement (1915 - 1921). It even had a name called “New Clothes of Civilization”. The uniform first appeared in 1913, composed mainly of a short coat and a long skirt. In 1919, during the May 4th Movement, it was slightly changed to a short bluish coat and a black skirt, usually dressed with white cotton socks and black cloth shoes. In 1920, it was already the fashion icon of the epoch.
The prevalence of “New Clothes of Civilization” went in parallel with the western Feminist Movement and Chinese New Culture Movement in the early 1900’s. Capable women left home for education, pursuing economic independence and the right for choosing their own husbands. The uniform was first advocated by female students in Beijing and Shanghai, then the trend spread to educated women in other provinces. Famous prostitutes at the time also wore these clothes to attract customers. The prevalence of “New Clothes of Civilization” went in parallel with the western Feminist Movement and Chinese New Culture Movement in the early 1900’s. Capable women left home for education, pursuing economic independence and the right for choosing their own husbands. The uniform was first advocated by female students in Beijing and Shanghai, then the trend spread to educated women in other provinces. Famous prostitutes at the time also wore these clothes to attract customers.
Three girls posed for a group photo on a lawn in the early Republic of China period. Their coats were briefly colored. The “New Clothes of Civilization” was also school uniform for female students. Three girls posed for a group photo on a lawn in the early Republic of China period. Their coats were briefly colored. The “New Clothes of Civilization” was also school uniform for female students.
A woman was in a swimming suit in 1920. Swimming suits at this time followed closely to western styles, with a mini-skirt and a bathing cap. A woman was in a swimming suit in 1920. Swimming suits at this time followed closely to western styles, with a mini-skirt and a bathing cap.
The “New Clothes of Civilization” was on the wane after 1925 due to the lack of decoration. The coats and skirts evolved into different genres, being increasingly gaudy and more showy. This photo shows a man and three women posing for a group photo in a temple at Shanghai in March, 1925. The three women were all dressed in coats and skirts. They also kept trendy fringes. The “New Clothes of Civilization” was on the wane after 1925 due to the lack of decoration. The coats and skirts evolved into different genres, being increasingly gaudy and more showy. This photo shows a man and three women posing for a group photo in a temple at Shanghai in March, 1925. The three women were all dressed in coats and skirts. They also kept trendy fringes.
After the May 4th Movement, the society had been further liberated in terms of thinking. Women’s clothes transformed from concealing the body to revealing the curvaceous features. A new style that had later become the staple of Chinese fashion emerged – Qipao first appeared in the brothels of Shanghai in the early 1920s, and was later favored by women of all social classes in China. This photo shows female students were dressed in Qipao. After the May 4th Movement, the society had been further liberated in terms of thinking. Women’s clothes transformed from concealing the body to revealing the curvaceous features. A new style that had later become the staple of Chinese fashion emerged – Qipao first appeared in the brothels of Shanghai in the early 1920s, and was later favored by women of all social classes in China. This photo shows female students were dressed in Qipao.
According to Eileen Chung, Chinese women started to put on Qipao since 1921, when the trend of sexual equality dominated the society. Qipao at first were made severe, rectangular-looking, but changes were seen only several years later. Women’s bosoms, waist and bottoms were highlighted in the tailoring. This photo shows female students in the 1930s in Shanghai. According to Eileen Chung, Chinese women started to put on Qipao since 1921, when the trend of sexual equality dominated the society. Qipao at first were made severe, rectangular-looking, but changes were seen only several years later. Women’s bosoms, waist and bottoms were highlighted in the tailoring. This photo shows female students in the 1930s in Shanghai.
Changes of Qipao included its collar (from high to low) and length (from long to short and to long again). The slit went higher and higher although the hem of the gown almost reached the ground in 1935. This photo shows two girls with short hair were traveling in the suburbs. Changes of Qipao included its collar (from high to low) and length (from long to short and to long again). The slit went higher and higher although the hem of the gown almost reached the ground in 1935. This photo shows two girls with short hair were traveling in the suburbs.
Another major change of Qipao was the removal of sleeves. As Eileen Chung wrote, “All the decorations, useful or not, are removed. There is only a tight vest, baring the neck, arms and shins out. Now the woman inside the gown is more important, while the Qipao only outlines her figure.” The photo shows female students wearing Qipao with permed hair in the 1930s in Shanghai. Another major change of Qipao was the removal of sleeves. As Eileen Chung wrote, “All the decorations, useful or not, are removed. There is only a tight vest, baring the neck, arms and shins out. Now the woman inside the gown is more important, while the Qipao only outlines her figure.” The photo shows female students wearing Qipao with permed hair in the 1930s in Shanghai.
  An article The Rhythm of Qipao published in a Shanghai lifestyle magazine, the Liangyou, which dates back to 1926, said that “The trend of Qipao reflects women’s thoughts. It replaced the coat- and-skirt uniform, which was a symbol of feudalism, and freed women in their own clothes.” This photo shows four women dressed in Qipao with two men in the 1930s. An article The Rhythm of Qipao published in a Shanghai lifestyle magazine, the Liangyou, which dates back to 1926, said that “The trend of Qipao reflects women’s thoughts. It replaced the coat- and-skirt uniform, which was a symbol of feudalism, and freed women in their own clothes.” This photo shows four women dressed in Qipao with two men in the 1930s.
A Shanghai woman in a swimming suit in the year of 1930. The design is still conservative looking with a modern eye, but it has already been less reserved comparing with a decade ago. A Shanghai woman in a swimming suit in the year of 1930. The design is still conservative looking with a modern eye, but it has already been less reserved comparing with a decade ago.
Qipao was discarded in the Chinese Mainland since 1949. The female cadre of the People’s Republic of China preferred Sun Yat Sen's uniform or the Lenin Suit as influenced by the former Soviet Union in the 1950s. Cargo pants and checked shirts were also popular among young women. This photo shows cadres in Sun Yat Sen's uniform attended the Conference for Heros of the Chinese People's Volunteers on October, 1950. Photo/Xinhua News Agency Qipao was discarded in the Chinese Mainland since 1949. The female cadre of the People’s Republic of China preferred Sun Yat Sen's uniform or the Lenin Suit as influenced by the former Soviet Union in the 1950s. Cargo pants and checked shirts were also popular among young women. This photo shows cadres in Sun Yat Sen's uniform attended the Conference for Heros of the Chinese People's Volunteers on October, 1950. Photo/Xinhua News Agency
“Blazy” (платье), a dress with a shirt-like top, also came from the Soviet Union. It was so popular that some women workers would even save money for months to make one at the tailor’s. Small girls in the kindergarten were also dressed in this way sometimes. The photo shows female wokers in the Harbin Linen Textile Mill trying on their “Blazy”s. Photo/Xinhua News Agency “Blazy” (платье), a dress with a shirt-like top, also came from the Soviet Union. It was so popular that some women workers would even save money for months to make one at the tailor’s. Small girls in the kindergarten were also dressed in this way sometimes. The photo shows female wokers in the Harbin Linen Textile Mill trying on their “Blazy”s. Photo/Xinhua News Agency
As the Cultural Revolution unveiled in the 1960s, military uniform became the universal fashion for all women in China. Green suits and hats with bright red armbands and a denim satchel, also green, but containing a red-covered copy of Mao Quotations, make a standard gear of a youngster of the time. Qipao, at this moment, was deemed a symbol of feudalism, capitalism and revisionism. It was fiercely criticized and was destroyed immediately if seen. This photo shows the Red Guards in China in 1971. Photo/Frank Fischbeck As the Cultural Revolution unveiled in the 1960s, military uniform became the universal fashion for all women in China. Green suits and hats with bright red armbands and a denim satchel, also green, but containing a red-covered copy of Mao Quotations, make a standard gear of a youngster of the time. Qipao, at this moment, was deemed a symbol of feudalism, capitalism and revisionism. It was fiercely criticized and was destroyed immediately if seen. This photo shows the Red Guards in China in 1971. Photo/Frank Fischbeck
The Red Guards were standing at the Tian’anmen Square in Beijing in 1973. Female Red Guards were dressed in grey, blue, green and white, wearing red armbands with bold signs of “Red Guards”. Photo/Bruno Barbey The Red Guards were standing at the Tian’anmen Square in Beijing in 1973. Female Red Guards were dressed in grey, blue, green and white, wearing red armbands with bold signs of “Red Guards”. Photo/Bruno Barbey
It seemed that the Chinese fashion was composed of only three colors, blue, grey and green during the late 1960s and early 1970s. This photo shows female workers in Beijing wearing blue cargo suits and holding copies of Mao Quotations in 1971. One of the women was wearing a Chairman Mao Badge on her cargo pants. Photo/Vittoriano Rastelli It seemed that the Chinese fashion was composed of only three colors, blue, grey and green during the late 1960s and early 1970s. This photo shows female workers in Beijing wearing blue cargo suits and holding copies of Mao Quotations in 1971. One of the women was wearing a Chairman Mao Badge on her cargo pants. Photo/Vittoriano Rastelli
In fact, checkered shirts could also be seen in China during the 1970s, the rare bright colors in the world of blue, grey and green. This photo shows several girls jumping ropes in Guangzhou in 1972. Photo/William Joseph In fact, checkered shirts could also be seen in China during the 1970s, the rare bright colors in the world of blue, grey and green. This photo shows several girls jumping ropes in Guangzhou in 1972. Photo/William Joseph
Su Tong (born in 1963), a male Chinese writer, wrote that “Only small girls wore skirts with floral patterns, the adult women were all dressed in blue or grey ones, with carefully made pleats. The most stylish girls usually wore white skirts…Those dressed in white skirts were considered slutty.” The photo shows students waiting in Beijing to welcome the then French President Georges Pompidou in 1973. Photo/Bruno Barbey Su Tong (born in 1963), a male Chinese writer, wrote that “Only small girls wore skirts with floral patterns, the adult women were all dressed in blue or grey ones, with carefully made pleats. The most stylish girls usually wore white skirts…Those dressed in white skirts were considered slutty.” The photo shows students waiting in Beijing to welcome the then French President Georges Pompidou in 1973. Photo/Bruno Barbey
French fashion brand Pierre Cardin was introduced in China in 1979. In the 1980’s, as the Reform and Opening-up was carried out in the country, fashion trends changed again. The photo shows women riding bicycles in Beijing in the summer of 1985. Photo/ Li Xiaobin French fashion brand Pierre Cardin was introduced in China in 1979. In the 1980’s, as the Reform and Opening-up was carried out in the country, fashion trends changed again. The photo shows women riding bicycles in Beijing in the summer of 1985. Photo/ Li Xiaobin
Vogue of various kinds revived in China after 1990. Celebrities in the entertainment industry led the trends one after another. The photo shows a woman walking in a mini-skirt in Dalian, 1991. Photo/ Zhang Xiaolong Vogue of various kinds revived in China after 1990. Celebrities in the entertainment industry led the trends one after another. The photo shows a woman walking in a mini-skirt in Dalian, 1991. Photo/ Zhang Xiaolong

The last 100 years have seen drastic changes in China, from the Qing Dynasty to the Republic of China, then to the People’s Republic of China, the Cultural Revolution and the following Reform and Opening-up. Transition in fashion reflects changes of the society as well as the self-awareness of Chinese women.

Except for those with the photographer’s name, the photos in this album are mostly selected from the book Regrets of Xishi, published by China Photographic Publishing House in September 2015.

 

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