At the mention of the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911) costumes, the first image that comes into people’s mind is men’s long robes and mandarin jackets as well as women’s gowns – with loose-bodied waistline in early time and then gradually tight waistline matched with a waistcoat outside becoming more popular. In fact, these impressions are not sufficient enough to represent the costume image of the Qing Dynasty, which spans nearly three hundred years in Chinese history.
Manchu people’s life environment, production mode and life style had changed dramatically since they crossed the Great Wall from Northeast, settled in the middle land of China, took control of the national power and founded the Qing Dynasty. Manchu traditional costumes, which are designed to facilitate riding and shooting, are very different from the Han nationality’s costumes. In order to exterminate the Han people’s national consciousness, the rulers of the Qing Dynasty forbid the Han people to wear Han costumes with strict order and forced them to take off their dajin (a style of clothes which button to the left and with overlapping front garment pieces) coats and robes, skirts and trousers and put on Manchu collarless duijin (a style of clothes with buttons in the middle) coats, gowns and long trousers. One thing that irritated the Han people the most was the order to shave the forehead and leave a big pigtail at the back of the head according to the Manchu’ tradition. Many Han people who insisted on the Ming’s customs of wearing square scarf and refused to shave their hair were killed. And this arose great discontentment among the Hans, so rebellions took place in some places. Some Han people would rather to have a shaven head as a monk.
Some people painted a Ming’s square scarf on their head to show their faithfulness to their homeland’s traditional costumes. Some used words to show their inner hatred indirectly by naming themselves as shoufa, which means to keep their hair. This situation of severe rivalry forced the Qing government to adopt some relevant transigent policies to ease up the governing crisis caused by the hair shaving and costumes change. Costumes of men, government officials, adults, Confucian scholars, prostitutes must follow the Manchu tradition; while women, yanmen runners, youngsters, children, monks, Taoists, and the costumes used in theater, funeral, wedding might follow the Han tradition. As a result, from the beginning to the midterm years of the Qing Dynasty, Manchu women differed greatly from the Han women in hairstyles, clothes and shoes.
Manchu women didn’t wear skirts but robes with trousers inside, which were their most common daily clothes. The ceremonial robes that Manchu lady wore were decorated with “horse hoof sleeves,” complicated ornaments and accessories. There were two types of daily robes; the long shirt that one would wear separately and the cloak. The long shirt was round-neck, “button to the right side” style and long enough to reach feet with twisted garment pieces, straight clothes body and sleeves, edgings, five buttons and no vents. In terms of the sleeve, there were the ones with sleeves or without sleeves. And the materials used were mainly floss for embroidery, woven pattern fabrics and fabrics with golden thread. The shirt was usually decorated by edgings. The cloak was worn outside the under linens with vents on both sides that reach the oxter and the top of the vent was decorated with cloud pattern. Mostly for formal occasions, cloaks were decorated with complicate and delicate edgings and patterns. As robes usually had no collars, noble ladies liked to wear a little scarf even when they were at home. In early times, robes were very loose-bodied, and then became tighter and tighter. Till the end of the Qing Dynasty, the underarm part of the robe was not very tight and the garment outline was basically flat and straight. Collars, sleeves and the garment pieces were decorated with wide lacework. The length of robe didn’t change.
Manchu women combed their hair into a flat chignon at the back with two horns supported by a hair board, which was also called “double horns hair style.”Very beautiful and unique, they often decorated hair with big flowers of vivid color or tassels. Manchu women originally didn’t have the footbinding tradition. Their shoes are very characteristic. It is a style of shoes with a high heel in the middle of the sole. The wood heel is generally 3cm to 6cm, but some are even as high as 15 cm. The shape of wooden heel is like a flowerpot, so it is called “flower pot sole.” If the shape of the heel is like a horse hoof, then it is called “horse hoof sole.”