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Ancient China


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Clothing in Ancient China was a symbol of status. The rich and the poor dressed quite differently.

Chinese painting
Wealthy women in silk robes


The poor people, or peasants, wore clothing made of hemp. This was a rough material made from plant fibers. It was durable and good for working in the fields. Generally clothes made of hemp were loose fitting pants and shirts.

The Wealthy

The people of higher status wore clothes made of silk. Silk is made from the cocoons of silkworms and is soft, light, and beautiful. The Chinese were the first to make silk and kept how to make it secret for hundreds of years.

Silk garments were generally long robes. They could be dyed specific colors or with fancy designs.

Silk robe
Silk robe worn during Ming Dynasty

Rules of Clothes

There were many rules around colors and who got to wear what type of clothes. Only certain people, like high ranking officials and members of the emperor's court, were allowed to wear silk. Lower ranking people could actually be punished for wearing silk clothing.


There were also rules describing what colors people could wear. Only the emperor could wear yellow. During the Sui Dynasty poor people were only allowed to wear blue or black clothing. The color of clothing also symbolized emotions. White clothing was worn during mourning (when someone died) and red was worn to show joy and happiness.


When the Mongols conquered China during the Yuan Dynasty they brought cotton clothing with them. Cotton clothing became popular among the poor because it was cheaper, warmer, and softer than hemp.


Hair was considered important in Ancient China. Men tied their hair into a knot on top of their head and cover it with a square cloth or a hat. Women braided and coiled up their hair in various styles and then decorated it with hairpins. Girls were not allowed to curl up their hair with hairpins until they were married.

Most people wore their hair long. Short cut hair was often considered a punishment and was sometimes used for prisoners. Monks shaved their hair to show that they didn't care about looks or value of long hair.

Chinese Hats
Hats worn by wealthy men during Ming Period

Adornment and Jewelry

Jewelry and adornment were an important part of fashion. Not only were they used to look good, but they were also used to signify rank. There were many specific rules about who could wear what, especially for men so that others could quickly tell their status. The most important jewelry for men was their belt hook or buckle. These could be highly decorated and made from bronze or even gold. Women wore a lot of jewelry in their hair such as combs and hairpins.

Take a ten question quiz on the Ancient Chinese Clothing questions page.

For more information on the civilization of Ancient China:

Timeline of Ancient China
Geography of Ancient China
Silk Road
The Great Wall
Forbidden City
Terracotta Army
The Grand Canal
Battle of Red Cliffs
Opium Wars
Inventions of Ancient China
Glossary and Terms

Major Dynasties
Xia Dynasty
Shang Dynasty
Zhou Dynasty
Han Dynasty
Period of Disunion
Sui Dynasty
Tang Dynasty
Song Dyanasty
Yuan Dynasty
Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty

Daily Life in Ancient China
Numbers and Colors
Legend of Silk
Chinese Calendar
Civil Service
Chinese Art
Entertainment and Games

Kangxi Emperor
Genghis Khan
Kublai Khan
Marco Polo
Puyi (The Last Emperor)
Emperor Qin
Emperor Taizong
Sun Tzu
Empress Wu
Zheng He
Emperors of China

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