Exploration One: Chinese Fashion: The Tang Dynasty 618-907

The Tang Dynasty in China, is one of my favorite clothing periods of the East. Taking place during a renaissance of feminine power, the Tang dynasty was a 300 year stretch between 618-907 AD. China’s only female monarch, Empress Wu Zetian, came into power around 70 years after the beginning of this dynasty, and brought with her a revolution in female rights, like never seen before in China. Tang women were free to educate themselves, history, philosophy, politics and military skills, women had an almost never-ending plethora of opportunities for them to grow in themselves during this time. During the Tang dynasty, poetry was a common pastime for men and women, not just high born men and women, but people from the common population too. Women from all classes could dance, go riding, and even play polo!

The Tang dynasty women had a huge amount of freedom for that time, women were allowed to virtually run wild. Divorce was not looked down upon in the same way, and couples who agreed to divorce mutually were accepted. Even princesses weren’t looked down upon for having the freedom of remarrying, which was an incredible and modern step in society at this time, as princesses have been used throughout time as a way to make ties between families.


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This picture shows two upper class women walking a puppy.


FUN FACT: Before 618, women were expected to only ever leave the house wearing a face covering veil, this was partly to protect against dust, but mainly to hide women’s faces from the public. Throughout time, in multiple cultures, this has been a way to isolate women from those outside their families circle. Over the course of the 6th century, the veil decreased in length until it completely disappeared and replaced by a hat, until 713, when that disappeared too.

The effect Empress Wu Zetian’s reign had on feminism was quite dramatic. It became popular to wear very, low cut shirts, exposing cleavage-- Just imagine! Besides the dramatic low cut, a blouse was worn on top of this, with long, narrow, sleeves which extended 6-3ft in length! The blouse had no buttons, but was kept closed by a long, high waisted skirt, which rested just under the breasts, and tied with a ribbon.

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By this time in history, the Chinese had already discovered how to harness silk worm’s cocoons, for the making of beautiful silk fabric. This made the Chinese the most advanced out of all the other civilizations in the world back then. They were able to create patterns with shape, patterns, and multiple colors. Their textiles had evolved past ‘simply doing the job’ and into luxury.

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Hair was a theatrical, and ornamental add on to their outfit. There were a variety of ‘popular’ hair styles with different names, and it was an important part of being presentable. A few examples of names include, ‘rolled up lotus leaf’, ‘conch shell’, and ‘cloud style’. Common add ons to their updo’s included gold and silver combs and pins, and foe flowers.

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This is a lily knot from the Tang dynasty.

Tang women were famous for their makeup, which they liked to change and play with daily. The average day of makeup included a white layer of foundation, typically made from lead, red lips, intricate eyebrows in unusual shapes, a huadian on their foreheads. Two little dots at the corner of the lips was a popular feature in this dynasty, and a faint red curved line at the temples of her forehead.

Huadian: a feather, or a gold/silver piece of foil, cut into a blossom or plum.


The Hufu was a unisex outfit which was accepted by the Chinese as ‘foreigners clothing’, as China was one of the biggest trading capitals of the world at this point. This outfit consisted of a waist length jacket, trousers, and a leather belt and boots. Women of the Tang loved this outfit, as it was an alternative to the skirt, and allowed them to ride horseback easier. The men would wear their hufu made from simpler silk, well, in comparison to women who would wear decadent colors and patterns. Women’s lust for clothes will never change.

Believe it or not, there is hardly any historical information about men’s clothing in the Tang dynasty, as all anyone could talk about was the women’s clothing. Not even the emperors robes, or crown were ever properly described. What we do know is that at court assemblies, people were expected for their robes to match their rank in society. The highest ranking members of court would wear purple, going down from this came vermillion, green, and then finally blue. The men generally wore robes of two kinds during the Tang dynasty, a tighter robe with a round, and short cut collar, or a looser robe with long wide sleeves, and a collar which stood up around their neck.

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Generally speaking throughout history, Chinese men wore their hair long, and placed it in a bun atop their heads, Tang men covered their hair with a head cloth, which was later replaced with a hat which did the same job. The Hat came in different shapes, and heights.

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