January 18, 2023

Styles of Qing Dynasty Robes

Lark Mason III

Chinese robes were not only worn at court, and they weren’t only made of solid silk as you may believe. There was a schedule for when spring, summer, fall, and winter robes were to be worn at court and it is likely that informal wear followed the official schedule albeit a little loosely. 

iGavel Lot 6432806: Chinese Manchu Woman's Black Embroidered GauzeInformal Court Summer Surcoat, Qing Dynasty

This is an example of a summer robe, it is made of gauze. Very light weight and incredibly breathable. These would be worn over an undergarment. These robes are incredibly finely crafted and while delicate are strong due to the inherent properties of silk. There were both formal and informal robes made of gauze for official or unofficial business.

iGavel Lot 6432808: Chinese Woven Bamboo Jackets

During the spring and fall areas of China can still be incredibly hot. The spring robes or robes designated for a specific purpose, a wedding or a funeral, might not be as breathable as the weather requires and rather than sweat on your expensive silk robes a wearer would put on a jacket like this. Bamboo jackets like this acted to create ventilation for the wearer. The thin pieces of bamboo tied together in a cross hatch pattern, and reinforced with fabric at the collar, cuffs and in other stress points, separate the wearers body from their silk robe allowing a bit of respite on a hot day.

iGavel Lot 6432795: Chinese Dark Blue Gauze Twelve Symbol Dragon Robe

While robes were commonly embroidered with elaborate designs, symbols to project meaning or protect the wearer, not all robes were embroidered. This is an example of a more muted design, the damask silk has the design woven into the fabric itself during its construction. 

Colors of robes worn in court had incredible importance. Dating back to emperor Wen of Sui (541-604) the color yellow has been designated as an official imperial color. During the Qing dynasty designations of color use in court robes became tightly regulated. The various colors denoting the rank of the wearer allowed viewers to easily distinguish the position of the person they were interacting with. Blue robes like this one were worn by imperial family members.

iGavel Lot 6432833: Chinese Gold Damask Silk Dragon Surcoat, Qing Dynasty

While a bright yellow (monghuang) was reserved for the emperor during the Qing Dynasty, crowned princes wore apricot yellow (xinghuang) and a golden yellow (jinhuang) was reserved for non-crown princes. Colors for informal changfu robes were not regulated, yet this golden color is unmistakably associated with the imperial family and whoever the wearer was intended to send a message in their leisure time that they were of import.