Chinese costumes include hair ornament, jewelry, pendant, and outfit, together they show a person’s social status, age, occupation, and religion. 

Fun Facts About Chinese Costumes


Strict Hierarchy


Every Dynasty in the History of China has its regulations about the costume of different hierarchies and occasions, people of every occupation and class followed strictly to the very colors and clothes that were set. 


For example, a concubine, no matter how much she was loved by her husband, was not allowed to wear the color that only the wife could wear; a businessman, no matter how much money he had earned, had very limited choices on colors, fabrics, and style of costumes. 


Meanwhile, certain Pendants should be worn properly by nobles or officials, no matter if they like or not. 

Chinese Costume Jade Pendant

Colors in Chinese Culture


In Chinese culture, the colors have a clear hierarchy too. 


Black, White, Red, Yellow, and Cyan were believed the Five Orthodox Colors, which were believed honorable, and correspond to the Five Elements (Water, Metal, Fire, Earth, Wood) in Chinese culture and mythology. 


Therefore, certain honorable colors were only used by royals and the ruling class, while those who disobeyed the rule would get severe punishments.


Unless the emperor especially awarded someone to wear a certain honorable color, because of his or her exceptional accomplishments.


See History and Meaning of Colors in Chinese Culture

Patterns and Meanings of Chinese Costumes


Around 2000 to 3000 years ago, the Book of Documents (Shang Shu) clearly noted 12 patterns that were used for the Chinese traditional dress of royals and nobles.


The colors and positions of those pattens changed slightly in different dynasties, however, the content and essence of them were well applied and preserved in millennium years of Chinese history. 


Emperors of China and most honorable prime ministers may use all of the 12 patterns; the lower social status, the fewer patterns one could wear. 


Sun (Ri)

Sun in Chinese Pattern Culture

Moon (Yue)

Moon in Chinese Pattern Culture

Star (Xing Cheng)

Star in Chinese Pattern Culture

Meaning people wearing these patterns have the responsibility to illuminate and enlightening all humankind. 

Mountain (Qun Shan): Firm, Persistent, Steady.

Mountain in Chinese Pattern Culture

Dragon (Long): Mysterious, Changeable, Unpredictable.

Dragon in Chinese Pattern Culture

Fire (Huo): Bright and Promising. 

Fire in Chinese Pattern Culture

Colorful Flower and Bird (Hua Chong): Intelligent, Write Beautiful Articles.

Bird in Chinese Pattern Culture

Algae (Zao): Emerges from the filth and stays unstained, meaning characteristic of pure and noble.

Algae in Chinese Pattern Culture

Rice (Fen Mi): To Provide and Nurture.

Rice in Chinese Pattern Culture

Axe (Fu): To cut off negative aspects, to stay resolute and decisive.

Axe in Chinese Pattern Culture

A Special Ancient Embroidery (Fu): It looks like two bows back against each other, which means smart perceive, back away from evil, and face toward benign. 

Special Embroidery in Chinese Pattern Culture

Tiger and Monkey (Zong Yi): A pair of ancient wine vessels in sacrifice ceremony, meaning respect the ancestors. The tiger represents power and dignity; the long tail monkey symbolizes wisdom, loyalty, and filial piety. 

Tiger and Monkey in Chinese Pattern Culture

In the history of China, the utilization of these 12 patterns has been extremely strict, based on social hierarchies among the ruling class. 

12 Patterns in Chinese Costume

12 Patterns in Chinese Costume

12 Patterns in Chinese Emperor's Robe 

12 Patterns in Emperor's Robe of Ming Dynasty 

As for civilians, there are many other lucky ornaments, most of which are still popular in China nowadays. Such as Magpie, red-crowned crane, plum blossom, pine, etc. 


See More Lucky Patterns and Their Meanings in Chinese Culture

Philosophy and Characteristic of Traditional Chinese Outfit


The strict hierarchy of costume is following the essence of Confucianism, which highly values order, etiquette, and high moral standards.


Hence, the main purpose of traditional Chinese clothes is to cover the body decently, while presenting one’s social status.

Taoism, another important philosophical school, worships freedom and follows nature.


Therefore, traditional clothes are loose, smooth, and don’t fetter the body. 

Traditional Chinese Costume

Importance of Hair


In long Chinese history, the hair had been believed a valuable part of the whole body that was given by the parents. Therefore, it’s an important tradition of China to maintain and well decorate hair.


Many grand ceremonies in Chinese culture, hence, included hair ornaments. 


The Coming of Age Ceremony needed to tie up the hair and put on Guan or Ji; on traditional  Chinese Weddings, a significant rite was to tie a strand of the couple’s hair together, meaning that they become a whole entity since then. 


For a decent person, keeping the hair and clothes tidy and clean was a representative of someone’s personality and morality; they could die, but their Guan, the hair, and clothes could not be messy. Many people in Chinese history, before martyrdom and sacrifice, would sort out their hair and outfit first.


See Traditional Hair Ornaments in Chinese History