Women’s Fashion in Tang Dynasty of China

Chinese actress Fan Bingbing’s latest television drama, The Empress of China, has been getting a lot of attention, but not in the way the producers originally hoped.

A still shot from Fan Bingbing’s latest television series The Empress of China.


The story, based on the life of China’s first and only female empress, Wu Zetian of the TangDynasty (618-907 AD), was removed from the air after its debut in December due to revealing costumes that emphasized the cleavage of the female characters.

When it returned to the small screen in January, scenes showing the revealing necklines were cut off and replaced by somewhat magnified shots of the actress’ heads.

This move by China’s media watch dog failed to win support among viewers. The majority of them called the cut “unnecessary” as the costumes in the show only resembled what women truly wore during the Tang Dynasty.

So, what was fashion in the Tang Dynasty really like?

Skirt, shirt and a cape

A ceramic figurine of a woman of Tang Dynasty.183

According to Li Hong, researcher and vice curator at the Henan Museum, skirts, dresses and capes were three major elements in women’s fashion during the Tang Dynasty.

“From historical records, these three items were indispensible for women back then.Women of Tang, regardless of class, also put more thoughts into dressing themselves than we do today.

“Waiting several years for a piece of new clothing to be made was normal. That’s how much people cared about the way they dressed back then,” Li said. As for the exquisite costumes worn in The Empress of China, Li said the costume designers obviously “did their homework”.

The shirt

A ceramic figurine of a woman of Tang Dynasty.184

Women in the Tang Dynasty often wore long sleeved shirts with narrowing cuffs. As China gained more influence from the West, the width of the sleeves widened, reaching as wide as four Chinese chi, or nearly 130 cm. The collars varied in shapes and sizes, from straight,crossed and round to other possibilities. It was revealing, but not to the extent shown in The Empress of China.

The cape

A painting shows the dress style of women in Tang Dynasty.185

Capes in the Tang Dynasty were often made with lightweight yarn or silk, and took on the role that a shawl or scarf would do in today’s world. Women often wrapped them around their neck and shoulders, exposing a certain amount of skin, but not too much.

The skirt

Women in the Tang Dynasty always wore skirts, mostly very high at the waist, sometimes even up to the armpits. This was a way to visually elongate the legs.

Hair and makeup

Steps on how women in the Tang Dynasty applied their makeup.186

Aside from dress, women in the Tang Dynasty also worked hard on doing their makeup. Applying makeup would consist of (at the very least) the following steps:

  1. Apply lead powder (to keep the skin pale as fair skin were regarded as beautiful)
  2. Apply blusher
  3. Draw eyebrows
  4. Apply a flower like pattern in between the brows
  5. Draw two dots on either side of the mouth
  6. Draw a red curved line beside the eyes
  7. Apply lipstick

Women in the Tang Dynasty preferred brightly colored dresses, as surprisingly as it may seem, the trend was to keep the face as simple as possible.


by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

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