Dudou, the artistic underwear of ancient China

“Dudou”, or bellyband, is a piece of cloth that covers one’s belly. It dates back thousands of years. It was used by Chinese women as an undergarment in ancient times and can be considered China’s most original underwear.

“Red Underwear”, a painting by Liushi Zong

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Origin

Dudou was invented by the Chinese somewhen in the 17th century with the sole practical purpose to keep the chest and stomach area warm. It is just a square or rhomboidal piece of cloth with attached straps that were tied around the neck and at the back. It was worn by children, women and men alike to prevent not only cold but, according to some sources, diarrhea as well.

Dudou, early 20th century. The National Museum of Taiwan History

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Patterns

“White Rabbit and Fuwa”. This embroidery theme is a symbol of life and fertility

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This simple garment worn underneath, however, artistically decorated with embroidery. The embroidery served not just as mere decoration, each figure or pattern had a special meaning. The patterns’ subjects depended on who the dudou was intended for. Those for lovers obviously had love as their theme: romantic stories taken from operas, myths and folklore; those for young women and brides could contain figures of dragon, phoenix and fish as symbols of good luck, happiness and fertility; the patterns used for the bellybands of babies and children often had tiger as their main character who was believed to give protection against evil; dudous for older people could be embroidered with images of tortoise, a symbol of longevity.

Materials

Dudou, late Qing dynasty, satin, silver chain. Embroidery depicts “both husband and wife around the house” story. China National Silk Museum

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Traditional dudous were mostly made of silk satin. The straps could be of the same fabric or cotton but those from rich families used gold or silver chains instead.

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In recent years the dudou has made a come back, as a fashion item as well as an underwear. Nowadays there are different designs of dudou on the Chinese market that can be worn in the streets as a backless top combined with skirts or jeans or at home as a sexy lingerie.

 

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

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