Swallow-tailed Hems and Flying Ribbons clothing

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Female figures wear cross hairstyle with golden headpiece and dress in Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao costume, early Northern Wei period.

Swallow-tailed Hems and Flying Ribbons clothing or Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao-fu (traditional Chinese: ; simplified Chinese: 杂裾垂髾服; Wade–Giles: tsa2-chü1-chʻui2-shao1-fu2; pinyin: zá jū chuí shāo fú) is a type of female historical dress which was popular during the Tsʻao Wei, Chin and Northern and Southern dynasties. It is also called Kui-i (Chinese: ; pinyin: guī yī).


Northern and Southern dynasties was a period of volatility, the barbarians invaded Central Plain, thus, various wars and battles occurred. The once dominant laws and orders collapsed, so did the once unchallenged power of Confucianism. At the meantime, the philosophy of Lao-tzŭ and Chuang-tzŭ became popular. Buddhist scriptures were translated, Taoism was developed, and Humanitarian ideology emerged among the aristocrats. However, all these posed a threat to the conservative and imperial power, which tried to crush them by force. These policies forced these scholars to seek comfort and relief in life.[1] They were interested in various kinds of philosophy and studied a lot of the mysterious learning. They preferred a life of truth and freedom. They dressed themselves in free and casual elegance.

Female figure dressed in Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao clothing, from a lacquer painting over wood, 5th century.
Modern pictorial reconstruction of the Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao clothing as in the lacquer painting Virtuous Women of Ancient China.

On the whole, the costumes of the Wei and Chin period still followed the patterns of Chʻin and Han. Women’s costumes in the period of Wei and Chin were generally large and loose. The carefree life style brought about the development of women’s garments in the direction of extravagant and ornate beauty.[1] The upper garment opened at the front and was tied at the waist. The sleeves were broad and fringed at the cuffs with decorative borders of a different colour. The skirt had spaced coloured stripes and was tied with a white silk band at the waist. There was also an apron between the upper garment and skirt for the purpose of fastening the waist. Apart from wearing a multi-coloured skirt, women also wore other kinds such as the crimson gauze-covered skirt, the red-blue striped gauze double skirt, and the barrel-shaped red gauze skirt. Many of these styles are mentioned in historical records.[2] Wide sleeves and long robes, flying ribbons and floating skirts, elegant and majestic hair ornaments,[1] all these became the fashion style of Wei and Chin female appearance.


A lady wears Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao clothing, from a Sung dynasty copy of the original painting Wise and Benevolent Women by Ku Kʻai-chih.
Modern pictorial reconstruction of the Tsa-chü-chʻui-shao clothing as in Wise and Benevolent Women.

During the Wei, Chin and the Northern and Southern dynasties, though men no longer wore the traditional one-piece garment, some women continued to do so. However, the style was quite different from that seen in the Han dynasty. Typically the women's dress was decorated with "Hsien" () and "Shao" (). The latter refers to pieces of silk cloth sewn onto the lower hem of the dress, which were wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, so that triangles were formed overlapping each other. "Hsien" refers to some relatively long ribbons which extended from the short-cut skirt.[2] While the wearer was walking, these lengthy ribbons made the sharp corners and the lower hem wave like a flying swallow, hence the Chinese phrase "beautiful ribbons and flying swallowtail" ("").

During the Northern and Southern dynasties, costumes underwent further changes in style. The long flying ribbons were no longer seen and the swallow-tailed corners became enlarged. As a result, the flying ribbons and swallow-tailed corners were combined into one.[3]


Further reading[edit]

  • Chunming, Gao (October 1987). 5000 Years of Chinese Costumes. Zhou Xun, Chunming Gao (eds.) (First English language ed.). San Francisco, CA: China Books & Periodicals. ISBN 978-0-8351-1822-4.
  • Steele, Ms Valerie; Major, John S. (1999-02-08). China Chic: East Meets West (1st Printing ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-07930-2.
  • Finnane, Antonia (2008-01-24). Changing Clothes in China: Fashion, History, Nation (1 ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-14350-9.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]