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Shenyun Performing Arts World Tour

September 2013, New York, USA

Appreciation of works from Han Couture Design Competition (3)

-- Women’s Apparel in Song Dynasty

Amy Lee

Slowly five thousand years drifted by
Among countless glorious garments
Not one is from heaven.
So misled by the confusing world
Splendid Tang are simple Song are the outfit of the bygone era
Forget not our glorious moment
Hurry to find the retuning path…

This poem expressed the poet’s longing for the lost glory of our Han couture and her joy in her yearning and searching. It is the theme used by gold winner Elsie He in this competition.

Design by Elsie He (Gold Award): Reminiscence of Ancient Times
Design by Elsie He (Gold Award): Reminiscence of Ancient Times

Design by Elsie He: Reminiscence of Ancient Times
Design by Elsie He: Reminiscence of Ancient Times

This design has an elegant color combination and a superior tailored fit. The pattern and color of the fabric and the style represent the women's apparel from Song Dynasty. The design sketch won the award for best clothing presentation.

The top was called a shirt jacket at that time, and would be called a coat if it had a lining. In reality, one could also wear a white or plain color shirt underneath, which could be worn to sleep.  People in ancient times often wore an under shirt, also called a middle shirt.  The shirt jacket was made of jacquard cotton fabric, which was environmentally friendly.

Even though the shirt is made of plain fabric, it has a woven floral pattern and a delicate style. One will not find it monotonous when the gentle and warm touch of the fabric is matched with a small floral pattern skirt.

The collar, waist belt and trimming are made of embroidered brocade.  This kind of fabric with diamond-shaped lattice was abundant in the Song period. Its characteristic is a small compact design. The smallest design is called millet grid texture, as small as a grain of millet. The choice of fabric is very close to Song period style.

The measurement and form of the skirt are also near perfect.  If one wraps a square fabric around the waist, it would not compliment the human body. The bottom of the skirt would give an uneven feel according to various body shapes.  Ancient people solved this problem with wisdom. With Han clothing, one can also make pleats around the waist.

On this skirt, you can see numerous pleats, however, when the skirt is spread, it is flat and square in shape. But when one puts it on, the skirt turns into a round shape surrounding the human body.  The bottom of the skirt becomes arc-shaped.  The fabric for the skirt is very good, and it is silk Crepe de chine, which is somewhat transparent, therefore it is double-layered.  It will be very beautiful when one adds a pair of pants underneath the skirt.

Besides adding pleats to a skirt, one can also make it with 12 pieces of fabric which echoes the twelve months in a year. And the shirt jacket is made with 4 pieces of fabric representing four seasons in a year. Thus, it follows the principles that man and nature are one.

The location of the belt ties is also very appropriately. The color of the belt compliments that of the shawl.  The waist and the collar are of Song style.  If the collar were smaller, it would appear skimpy; if it were bigger, it would more closely resemble the Ming period.  But the form and structure of a collar here belongs to Song period, a more slender and delicate style.

Design by Elsie He
Design by Elsie He

Song clothing has many accessories. If this outfit could have a silk ribbon hanging a piece of jade or small silk pouch, matching hairdo and shoes, it would be superb.  This shirt jacket and skirt combination was very popular in Song Dynasty among civilian women and aristocratic ladies alike. Very often a long gown was added outside the shirt and skirt.

In order to understand traditional Han couture, one needs to understand not only the techniques to make the clothing but also the harmony between the heaven and human in dressing.

“People of present day
 Fail to understand the clothing style,
 Trying to look glorious and pleasing the heart.
Astray, astray…
One needs to follow the old way,
Return, return,
Try again to remake the attire…”

The second annual Global Han Couture Design Competition was kicked off in the spring of 2009. We sincerely invite all interested parties to participate. NTDTV organizes this event with the intent to promote the appreciation of traditional Han Couture worldwide, and to spread the goodness and beauty of Han couture. The final runway show of this competition will take place on September 10-11, during the New York fashion week. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Some changes have been added to the regulations of this competition. Deadline to submit sketches is May 15, 2009. For detailed information, please check: