Dressed in Style from Head-to-toe
External characteristics of the layout and the buildings of a city often reflect its overall style and atmosphere, and the way its people dress shows the city's spirit and character. Beijingers pay attention to what they wear from tip to toe. What hats should people wear, and at what age? What should people wear in different seasons, and what shoes should they wear for certain occasions?
A saying goes in Beijing during the Republic of China (1912–1949) that “A rich man wears a Ma Juyuan hat, a pair of Neiliansheng shoes, an outfit by Ruifuxiang, and carries notes of the four major banks around his waist.” The saying refers to some famous brand names in Dashilar at that time. These products indicated the quality of life of Beijing's settled residents.
When buying clothes, aside from quality, Beijingers pay attention to comfort and fashion details. They always blend the traditional with the modern, representing natural cordiality with unique taste.
As a civilisation with a long history, China enjoys being called “the Kingdom of Clothing and Headgear.” The country's traditional costumes signify a 5,000-yearlong culture, and remain as gems in Chinese culture and art. Of the many types of ever- changing traditional clothing, headgear is part of fashion, and represents dignity, status, ethics and customs.
“Headgear symbolises the start of human civilisation.” In both China and Western countries, headgear used to represent privilege and status before they became fashion accessories of the public. Different cultures have different etiquette for wearing hats, especially in Western cultures. Nowadays, there are seldom hierarchical differences in hats, but there are professional divisions, such as lawyer's wigs, nurse's caps, army caps, police caps, doctoral caps, chef hats, and headgear of ethnic minorities.
According to legend, the Yellow Emperor (2698–2598 BC) was the first creator of hats, indicating that headgear enjoys a long history in China. There are even Chinese idioms concerning hats such as guanmiantanghuang (“dignified crown,”
pompous and impressive-looking) and yiguanchuchu (“neatly dressed in smart clothes and a headdress”). Guan and mian are both words for crowns worn by ancient emperors or officials.
In China's more primitive times, people worshipped totems. Because rare birds all had crests, people imitated the animals and made headdresses to keep warm or used them for ornamentation. In ancient times, all headgear had distinctive hierarchical indications for emperors and princes, generals and soldiers, civil and military officials.
Headgear in different periods has its own unique characteristics of the times. In the 1970s and 1980s, olive green military caps were most popular and could be seen everywhere in the streets. Various headgear are also important markers for identifying different regions and nationalities.
Mongolians love fox fur caps, the Tu ethnic people love brocade hats, the Yao ethnic people are fond of turbans with pheasant tails, and the Uygur in Xinjiang prefer small flowered caps. Special felt caps in regions south of the Yangtze River are favourites of farmers and fishermen due to their ability to endure wind and snow in winter and reflect bright sunlight in summer. Rabbit and tiger-head hats worn by children indicated the zodiac sign of the wearer or the zodiac sign of the year.
In the early 20th century, traditional European and American ceremonial hats were introduced to China. Such hats were only worn on special occasions such as wedding ceremonies, but they gradually became common. With the country's growing socio-economic development, headgear no longer become a symbol of one's identity or class. Everyone can wear a hat, which can both keep one warm and act as a fashionable ornament.
Headgear not only indicates class or rank, but also etiquette and knowledge. Society today still observes hat-wearing etiquette. A proper hat can make the person wearing it look more attractive. When wearing a hat, the style, colour and material should correspond to the clothing and season. On social occasions, men take off their hats to show respect for each other. In addition, hats are supposed to be taken off on occasions such as flag-raising and funerals.
The Ma Juyuan Hat Shop in Beijing is a time-honoured and well-known brand. Founded in 1817 by Ma Juyuan, a native of Maqiao, Hebei Province, the shop has a 200year history. Many people have been proud of wearing Ma Juyuan hats over the past two centuries. The shop's hats and caps, made of selected materials with exquisite workmanship, came in a range of varieties, designs and colours and sold at reasonable prices.
Today, the shop still carries on its traditional features and techniques, adhering to fine materials and procedures. The shop also continues to create new patterns and styles, making over 80 kinds of high-grade fur and leather hats, as well as hats made of different materials for men, women, children, and various ethnic groups like the Han, Man, Hui, Miao, Yao, Mongolians and Tibetans.
Another time-honoured haberdashery in Beijing is Shengxifu, a branch opened in 1937 by the Tianjin Shengxifu Hat Store. Founded in 1911, Shengxifu has kept a detailed record of its performance over the past 100 years, and is famous for its sophisticated materials, handmade craftsmanship and superb quality.
It is popular with people both at home and abroad. Its headgear comes in various styles: Sherlock Holmes, British gentleman, painter's, fishermen's, lace bonnets, and straw hats. A length of fishing line is added to the thread when a hat is made, retaining the hat's shape even when folded or squeezed. Prices are also reasonable, which explains its enduring popularity.
Clothing is a symbol of human civilisation, being one of the most essential necessities in daily life along with food and shelter. Almost from the day of the origin of clothing, people's customs, aesthetics, colour preferences, cultural mentalities and religious concepts have been embedded in their choice of clothing.
China has a long history of sericulture, considered the first nation in the world to produce silk. The Chinese began to spin
silk and weave as early as primitive times. As a symbol of ancient Chinese culture, silk culture has paralleled the development of Chinese civilisation, witnessing the knowledge and hard work of artisans. Silk clothing has gone beyond its basic function of keeping people warm, and come to symbolise people's wishes for peace, stability and prosperity.
Ancient Chinese invented silk and created a booming silk industry that contributed to China's economy, art, clothing and culture. Silk clothing has become so fashionable that it is now worn daily by the upper classes, having a direct influence on apparel production. Silk clothing has become a symbol of one's identity and status.
The texture and colour of silk is a perfect match to the art of Chinese clothing, which seeks subtlety and elegance. The loose-fitting style and structure of ancient Chinese clothing, combined with silk, has influenced how Chinese have thought and dressed for thousands of years.
The colours of dyed silk are the closest to natural colours, a distinct feature other fabrics fail to match. Silk can be dyed all kinds of biomimetic colours, which enhances silk clothing's appeal. The development of embroidery on silk further enriches the varieties of silk clothing available. Embroidery is as an independent form of art and an accessory for clothing, meant to make any article of clothing more attractive. Different patterns and colours of embroidery can provide a wide range of choices, adding more splendour to silk clothing.
The Ruifuxiang Silk Store (English name Refosian) is well-known in Beijing. It was founded in 1893 by Menghongsheng, a descendant of the great philosopher Mencius. Meng was born in Zhangqiu County, Jinan Prefecture in Shandong Province. Refosian's traditional speciaility is making custom clothing, and the shop provides a “one package” service that includes choosing materials to making garments. In addition to traditional skills like inlaying, stitching, piecing and sewing, Refosian also uses hand embroidery and other skills.
In short, with the highest quality materials, proper cutting, elegant stitching and buttons, it is no wonder that Refosian's reputation has lasted for more than a century. Today, Refosian designs its own products and appoints a factory to manufacture them. Their products, all embroidered with its brand name, are highly praised by buyers at home and abroad. The shop's traditional costume exhibitions combine culture with business.
Another silk store in Beijing, Qianxiangyi Silk Store, is one of the famous eight silk stores with xiang (auspicious) in their store names, all praised by local residents. Established in 1840, it is the largest silk store in China and has the largest variety. Keeping pace with
customers' changing needs, Qianxiangyi Silk Store specialises in silk clothing, fabrics and handiwork.
Qianxiangyi's wide range of fabrics includes natural silk, silk damask, satin, gauze, spun silk and crepe. Various types of satin and brocade for trousers, gilt-edged silk, satin with a dragon design, tapestry satin and mixed satin are some of the store's most exquisite products, and are well received by both Chinese and foreigners.
As for its silk garments, Qianxiangyi sells sundries of Chinese clothing, casual clothing, home products, underwear and other items that make people look noble and elegant. Their silk handiwork is even more attractive, with many embroidered pieces, like A Dream of Red Mansions, based on classical Chinese stories. Their embroidered landscape paintings on silk and handicraft purses are popular among customers.
Chinese footwear, with a history of more than 6,000 years, is a fascinating part of “the Kingdom of Clothing and Headgear.” Footwear is closely related to people's lives; not only do people living all over China and different ethnic groups wear different shoes, but footwear has also changed throughout history.
Each person has their own style of footwear. Beijingers not only want them to feel comfortable, but also want recognition from others for their smart choice. Selecting the right colour and style of shoes to match one's outfit reflects a person's taste, personality traits and charisma.
Neiliansheng, a time-honoured shoe brand in Beijing, was founded by Zhao Ting in 1853. In the early days, it was a pioneer in making luxury shoes for aristocrats and officials. Nei means “court” and liansheng indicated that the officials wearing them would have a successful career and be promoted. Neiliansheng are all handmade and the store keeps a record of the size and style of its regular customers, so it can provide home delivery service if needed.
Nowadays, the store mainly serves ordinary people but still offers customised service to those with special requirements. Cloth shoes with “thousand-layer soles” are a speciality of Neiliansheng. Every square cun (1 cun equals 3.33 centimetres) of a “thousand-layer” sole needs to be stitched uniformly 81-100 times with good-quality twine. Traditional crafts together with natural materials like pure cotton, hemp and wool have made the store famous.
Established by an official in 1858 during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng (1831–1861), the Buyingzhai Shoe Store is located in Beijing's Dashilar commercial district. In the beginning, the store mainly made cloth shoes and only served officials and aristocrats. Buyingzhai is famous for its variety of shoes, such as delicate handmade embroidered cloth shoes; popular, warm and durable cotton-padded shoes; and double-lined shoes made with solid horsehide for labourers.
Buyingzhai started buying leather shoes from Shanghai and other southern cities in the 1930s, making it one of the earliest Beijing stores to sell leather shoes, which later boomed in popularity. Nowadays, Buyingzhai, the 100-year-old brand, still features a large variety of shoes, varying from imported leather shoes costing several thousand yuan to baby's shoes that cost just several yuan.
Another famous shoe store in Beijing is Tongshenghe. Founded in 1902, in its early days it made cloth shoes with thousandlayer soles and felt caps. The first shopkeeper was named Mo Yinxuan from Baodi County, Hebei Province. Located on a bustling Wangfujing Street, the store name implies “working together to make money in a friendly way.” In front of the store is a popular copper sculpture with smiling children trying on a pair of adult leather shoes.
In its shop window, leather shoes custom-made for Mao Zedong (1893– 1976) and Zhou Enlai (1898–1976) are on display. There is also an exhibit of a pair of one-metre long shoes called “shoes of the century” that once caused a stir in Old Beijing, made by Tongshenghe with traditional craft and three-piece leather.
Thanks to its original designs, numerous varieties and a range of sizes, Tongshenghe is well received by its customers. Its handmade quality leather and cloth shoes are all made of natural leather, fur, cotton and hemp. Through its unique, superb handicrafts with ethnic characteristics, Tongshenghe's shoes are a pleasure to wear.
Shengxifu Hat Store
Qianxiangyi’s silk product
Ruifuxiang Silk Clothes Shop
Neiliansheng Shoe Store