Taiwanese traditionally made their clothing from materials at hand, such as jute, pineapple fiber, taro flax, and banana fiber, and later from cotton cloth brought from mainland China. Clothing trends in Taiwan changed in reaction to occupation: by the Dutch (1624–1662), the Chinese in the late Ming and part of the Qing dynasties (1662–1912), the Japanese (1874–1945); and then Chinese Communists.

After the expulsion of the Dutch and a period of occupation (1662–83) by Chinese still loyal to the Ming dynasty, the Qing dynasty formally annexed Taiwan in 1683, and the Taiwanese adopted mainland Chinese fashions as many indigenous Taiwanese groups were assimilated into mainland emigrant society.

The Musée de l’ Homme in Paris displays the dress of the remaining Puyama and Paiwan tribes of southwestern Taiwan, dating from approximately the 1940s. The man’s black cotton top was made of rectangles of fabric with embroidered edges, fastened with frog fastenings and silver buttons. Multicolor leg coverings, made of strips of fabric, featured insets of indigo-dyed double ikat (fabric in which yarns have been tie-dyed before weaving) around the crotch. A waist tie of braided linen with embroidered ends and fringing was attached to the top of the leg coverings and tied twice around the waist. Also displayed at the museum is a rectangular linen cape—probably a woman’s mourning cape. The cape was made in three sections, with a cream background with red double stripes and edging. A padded headband resembling a turban completes the outfit.

Taiwanese men during the Qing dynasty wore the zhanpao (long robe) and magua (horse jacket) under an outer jacket, or gua (vest). Men wore the zhanpao, which was shorter than the gua and extended to the middle of the abdomen, with a “melon rind” skullcap. Officials wore long “python gowns” under a short gown (guazi). The guazi was longer than the gua and resembled a windbreaker jacket. Men wore these clothes in contrasting color combinations: dark or light green, blue, gray, white, or red. Manual workers wore a shan (shirt) and trousers, together known as dangshan, with a bamboo hat.

Women also wore the zhanpao, which fastened on the left and right and was decorated with brass bells and embroidery on both arms, with geometrically embroidered hand covers tied with cerise (moderate red) braids. Leg covers were made of indigo-dyed fabric with a double-ikat spot motif, which also decorated the below-knee-length apron/skirt. The skirt had vertical bands of royal blue, indigo-dyed edging, and a central panel of embroidery in red, black, and blue. ‘Set in below the waist was an older band in blue, brown, and red fabric, suggesting fabric was precious and was reused where possible. Women also wore conch-shell necklaces.

For formal wear women wore the tadaoshan, a wide-sleeved, tight-fitting jacket trimmed with ribbon, and the mamian chun (long skirt). They wore gu (silk trousers) for formal occasions and for everyday wore a cotton version accessorized with a headband and bound-foot shoes. Popular for women’s dress were contrasting shades of red, including carmine, peach, and pink.

Influence of Western Dress Following Japanese Trends

‘Although the Japanese made little effort to introduce changes to Taiwanese dress apart from banning foot-binding, the appropriation of Western dress by the Japanese was emulated by the Taiwanese, as Western dress represented a forward-looking ideology. Western dress was combined with Chinese dress in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Han Chinese men in Taiwan wore the zhangshan with Western leather shoes and hats. In 1911 Taiwanese and mainland Chinese men cut their queue (a braid of hair usually worn hanging at the back of the head), and women adopted Western-style leather shoes worn with the traditional pants and jacket. By the 1920s, as Western dress increasingly replaced traditional Taiwanese dress for women, silk stockings and knee-length skirts worn with traditional short-sleeved velvet jackets, a handkerchief, and a parasol became fashionable. However, differences between the Han Chinese (who originated in Fujian or Guangdong [Hakka] provinces) continued: The Hakka preferred simple, decorative but durable materials, whereas Fujian styles were more intricate and lavish.

Influences of China and Japan

During the Ming and Qing dynasties imported Chinese cloth was used for garments because Taiwan had no sericulture (the production of raw silk by raising silkworms), and grew little cotton or hemp. Locally produced fibers were colored with chemical dyes, which replaced plant dyes. Pineapple fiber, jute, taro flax, and banana fiber were also used. After 1918 Japanese spinning and weaving technology was imported, and large-scale production used Japanese cotton for everyday wear, eventually replacing Chinese imports. After two or three decades of occupation, Japanese fabric patterns and the pale “refined” colors favored by the Japanese (lake green, grayish blue, pink, baby-blue, and beige) became standard and replaced the bright colors and patterns of the Qing dynasty. After Japan declared war on China in 1937 the Japanese attempted to weaken Chinese cultural links and fashions in Taiwan: Although older men continued to wear traditional dress, young men adopted military uniforms, muge (Japanese wooden clogs), and “duck’s tongue” hats—a wider version of the Western cloth cap. Women wore the kimono. As on mainland China, children dressed like small adults: Cloaks and hats had decorated hems, tassels, and embroidery for special occasions; pants had split seats; and in 1925 Western-style school uniforms were introduced.

The popularity of the qipao or cheongsam (in Cantonese), the asymmetrically fastened dress worn by women, peaked between the 1940s and 1960s. The Sun Yat-sen suit (named for the Chinese revolutionary) became unfashionable after mainland Chinese Communist rule was established in 1945 but was worn formally by some Republican (Republic of China) government officials, tailored in khaki-colored wool, with breast pockets and military-style brass buttons, flaps, and a high collar.

In the mid-twentieth century on special occasions the hong gua, a red embroidered jacket and a black embroidered skirt featuring dragon and phoenix motifs, was worn with a headdress. For special occasions in rural areas, men wore a traditional blue gown with a diagonal red sash and gilt hat sprays on each side of a skullcap or trilby hat. During the 1960s and 1970s, as Western fashions were adopted, these fashions declined in popularity.

Further Reading

Copper, J. (2000). Historical dictionary of Taiwan (Republic of China). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.

Garrett, V. M. (1994). Chinese clothing: An illustrated guide (2nd ed.). Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Lee, S. (1998). Culture of clothing among Taiwan aborigines: Tradition, meaning, images. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC Publishing.

Steele, V., & Major, J .S. (1999). China chic: East meets West. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Su Hsui-chun. (1997). Images of Taiwanese fashion 1860–1960. In C. Roberts (Ed.), Evolution and revolution: Chinese dress 1700s–1900s (pp. 76–86). Sydney, Australia: Powerhouse Museum.

Wei Te-wen. (1995). Traditional dress in Taiwan 1860–1945. Taipei, Taiwan: SMC Publishing.

Source: Wilson Trower, Valerie. (2009). Clothing, Traditional—Taiwan. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 447–448. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Clothing, Traditional—Taiwan (Táiw?n de chuánt?ng fúzhu?ng ???????)|Táiw?n de chuánt?ng fúzhu?ng ??????? (Clothing, Traditional—Taiwan)

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