*** historical girls' clothing fashion costume styles countries Asia

Historical Girls' Clothing: Countries--Asia

Indian girls dresses 1930s
Figure 1.--This is a studio portrait from a glass plate negative. It was taken in India durig the 1930s, but we have no further information. we at first though it showed siblings, but we now think it was a young mother with her child. She is wearing what would have been her best sari along with her jewelery. It suggests she was part of India's emerging middle class. She has the tilaka on her forehead. The child was dressed up only with laces. For middle class babies and toddlers it was not uncommon to go unclothed.

In the world of fashion, surely the most fascinating and diverse womens' clothes come from Asia. And of course for a Westerner, they are the most exotic costumes we note. And for a long period only Asian women had access to silk, a particularly important fabric for beautiful, luxurious clothing. Of course Asia is a huge, diverse continent where we see a dizzing variety of styles. Asia is the largest continent in both area and population. And until modern times the wealthiest continent as Marco Polo repourted to the anazement of Europeans. And wealth from timr menoirial has been a key factor in fashion. Important Asian geographic features separated populations, creating the possibility of such diverse fashioins to develop in all their variety and spendor. Unlike Europe, there is not the same detiled artistic tradition of painted depictions. So we know less about historic eras. And the photographic record is not nearly as extensive as it is for the West, epoecially during the 19th and early-20th century. Many of these historical, traditional mstyles have disappeared as Western fashions have be been wideky adopted, especially for children. Many traditional styles are rather like folk costuming in the west, worn more for special occassions than every day. In other countries they are still everyday dress. We do not note special styles for children. Girls wore small editions of their mothers' outfits. Today girls in many countries are more likely to wear Western styles, especially for school. Some of the most important styles come from China, India, Japan, and Korea. Thereare also many fascinating styles in Southeast Asia. Of course in large countries like China and India there are many regional differences. In addition to the bright colors and beautiful styles in much of Asia, we also notice drab cover everything approached in many Muslim countries of western Asia. At this time we have just begun our assessment and would be inteested in reader input. One notable phenomenon in the modern women's movement whichu is so critical of the United States is thev fact that how advanced women's rights were in America compared to other countries.


China like all the great River Valley civilization with the advent of agriculture ad civilization relegated women to subservient roles. This only increased with the advent of Confucianism and the idea of 'filial responsibility'- the idea that parents, grandparents, and older people in general should be treated with honor and respect. And in China it was men who were afforded the greatest respect because they were seen as the core of the family. And China from very early times, men have been seen as the core of the family. Ancestors were linked not primarily, but exclusively through the male line. Women’s loyalties were often in question because they came outside the male line. Chinese writings present a mixed picture of women. There are depictions of loyalty, courage, and devotion, but often are over-shown by accounts of intrigue, manipulation, and selfishness. Confucius taught that women should abide by the direction of the men inn their lives their fathers as children, husbands as wives, and their sons if widowed. The value of sons far out weighed that of daughters giving rise to infanticide. A social convention that still holds true in modern China, explaining the male imbalance in the population. After Confucius gender issues were often described as yin and yang. Women were the yin, men were the yang and the world of men and women should be kept separate. One uniquely Chinese practice was foot binding a development after Confucius in the Song Dynasty. The practice continued into the 20th century. Chinese women have made great progress. There were Qing dynasty reforms, advances during the Republican era (1910s-40s) and the Communist era (1950s- ). Mao gave considerable attention to women's place in society. He famously said, "Women hold up half the sky." Since Xi Jinping has gained dictatorial control of China, he has taken an aversion to what had been the growing feminist movements in China. He has closed many activist NGOs and severely censored many feminist platforms. Feminism is increasingly being viewed as a toxic Western ideology. 【Lu】 China is today experiencing a serious unemployment crisis as many university graduates are finding that jobs they studied for do not exist. Young women seen to be most severely impacted and are being encouraged to return to the rural village from which they came. Xi Thought is today being pushed much as Mao's thought were once revered. And Xi today is encouraging young women to "actively foster a new type of marriage and childbearing culture." 【"China wants ..."】 China would have a huge impact on modern society because of the Silk Road. Silk was only one of the products carried over the network, but coveted by Roman and medieval Europeans. Even more important was the technology carried, mostly from east to west. In the 19th century this reversed after the Industrial Revolution, but for most of history the flow was from East to West and profoundly impacted European civilization. It was China that had the productive rich economy as Marco Polo reported to incredulous Europeans (13th century). Women's clothing varied over time from dynasty to dynasty, but when the Europeans reached China, it was the Manchu/Qing dynasty that ruled. Women wore the qipao (旗袍 qípáo) also called the cheongsam. The qipao originated with the Manchu which conquered China. Western styles began to make inroads in clothing styles (1910s-40s). Then than with the victory of the Communists (1948), under the leadership of the Communist Party (CCP), austerity and Maoist styles became the norm. This only began changing with market reforms (capitalism) began transforming China (1970s). Xi seems to have convinced himself that it was the CCP that has transformed China and not capitalism. We shall see.


India has its origins as one of the great River Valley civiizations. And like other important civilizations, women assumed subordinate roles with the Neolitic Revolution. Of all the great world civilizations, Indian women may have been the most repressed. This is deeply rooted India's ancient history. There are four major periods: the Vedic, Epic period, Jainism and Buddhism, Dharmaśāstras/ Mánusmṛiti. One author tells about the decline of 'women’s dignified role and position entirely to a subservient one from Vedic period to the period of Dharmaśāstras, Mánusmṛiti'. [Pal] Women seem to have had the highest status in the earlier eras. The early or Rig Vedic Period (1500 BC–1000 BC) apparently held women in a respectable status. Dravidian culture 'has had a very long history as a referential term for the southern portion of India'. [Marr, p. 30.] Women were not only respected and even in the home and family. They were also honored by their participation in all the socio-cultural activities of early Indian The saga of women’s status in ancient Indian civilization'. Ovrer time time the dtaus of women in Indian society declined, This included the Epic or Later Vedic period (1000 BC–600 BC), the Jainism and Buddhism period (600 BC–200 BC) and the age of Dharmaśāstras, Mánusmriti (200 BC–647 AD). Some of these periods and cultural influences oer lappe despte the neat chronology often given. One schollar eplains, "The Dharmaśāstras are part of Hindu discourse, and the Dharmaśāstras period is considered to be from 600 BC to 200 AD. On the other hand Jainism and Buddhism also flourished in ancient India during the same period. Women’s status began to decline in 200 BC during the Dharmaśāstras period with Mánu’s codification (Mánusmriti) of societal legislation. Therefore, to avoid an overlap of periods and to highlight women’s status in ancient Indian civilization irrespective of religious bias, the Jainism and Buddhism period and the period of Dharmaśāstras, Mánusmriti is considered separately as 600 BC to 200 BC, and 200 BC to 647 AD, respectively." [Pal, p.180.] Soon Islamic teachings would begin to affect Indian thinking, well beforethe Mugal era (16th-18tg centuries). As a result you have ciltural patterns like ritual suicide--sutee. This develped from the Sanskrit 'sati' neaning 'good woman' or 'chaste wife'. Suttee was the Indian custom of a wife volutaily immolating herself on the funeral pyre of her dead husband orbotherwise joining her husband in death soon after his death. Sutee was not as widely practiced as sometimes suggested, it was an ideal held up for womanly devotion by certain Brahman and royal castes. This ws no finally ended until the Raj. Even today the disrespect toward can be seen in high rates of rape and phyical attacks on women. Indian fashions for women are well established and have inluenced fashions in other countries. The classic Indian garment for women and girls is the sari which we see here (figure 1).


Japan since the 16th century was one of the most isolated countries in the world. Shogun Hideyoshi and the succeeding Tokugawa Shogunate repressed Christianity and other Western influences which was seen as disrupting Japan's traditional society. The role of women among Christian families was one of many European cultural issues that offended Japanese tradituionsl society. Christians were hunted down and killed. Commonly they were crucified. The 26 martyrs of Japan were tortured and crucified on crosses outside Nagasaki to supress Christianity (1597). Trade with Europeans were severely limited. Thus Japan into the modern had a basically medieval traditioinal society entered to modern era with women at the bottom of the social structure, totally subservent to men. This was not always the case. Historians a diiferent societal role of women in ancient Japan, a matriarchal antiquity. An important factor in the change that occurred was the two major religions of Japan, Shintoism and Buddhism. The place of women evolved to one acquiescent confinement. This was the situation at the time of the Meiji Restoration (1868). The role of women changed very gradually and primarily because Japan began to build a modern education system whivch included girls. Boys dominated secondary and university education, but fr the first time girls were being educated bd exposed to ideas outside the household. Still Japanese siocirty relegated girls and women to hiusehold and maternal duties anbd caring for their husbands. Only with World War II, however, did Japanese women take the next big step. As the War went against Jaopan girls and unmmarried young women were mobilized for factory work. And with the Japanese surrender and the coming of the Americans The Government were recognized as having equal legal rights to men. Economic and social cinditions were a different matter and changed more slowly. And are still evolving. A scandal just emered on how female students were discriminated gainst in medical school entrances (2018). There is visual evidence of Japans evolving society. After the Meiji Restoration you begin to see men and boys wearing Western dress. This is especially the case for boys in schools as school uniformswere adopted with Western styles. We see girls and women clininging to traditional dress and not jusr whn dressing up for formal occassions, but for everyday wear. We see sountless family portraiy=its until after Wiorkd War II with the boys and men wearing Western styles and the girls and women wearing traditional srtles. This varies from family to family, but is very pronounced in the photigraohic record.


Korea has been one of the most isolated countries in the world and Communist North Korea still is. Situated between China and Japan, the country has been conquered by both, but mananaged to preserve its independence and became known as the Hermit Kingdom, reflectings its desire to remain inndependnt of both its neighbors. Like both China and Japan girls and women wore colorful traditionalal garments. The basic traditional garment Hanbok (South Korea), known as the Joseon-ot in North Korea). The Hanbok is done in silk with vibrant colors and follows simple lines without any pockets. Hanbok translates as 'Korean clothing' and is the sty;es of the Joseon/Chosŏn dynasty. This was a long-lasting Korean kingdom (14th-19th centuries). Today the Hanbok is worn as formal clothing during traditional festivals and important family celebrations. Korea over its long history had a kind of dual clothing tradition rather similar to European monarcial traditions. The rulers and aristocracy adopted a variety of mixed foreign-influenced but indigenous styles. Commoners preserved a distinct style of indigenous clothing, today known as hanbok. What the commonors role were, however, not the expensive silk and colored hanbok garments of modern Korea. The photographic record shows both men and women wearing inexpensive white garmebts for eceryday wear. Japan firt intricuced Western garments to Japan during the colonial period, primarily school uniforms for children (1909-45). Since World War II Koreans have adopted Western fashion. This process began slowly, but accelerated as South Korea adopted capitalist economic policies and became one of the Asian Tigers (1970s). The afflience of South Korea have made them Korean women anomg the most fashopn concious in Asia. South Korean women and girls want to use fashion to express their individuality. Just the opposite is the case in North Korea where the state has instituted fashions which reflect the submission of the individual to totalitarian state control. Indivisuality in North Korea actually is dangerous. The hanbok is a rare matter of North-Sputh consensus. And as much as South Koreans are into modern fashions, there is a strong nostagic attchment to the hanbok, especially for women and girls. The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism established 'Hanbok Day' to encourage South Koreans to wear handbook (1996).


Lu, Shen. "Under Xi Jinping, women in China have given up gains," The Wall Street Journal (2022)..

Marr, J.R. 1975, "The early Dravidians,"in A Cultural History of India, ed. AL Basham, Oxford University Press, London, pp. 30-37

Pal, Bhaswati. "The saga of women’s status in ancient Indian civilization." Miscellanea Geographica Vol. 23 • No. 3 (2019), pp. 180-84.

"China wants women to stay home and bear children". The Economist (November 9, 2023).


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Created: 4:02 AM 10/3/2015
Last updated: 12:43 PM 3/26/2024