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Culture Focus

Hanfu Popularity: A Return to Traditionalism and A Warm Welcome to Chic Change

Illustration Credit: Tarisha Sarker

Although the re-emergence of Hanfu in China began nearly 20 years ago, this traditional form of clothing has recently reached new heights in modern fashion due to its rising popularity on social media platforms. 

Hanfu is a type of dress, initially worn during the Han Chinese era. It is considered to be a more authentic form of historical clothing in comparison to the Chinese garments typically worn today. 

As a result of fashion influencers, such as Shiyin and Chen Ningxi, and the Hanfu movement, this dress has become increasingly popular in the last few months. Its newfound prevalence is not only a beautiful change in fashion,, but also a symbol of a possible rise in traditionalism and an attempt at reaching out to Chinese heritage and culture. 

For decades, fashion in China has consisted of Western trends, but thanks to creators like Shiyin, a fashion/lifestyle vlogger, this type of dress has risen spectacularly among younger generations. The attire is representative of the nation under Han rule and seems to align with the recent call to promote traditional Chinese values by President Xi Jinping. 

In 2003, enthusiasts attempted to revitalize the Hanfu movement by wearing this type of clothing in public and organizing activities that were typically related to Chinese traditional culture. About two years later, the first store appeared, and over time, its popularity increased — as did the number of Hanfu enthusiasts.

Between 2019 and 2020, in fact, the number of supporters had grown from 3.56 million to over 6 million. Shiyin has been notable for her usage of the dress and states that she “continues to wear Hanfu because it gives [her] confidence in [her] own culture.”

Shiyin is known for sharing lifestyle vlogs and fashion/beauty videos online. She currently hosts a series called “What Is Luxury?” where she initially discussed designer brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel. She has recently also decided to cover traditional Chinese clothing in hopes of inspiring others to perceive this costume as beautiful and equally as luxurious.

The dress has grown so much so that the hashtag #Hanfu on Weibo “has had over 4.89bn views to date, while on TikTok in China (Douyin), #Hanfu videos have been viewed more than 47.7bn times.”

The number of Hanfu enthusiasts has grown so spectacularly that China’s first Hanfu expo has been scheduled to take place in Xiuwu, in Henan province, from May 7th to May 9th. The expo will consist of enterprises, merchants, and, of course, supporters in an effort to strengthen and help grow the industry.

There are several forms of Hanfu such as Ruqun, Aoqun, Beizi, and Shenyi. Ruqun Hanfu is a short upper-body garment on a lower-body skirt while Aoqun is moreso a short coat with a long skirt underneath. Beizi is a slender knee-length jacket and wide leg pants and Shenyi is typically a long, belted robe with wide sleeves. 

In addition to these forms, there are various ways that Hanfu is designed and worn. The most common way to wear Hanfu is with jiaoling (crossed, wraparound collar) but there is also the U collar (collar in the shape of a peach heart) and the Dui-jin (a straight, symmetrical collar with the waist of the dress pressed more firmly and flush against the individual’s waist). Part of the design is also the way in which Hanfu is worn and one example of this is Qixiong, where the dress is tied underneath the armpits.

Nonetheless, this dress is usually identifiable by its long flowing robe and loose sleeves which makes it easily distinguishable from the qipao. Also known as Cheongsam, the qipao is a form of Manchu-influenced clothing where the sleeves are narrow and tight with many buttons and high-necked. It is close-fitting and has no front openings. Hanfu, on the other hand, is loose and uses belts and sashes to close or secure the fabric around the waist. 

A hallmark of Hanfu is its cross collar (jiaoling), right lapel, and the use of sashes instead of buttons that are usually very common in other forms of clothes. Its designs can cost between 100 yuan to 10,000 yuan!

Its growth will also be beneficial in promoting the influence of Chinese culture which has been limited to costumes more favorable to particular body types (qipao is slim and form-fitting so it may not be desired or comfortable for all individuals). Though Hanfu is not the most popular clothing item yet, it is certainly a portion of the upcoming trend toward a more chic fashion style. Hopefully it can provide a platform for Chinese individuals to express themselves while simultaneously representing their culture and heritage.