The Chinese tradition of wearing new clothes for the Spring Festival dates back to the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-589 AD). During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it was customary to be dressed in new clothing when visiting friends and family on New Year’s Day.
In the Republican Period (1912-1949), new clothes were necessary when paying respects to elders. Chinese New Year clothes are a large part of the Spring Festival tradition in addition to lucky Chinese New Year decoration. You should know what to wear when celebrating the occasion with friends and family!
The significance of wearing new Chinese New Year clothes
The Spring Festival is a season for change and new beginnings. Consistent with most activities on the occasion, wearing new clothes represents leaving the old and welcoming the new. They also add to the festivity and are believed to protect you from evil spirits!
Back in the day, when China was principally an agrarian nation, people could only harvest thrice a year in the South and once a year in the North. Because of this, people saved their resources throughout the year.
When the Spring Festival came around, people would spend what they have saved and treat themselves. This aspect of the Chinese New Year clothes tradition is lost on the younger generations, but it is always good to know about the historical significance of these customs!
It is completely fine to buy yourself new clothes, but most of the time, you will receive them as gifts from friends and family. Make sure that you wear them on New Year’s Day to symbolize new beginnings!
What to wear
You are not required to wear specific types of clothing on New Year’s Day. Nevertheless, the Chinese love to follow the fashion trends of the time. But if you want to evoke more of a traditional flare, you can never go wrong with the following!
Tang Suit (唐装)
You may have seen this type of clothing worn by actors in Chinese martial arts films. The traditional tang suit was mainstream in the Tang Dynasty, but the more modern take to it combines the man-riding jacket of the Qing Dynasty and the western suit.
The Tang suit features its signature upturned collar, straight lapels, and traditional Chinese knots. They were popularly worn by world leaders during the 2001 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
The fabric used to make these pieces is usually brocade, a luxury material in ancient times. Traditionally, the tang suit was seamless between the body and sleeves. Although it allowed for comfortable movement, it was later modified because the looseness did not fit the aesthetics of today. You can also have your tang suit tailor-made and embroidered with auspicious symbols.
The qipao was popularized during the Qing Dynasty, but the contemporary styles we see today are very different from the first ones. The original qipao was a conservative dress embroidered with intricate designs. Because of colonization, the modern qipao is largely influenced by western culture.
From the origination of the qipao until today, changes in its style continue to swing between long and short, tight and loose. Today, they are usually fit very tight and their openings can start as high up as the thigh. The stiff straight collar and traditional Chinese knots are still preserved.
The term “cheongsam” literally translates to “long shirt/dress” but is often used by Westerners to refer to women’s qipao. It is tailored to fit loosely and is more commonly worn by men today.
The cheongsam is essentially a customized version of Qing Dynasty clothing and was worn as formal attire during the 1900s. Its length represents status as long clothing is not suitable for physical labor, while the sideways lapel symbolizes wealth and prosperity.
The term “hanfu” literally means “clothing of the Han ethnicity” and comprises of traditional apparel up until the Qing Dynasty. There are many variations, but a hanfu outfit generally includes a shirt and a skirt. The shirt has cross lapels with long and wide sleeves while the skirt is long and could even start from the chest.
The Hanfu from Tang Dynasty seems to have influenced the Japanese kimono while that of the Ming Dynasty may have influenced the hanbok of the Koreans. This is because of the good relationship between these countries during these periods. You can also add modern touches to your hanfu like a shorter skirt and more Western elements. The exquisite cuts and fresh colors will definitely make you stand out!
Chinese men were prohibited from going out without a headdress in the past. Today, you can sport any hairstyle you want. There is a much wider array of choices for women. A popular misconception is that they use chopsticks as hair accessories. They are actually ornate wands that taper off to intricate design and are embedded with precious stones.
Things to remember when picking Chinese New Year clothes
When choosing Chinese New Year clothes, you can never go wrong with the color red. On the other hand, keep away from black and white as they are unlucky and negative.
If you want to follow the traditional trend, the tang suit is the most popular choice. Others wear the qipao, but it is not really ideal for the winter season. The hanfu is slowly regaining popularity, but it is not as prevalent as the tang suit.
You will see many of these outfits worn by performers on the Spring Festival Gala. When you have your Chinese New Year clothes ready, wear them with a smile on your face as you welcome fresh beginnings!