Recently, major news sites such as Chinanews and Guangzhou Daily has been circulating a set of illustrations to propose a modernized version of Hanfu for use as high school uniforms, and is the first seriously accepted design for Hanfu in our time.
Previous to the release of this design, other “modernizing innovations” ranged from shortening the length of the shang skirt, to adding zippers and lace in its designs. Most Hanfu supporters strongly rejected the idea, citing that “Hanfu has not yet been popularized, and it would be unwise to Westernize it before the convention is stable.”
Their doubt and hesitance to quickly adapting existant elements has no doubt paid off, in the sense of confirming a public sense of what Hanfu is, differentiating itself from Korean and Japanese clothing of similar appearance.
In this article, I will focus on the criticism of this rumoured proposal for a Hanfu-inspired school uniform.
First off is the top – generally based off a white shirt cutting, short sleves and a low easy collar with hidden snap buttons to fasten. A crucial element of Hanfu is minimizing hard objects used as fasteners to ensure the most comfort – and hidden snap buttons may be a viable solution next to tied sashes. However, should tailors attempt to cut and tailor exactly according to this diagram, there are several major flaws may present discomfort for the wearer:
- Traditionally, the fastener point is located at the underbust, or the position about 4~5 inches below the armpit, and the angle of all inner visible layers should be 80~90° at the point of intersection. The result is double-layering of cloth for most of the chest area. In this design, the fastening point is at the bottom of the shirt, changing the angle of the intersecting points and only providing dual-layer protection for the lower abdomen area. If the material is thinner (such as the thin cotton-poly cloth used in school uniforms today) it may be an embarassment for girls to have their bras peer through from the two sides that aren’t covered.
- A common mistake I like to often point out – the collar is opened too wide — Hanfu should wrap in a close fit with the neck, and should this design be put on a three-dimensional body, the stretching of the arms would open the collar even further than designed (as all clothing would, more or less), and produce a common flaw in most lower-end Hanfu today of opening too far and showing the lockbone. A Hanfu zhongyi (or whatever is worn as the first layer) should not reveal that.The use of a fastener just below/at the point of intersection: The intention is not to have the collar fall open when bending down and revealing the inside. However, Hanfu with a good fit and proper fastening at the side should not have this problem (regardless of top/bust size), and would further remove the traditional functions of a Hanfu top — to store things inside (or accessing an inside pocket, which can be done if the button didn’t exist). Upon a second reconsideration, perhaps the use of this central button can be an option, and even feature for a school crest on the button outside.
The skirt of the proposed design is a direct application of the mamian qun (or horse-faced skirt), from female apparel in the Ming dynasty, with modern fabric and patterns suited for a school environment. Similar to other wrap skirts or kilts, the primary problem of it is it blowing open in a crosswind – a problem that wasn’t as evident if the skirt was full-length and lined with heavy fabric. However, as the skirt is now at knee-length and probably mass-produced with a woolen material, it is now evidently an issue – and while the kilt solves the issue with the characteristic large safety pin, a hidden snap button is used for the skirt of Chinese context – another stroke of modern genius many approve. A point I hope to see manufacturers get correctly is that the definition of a mamian qun is that the broad pleate is present at both the front and back, unlike the kilt which is only at the front. Diagrams from here do not show the existance of a back ‘face’, so that may be a point which must be pointed out and corrected. Perhaps a little feature (such as a stripe) at the end of the skirt would highlight the design, or feature the uniqueness of a school. That is left for each institution to decide for themselves. As a point of suggestion, pockets in the skirt may be much appreciated.
The proposal also suggested safety and information features such as including on the waistband of the skirt a ‘jade’ which includes the name of the school and student in seal-script, as well a jade decoration hung from the waist (a traditional piece of decor worn by both men and women, and can be used to hold the skirt down from the wind) that contains a RFID chip containing student information much similar to the function of a student card (sometimes even with a monetary balance – to access laundry machines, printers etc.) today. The only concern of this would be security, as these are attachments and are the most visible (and most stealable or easily misplaced) articles worn.
As Hanfu becomes more and more recognized in the mainland, the question of representation of tradition will no doubt spill over to question standing symbols of ‘Chinese-ness’. So far, the government has stood on a ‘let-be’ attitude, while the majority of the Chinese (who aren’t particularly against Hanfu) mostly submit to the idea of accepting the idea that the “Chinese” image is multifaceted and a duality of existance is needed in our time.
EDIT: Other pictures of the whole design has been posted here as well.