Ever wondered how the glamorous design of the Aoqun was made? What is it that makes the whole set worth thousands of yuan, asides from the superior quality of the fabric? How is the top made so that it forms the body so well but remain comfortable, or how does the skirt hold itself up? Here, I will try to deliver the “secrets” right from Chinese sources.
The Aoqun 襖裙 is comprised primarily of two pieces – an Ao 襖 top, which is defined as a “top with cotton lining, and goes down to just below the waist”, followed by a Qun 裙 – or more specifically the “Horse-faced skirt” 馬面裙, with small pleates on both sides and one large “face” pleate on the front and back. The Aoqun is a commonly-seen design among mid-late Ming relics from wealthy families and the royal court, as part of the casual or semi-formal fall-winter wardrobe. Currently, unlined versions of the Aoqun are also produced for the market – although technically “Ruqun”, they are still labelled Aoqun for noting its iconic Ming conical cutting, and the top worn untucked to the skirt.
Although some argue that the Aoqun gives the woman an older image, real life examples show that with the right colour and material, this design can give just as a youthful image as any other Hanfu design.
Part I: The Ao
The construction of all Hanfu tops are largely common to each other. It is comprised of 4 main pieces of fabric, along with 1 collarpiece and 2~3 pairs of small fabric sashes. In addition, a white “patch collar” may be hand-sewn on top of the collar, which can be replaced when it gets soiled.
The total arm stretch length (fingertip to fingertip) is to be measured, and then divided into four equal parts, which will translate to the widths of the four main pieces of fabric for the body and sleeves (length B in diagram). The entire workings of sketching and cutting will be done while the fabric is folded in half to ensure complete symmetry.
The body pieces: measure down from the shoulder line about 9~10 inches and mark the distance as the sleeve width at the root. Regardless of sleeve width, this end should give generous space to ensure freedom of movement (Measurement E). From the lower end of E, measure out the distance equivalent of 1/4 of the wearer’s bust measurement (Measurement A). Slightly loose measurements may help. Measure out the lenth of the piece as well by applying shoulder-hip length to this piece (Measurement D).
The sleeve pieces: With the same fabric folded in half as previous, simply draw out the sleeve as desired, with the “shoulder-line” fold as one end of the sleeve. While sketching, make sure it remains symmetrical along the meridian.
- The lapel pieces: Make sure the angle is the same as that of the cut-out from the body piece, and extends to just a little more than measurement A in width.
- The collar piece: Prepare a long strip of fabric (there should be space after you have finished sketching the lapel piece) about 16~20cm wide, and about 120cm long (usually the entire length of your fabric, both sides). Fold it widthwise in half, and fold in the angles at the end.
- Sashes: Use scraps left over from the main parts (e.g. the leftovers from the underarms should be plenty) to create 6 sashes, about 20cm in length, and as wide or narrow as you wish (although they are best left unnoticeable). Be careful when sewing on the sashes: the left armpit one is always on the inside, and the right armpit one is always outside.
The completed sketch on one continuous piece of fabric should look something like this (below):
Part II: The Skirt
The “horse-face skirt” Mamianqun is one of the more complex designs of skirts in Hanfu, and requires a bit more work than other designs. However, by following these procedures carefully with a little tailor’s finesse, it should come out beautifully.
Credits: Kudos to Ganling 甘領 of Hanfu Baidu Bar 百度漢服吧 for the excellent drawings on the Ao and Mamianqun.
EDIT: Ganling (as well as the author) has pointed out that conventions for making the skirt head sashes has always kept them separate, without going through the skirt head. Here is an alternate/revised edition below. Note that each of the new (separated) sashes are sewn on the ends of the skirt, at 0.5x waist circumfrence.