Forbidden City Chinese Imperial Robes Exhibition in Salem, Massachusetts

As in most cultures, especially among royalty and rulers, fashion was a predominant part of the symbolism and presentation. Almost every dynasty tweaked a few aspects of the attire and garments while keeping certain themes intact.

The imperial robes were gorgeous and were given a lot of attention as the process could take up to 3 years to create one. Many artisans such as embroiderers and weavers were assigned the duty of this important task, The designs were sketched first by the imperial court in Beijing then sent to three imperial silk factories in Southern China where the silk and fabric was created. Then the fabric is sent to the forbidden city in Beijing to be assembled into a fine imperial robe.

The robes were constructed using satin, gauze and brocade using different weaving styles specific to each fabric. Weaving is a method of making fabric by interlacing two distinct sets of long yarns at right angles. The weft yarn moves right to left, the warp yarn is attached to the loom and moves up and down. Embroidery encompasses the majority of the artwork on the imperial robe. Embroidery styles include couching and satin stitch.

The robes resembled long cloaks with large bell sleeves with hidden buttons or latches adorned with designs important to the Chinese culture and the empresses court such as the symbol for double happiness, dragons, phoenixes and peonies, Phoenixes were associated with the feminine force while dragons were associated with the masculine force.

Chinese culture seeks to unite these two forces acknowledging the importance of both.

Colors are a large part of the Chinese attire and garments especially within the imperial court, bright colors such as yellow and orange were reserved for the empress and the ladies of her court.