Chinese customs

As best is known, men in early Chinese societies wore their hair long but tied it up in a knot that they wore close to the top of their head. This custom changed dramatically in 1644 C.E. when the Manchu people took control of the throne, founding the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). The Manchus were of a different ethnic group than the majority of the Chinese people, who were known as Han Chinese. Upon taking power the Manchus established a law that required that all Han Chinese men shave the front of their heads and wear their hair in a single long braid that hung down the center of the back of the neck. This braid of hair was called a queue. The queue remained in style until the revolution of 1911, which brought an end to imperial rule in China, after which Chinese men tended to wear their hair shorter and cut in various styles similar to those in the West.

Conical Hat History

Japanese hairstyles often relied on pins, combs, and other forms of fasteners to keep hair in place.

Reproduced by permission of © Christie's Images/CORBIS.

Japanese hairstyles often relied on pins, combs, and other forms of fasteners to keep hair in place.

Reproduced by permission of © Christie's Images/CORBIS.

Chinese men wore a variety of hats over the many years of their civilization, but two are especially distinctive. The first, known as the summer hat, was conical in shape and made out of rattan, a type of palm, sometimes covered in silk. Its sloping sides extended to the ears and provided protection from the sun. The winter hat was equally distinctive. This hat had a close fitting crown and a long brim that was turned straight up all the way around the head. Extending from the center of the crown was an ornament or a feather, depending on the rank of the wearer. These winter hats could be made of silk, fur, or velvet.

Chinese women tended not to wear hats, but their hairstyles were very important. The hair of Chinese women was naturally straight, and they wore it long. It was well suited to styling. Women used a sticky oil made from wood shavings as a kind of gel and sculpted their hair into styles that wound or piled the hair at the back of the head and the sides. Hair pins and combs were used to hold the hair in place, and flowers and ribbons were used as ornaments.

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