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Phoenix tail skirt Hanfu

Fengwei skirt is a special variety of skirts from the Qing Dynasty, made by connecting colored strips of fabric to the waist, with the end of the fabric cut into sharp corners, resembling a phoenix tail and named after it. Due to the large gap between the stripes, they cannot be worn alone and are often worn as accessories around a horse faced skirt.

In the mid Qing Dynasty, phoenix tail skirts began to be popular; In the late Qing Dynasty, the design of the phoenix tail skirt was simplified, forming a phoenix tail horse face skirt; In the early period of the Republic of China, the phoenix tail skirt continued to be simplified and gradually disappeared from daily clothing because it did not meet the needs of the times.


Phoenix tail skirt

Origin and development


There are differences among scholars regarding the origin time of the phoenix tail skirt, with three main viewpoints: Mr. Shen Congwen believes in “Research on Ancient Chinese Costume” that some clothing systems in the early Qing Dynasty were modeled after the Song Dynasty, and the origin of the phoenix tail skirt can be traced back to the Song Dynasty. Mr. Huang Nengfu and Mr. Chen Juanjuan believe in “The History of Chinese Costume” that the phoenix tail skirt appeared in the Ming Dynasty, or in other words, during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Mr. Zhou Xibao believes in the “History of Ancient Chinese Costume” that the phoenix tail skirt appeared in the middle to late Qing Dynasty.

Due to the term “phoenix tail skirt”, it began to be recorded during the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty. The earliest record can be found in Volume 9 of the “Yangzhou Painted Boat Record”. The original text was “the skirt style is cut with satin as strips, with each embroidered flower on both sides, inlaid with gold thread, and broken and twisted into a skirt.”. Therefore, the origin of the phoenix tail skirt was not later than the mid Qing Dynasty. Although similar shapes appeared in the Song Dynasty, they were not common. The phoenix tail skirt, along with the horse face skirt, the dried skirt, the fish scale skirt, and the pleated skirt, formed the main styles of the Qing Dynasty women’s skirts.

Because the design of cutting satin into strips does not have a continuous tradition in daily clothing in the Central Plains region, some scholars speculate that its shape originated from the shamanic ritual “divine skirt”. With the entry of the Qing Dynasty, it had a certain influence on theatrical clothing at that time and gradually became popular among the people. The skirt decorations of Kuren shaman clothing are very similar to the shape of the phoenix tail skirt. Later, due to its unique and beautiful “phoenix tail” shape and auspicious and festive symbolism, the phoenix tail skirt became a classic dress for women in wealthy families.


The development period of phoenix tail skirts was mainly from the mid Qing Dynasty to the late Qing Dynasty. The Yangzhou Painting Boat Record describes the phoenix tail skirt as the main dress style for women at that time, indicating that it was very popular during the Qianlong period of the Qing Dynasty. During the Xianfeng and Tongzhi periods, the trend of wearing a phoenix tail skirt was overshadowed by a fish scale pleated skirt. As recorded in the “Qing Dynasty Beijing Zhuzhi Ci Shiyang Skirt”, “How long has the phoenix tail been unheard of? The cost of a single cotton jacket varies, but nowadays, regardless of the festival, a fish scale pleated skirt is worn.” It can be seen that ancient people felt the inconvenience of wearing a phoenix tail skirt, and their aesthetic gradually tended to two sets of skirt decorations with relatively simple shapes, overall appearance, and convenient wearing. In the late Qing Dynasty, during the Xianfeng and Tongzhi periods, there was a tendency to wear a derivative of the horse faced skirt – the fish scale pleated skirt. But at the same time, there have also been designs that simplify the way the phoenix tail skirt is worn, that is, the ribbon of the phoenix tail skirt is sewn outside the horse face skirt, forming the phoenix tail horse face skirt.

Starting from the mid to late Qing Dynasty, phoenix tail skirts often appeared in ceremonial and wedding occasions, and later evolved into different forms. During the late Qing Dynasty, various foreign goods were imported in large quantities, and the dazzling variety of goods stimulated the consumption desire of the Chinese people, forming a social atmosphere of advocating luxury. Make the patterns and decorative techniques of clothing during this period extremely delicate and complex. At this time, the individual pieces of the phoenix tail skirt were also influenced by this trend, and the cut and striped shape provided space for the design of the series style pattern. The ribbon skirt of the phoenix tail skirt used various techniques to express auspicious patterns, making it one of the tools for people to pray for blessings and good luck.

At the beginning of the Republic of China, women’s clothing became increasingly simple. Generally, Han women still wore tops, skirts, or pants in the late Qing style, but the clothes were more fitting. The shape of the skirt gradually simplified, changing from two skirts to one skirt; Gradually changing from a skirt tied around to a dress worn over, and so on. The overly complex decoration and styling of the phoenix tail skirt gave way to simple and more suitable clothing for activities, and gradually disappeared from daily clothing because it did not meet the needs of the times.

In contemporary times, the phoenix tail skirt is still used in traditional Chinese opera costumes, such as the costumes of some female martial artists who have fully preserved the form of the phoenix tail skirt. It’s just that in traditional Chinese opera, the phoenix tail skirt is worn outside the top, which is different from the daily matching of the phoenix tail skirt worn inside the top during the late Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China period.


Phoenix tail skirt

Production process


Modern scholar Huang Nengfu summarized his observations of phoenix tail skirts into the following three types: first, cut satin and made strips called “phoenix tails”, with each piece embroidered and a bell shaped bell attached to the end of the phoenix tail; Secondly, sew curved circular pieces and small metal block shaped bells on the phoenix tail, making the bells placed in this way more sturdy and less prone to wear and tear; Thirdly, a dance dress that integrates the upper and lower parts, the lower part of which is the basic unit “ribbon” composed of phoenix tails.

Some scholars have further subdivided the types of phoenix tail skirts based on the style of the “phoenix tail”. For example, based on its ribbon shape, it can be divided into embroidery style, embellishment style, and parallel style. The embroidered style phoenix tail skirt has almost identical phoenix tails, with a trapezoidal shape that is thin on top and thick on the bottom. The lower end of the phoenix tail is in the shape of a sword. The patchwork style phoenix tail skirt has the same upper end and different shapes at the lower end. Some are sewn together with thread, while others are sewn together with string beads; The variety of forms and production techniques make this type of phoenix tail skirt look more diverse. Each phoenix tail of the side by side style phoenix tail skirt adds branches in the upper middle position, making the overall look more gorgeous and colorful.

The design of the horse face part can be divided into a phoenix tail skirt with or without horse face. A phoenix tail skirt with a horse face usually has two horse faces, one on the front and one on the back when worn. The skirt width of the horse face is significantly wider than that of the ribbon, and the decorative patterns are more diverse and complex. The phoenix tail skirt without horse face has no horse face part, and the entire skirt is composed of relatively regular ribbons. Its craftsmanship is also basically the same, with almost no distinction between front and back.

The design of the phoenix tail embroidery strip can be divided into phoenix tail skirts with consistent thickness and varying thickness. The width of the ribbons on the phoenix tail skirt with varying embroidery thickness varies, and the ribbons are arranged in a staggered pattern. Some are regular while others are irregular, making them more casual and natural. The thickness, size, color, spacing, pattern, and embellishments of the ribbons on a phoenix tail skirt with consistent embroidery are basically consistent, with a strong sense of regularity and order. Visually, it is relatively neat, and this type of phoenix tail skirt accounts for the majority.


The phoenix tail skirt comes in colors such as bright red, royal blue, dark green, and green lotus, all of which are the colors people imagine as phoenix wings, noble and bright, filled with a joyful atmosphere. The waist of the skirt is mainly concentrated in red, blue, and white, with red tones including bright red, vermilion, pink, etc; There are blue tones, such as blue, lake blue, sky blue, etc. Fengwei strips often use high brightness red, green, blue, yellow, pink, purple, and orange seven color strips, with strong color contrast, bright colors, and a rich sense of decoration, with a strong folk color of the Central Plains region.


The fabric of the phoenix tail skirt is mainly divided into two categories: cotton and silk. Cotton includes plain twill cotton fabric and printed plain cotton fabric, etc; Silk fabrics include silk, satin, yarn, brocade, and other silk fabrics, often accompanied by dark patterns, which are gorgeous and rich.

The waist of a phoenix tail skirt is mainly composed of three parts: the waistband, waist loop, and tie rope. Due to the fact that the waist of the skirt is close to the skin when worn and needs to be tightly tied under stress, the fabric of the waist of the skirt needs to be breathable, have strong moisture absorption, and be durable and not easily worn. Cotton fabric has a thick body, a flat surface, and is sturdy and durable, making it a very suitable choice for skirt waist fabrics.

The fabric of the phoenix tail skirt is usually made of real silk. However, due to the fact that the phoenix tail skirt is usually paired with a knee length jacket or shirt, the visible part is mainly the lower half of the skirt, so the skirt width is sometimes made up of real silk fabric and cotton linen fabric spliced together: cotton linen fabric is on top, and the jacket covers it; The silk fabric is embroidered with decorative patterns such as flowers, birds, fish, and insects. In the phoenix tail skirt, the embroidered part of the fabric is entirely made of real silk, and the decorative part of the fabric is also mostly made of silk, such as rolled edges, edging, three-dimensional floral decorations, etc.

The fabric inside the phoenix tail skirt lining is mostly monochromatic silk and cotton, but the exquisite home lining is also made of gorgeous materials. When the wind blows the skirt hem, the lining is exposed, and the silk with dark patterns has also become a decoration.


Phoenix tail skirt

Cultural characteristics

Cultural connotations


The name “Fengwei skirt” is a concrete manifestation of a woman’s pursuit of beauty. In Chinese culture, “phoenix” is a representative of auspiciousness, with elegant and noble characteristics. Women wearing phoenix tail skirts not only create a graceful and intelligent physique, but also a psychological desire to become an elegant woman like a phoenix. Essentially, people express their prayers through the shape and name of the phoenix.

Decorative patterns

From the decorative patterns of the phoenix tail skirt, the pattern composition is a combination of suitable and individual forms, and the content is a Chinese characteristic auspicious pattern, which is called “the picture must be intentional, and the meaning must be auspicious”. The materials are concrete animal, plant, and human patterns. These patterns are entirely based on nature and real life. The plant patterns mainly include plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo chrysanthemums, peonies, lotus flowers, pomegranates, and precious flowers, which are used to borrow objects and express abstract biomimetic techniques. For example, plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo chrysanthemums symbolize nobility and integrity, peonies symbolize wealth and prosperity, pomegranates represent multiple children, and precious flowers symbolize wealth, happiness, and contentment. In animal patterns, insects, birds, fish, and beasts are mainly used, such as dragons and phoenixes, butterflies, bats, cranes, goldfish, deer, etc. By using the homophonic sound of bats with “fu” and “fu”, they express the meaning of happiness and wealth; Goldfish and jade; Lu and others. There are several combined designs, such as the combination of the characters “Wan Zi”, “Bat”, and “Shou Zi” to create the “Fu Shou Wan Dai” design; The magpie climbing on the plum blossom symbolizes happiness on the eyebrows, etc. The expression of such traditional patterns not only carries the ancient people’s aspirations for wealth, longevity, happiness, and peace, but also brings people beautiful wishes; Moreover, coupled with ancient Chinese embroidery techniques, the phoenix tail skirt has a strong decorative effect, making the artistic form more intense, specific, and fully expressed in clothing.

Dressing and matching

Because the ribbons of the phoenix tail skirt are separated from each other and cannot completely cover the body, it cannot be worn separately and is often wrapped around a horse face skirt to match. Women’s clothing in the Qing Dynasty mostly consisted of tops and pants. The phoenix tail skirt top is paired with a jacket, usually with a right lapel and a large collar, reaching knee length or below. The sleeves are wide and wide, with left and right slits. Wearing a skirt on the lower body is considered impolite for women in the poetic and ceremonial family. It is essential to wear a skirt from morning till night. Those who only wear pants without skirts are mostly lowly working women. Upper middle families often use silk fabrics for their skirts, with red being the most expensive color. Wrap the waist around the skirt, and wear the “horse face” in front and back. After wearing it, tie the phoenix tail skirt over the horse face skirt, cover the skirt waist with the hem of the top, wear a three inch golden lotus on the feet, tie a bun on the head, and add some handkerchiefs, sachets and other accessories. The whole outfit is basically completed.

Since the mid to late Qing Dynasty, phoenix tail skirts have been commonly used in wedding ceremonies. The bride’s formal attire consists of a floral shirt, a bell skirt, and a phoenix crown on the head. Hua Shan Zi resembles the cloud shoulders of the Ming Dynasty, draped over a red silk jacket; The bell skirt, also known as the phoenix tail skirt, is a formal dress that covers the silk red skirt. Wearing a floral robe, a cloud shouldered cloak, ribbons and ribbons, tying a bell skirt, with pomegranate red carved sleeves, and over a hundred small golden bells embellished at the hem of the skirt. With each slow step, I listen to the sound of Ling Ling. At the moment of bowing, the groom knelt down and bowed down, wearing a solemn and elegant aura. But at that time, only powerful officials and wealthy families would dress up as “flower shirts, bell skirts”. This kind of wedding dress varies slightly in different regions and periods, and continued until the late Qing Dynasty. Although the weddings of the common people in the late Qing Dynasty were not as grand and prestigious as those of famous families and nobles, marriage was a public event that not only involved the groom and bride, but also the social recognition of their union in their social circles. Therefore, the organization of marriages should also be treated according to the highest standards possible. The top is mostly a bright red or stone blue embroidered women’s jacket, with cloud shoulders on the shoulders, and the bottom is a red wedding dress. A phoenix tail skirt is usually worn outside a red wedding dress, with a red hood covering the head.

Identity and occasion

Before the mid Qing Dynasty, the phoenix tail skirt may have only been the attire of high-ranking officials and destined women of the Han ethnic group, and it was mostly their wedding dress. After the mid Qing Dynasty, the wearing range of the phoenix tail skirt gradually expanded, and it was worn by both Manchu and Han women. The number of occasions it was worn also gradually increased. Apart from weddings and formal occasions, it was also frequently worn during Yan residences.


Phoenix tail skirt

historical value

The phoenix tail skirt is a materialized result of the Confucian concept of “ritual”. Due to its decorative metal products such as bells at the tail, some areas are also called “bell skirts”. In addition to beautifying the skirt, decorative bells also had an undeniable social function at that time, which was to test women’s manners. Clothing, as an important carrier symbol of social customs, its form and decoration were all reflections of mainstream culture at that time. Since ancient times, the Zhou ritual has been widely accepted by people as a way to maintain the hierarchy of monarchs and subjects, as well as the order of seniority and inferiority. The principle of “restraining oneself and restoring etiquette” embodies the symbol of Confucianism and Mencius in the phoenix tail skirt. The tail decoration of the bell requires women to walk, sit, and lie in a dignified manner. If the movement amplitude is slightly large, it will cause the skirt to sway and the bell will emit sound, which will appear that the woman’s family education is not strict. Such a phoenix tail skirt not only became a tool for women to learn the elegant behavior of “lotus steps and light movements” from a young age, but also became a material medium for learning traditional etiquette, indirectly reflecting the strict requirements of feudal society for women’s etiquette.

In contemporary times, the elements of phoenix tail skirts are often used in clothing design, accessory design, and other aspects. Especially in the field of fashion design, some high-end custom Chinese clothing brands have innovated in the elements of phoenix tail skirts, adjusting the structure of the cut strips of phoenix tail skirts, stitching the fabric together, but it still retains the visual effect of the cut strips on the appearance, making it more clever and beautiful. Alternatively, the material of the phoenix tail skirt can be replaced with silk thread, arranged in a staggered pattern around the waist, breaking through the shape of the phoenix tail skirt.


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