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Metersbonwe Costume Museum

October 24, 2010

Front of the Metersbonwe Costume Museum – the steel work on the side is of women weavin

On Friday, I visited the Metersbonwe Costume Museum in Pudong. Metersbonwe is a department store in Shanghai and over the years, the owners have amassed a very large collection of Chinese clothing, jewelry, and minority clothing. Some of these pieces used to be displayed on the top floor of Metersbonwe flagship store on Nanjing Dong Lu but now they are housed in an impressive hall in the Metersbonwe corporate headquarters out in Pudong. I took Line 2 to the Longyang Rd. stop and then I had to take the 龙芦专线空调 bus to the Metersbonwe stop. I assumed the museum was just in the suburbs, so I was a bit shocked when the scenery went from bleak suburbs to factories, shanties, highway, and open space.

Qing Dynasty formal robes, on the gold fabric there is a very slight circular pattern

I got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and asked the security guard where the museum was and he looked confused. I immediately started freaking out in my head but thankfully, the museum DOES exist even though I don’t have an appointment. I read through the website thoroughly but clearly missed (probably because it was in Chinese, not very smart on my part) the bit about calling and setting up an appointment to see the museum. However, someone agreed to open the museum just for me and I was walked over by a security guard.

Qing Dynasty formal robes – you can’t see it very well in the photos but the embroidered dragons are made of peacock feathers!

A young woman named Zhaoning, who works for the museum, came and let me in, and gave me a very insightful tour around the robes and qipaos in the museum. What is on display at the Costume Museum changes every few months – the Metersbonwe costume collection is huge – and the current display was largely from the Late Qing Dynasty and Republican periods. I asked Zhaoning if there were any undergarments or breast-binding related garments on display and she said there weren’t, but that she would e-mail me a few photos of pieces in the collection. Fingers crossed!

Qing Dynasty informal robes

One thing you will notice in my kind of poor photos of the pieces – I’m sorry, I am not a very gifted photographer -is that the size of the clothes becomes smaller and smaller, meaning, more form-fitting and this transition is clearly a huge part of the Republican period backlash against breast-binding and thus, my research.

I asked Zhaoning about the meaning of the embroidery on the pieces. During the late Qing dynasty, which the robe above is from, this embroidery was still done by hand, even if it wasn’t done by the woman who would wear the piece. Butterflies and flowers were connected to love and romance, cranes symbolized long life and wishes for many children, and spiders, which are embroidered on the doudu at the Shanghai Antiques Market that I want, also symbolized many children. Since doudu were often embroidered, I definitely need to learn more about embroidery.

During the Republican period, embroidery became much simpler and clothing began to be manufactured in factories, instead of being handmade. A very clear example of the differences between late Qing and Republican clothing can be seen when you compare the above garment, a navy blue silk robe with white embroidery, and the below garment, a black satin qipao with white printing.

I’m saving my absolute favorite piece for last:

This yellow silk qipao, probably made in the 1930s, has sheer white flowers all over it. On the upper half of the garment, the sheer white flowers must have revealed whatever kind of undergarments (binding or otherwise) the woman was wearing.

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