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The Illustrated History of the Little Shirt…

November 10, 2010

Beiyang Huabao, June 29, 1927
“The Illustrated History of the Development of the Little Shirt, Part 3”
“中国小衫沿革图说”
By: 绾香阁主(Wan Xianggezhu)

#5 – The Little Vest (小马甲 – xiaomajia): This is the so-called little vest which is known as xiaomajia in the South (Zhejiang province etc.) but in the north it is known as the little waistcoat (小坎肩 – xiaokanjian) and in Guangdong 背心伃 – beixinyu or beixinzai/zi, the print on my copy is blurry) Of these names, vest/singlet (背心 – beixin) is the most popular and easy to understand. In the old days, the vest was called the shoulder cumberbund (背褡 – beida) and “little” was not used to describe it – these terms were used to cover up that the garments actually bound breasts. This part in the description is unclear but it seems that Wan is saying that these terms were used for breast-binding garments in earlier times even though people claim the “little vest” (xiaomajia) has only been around for 20 years.

When it was first used, it was only used by upper class women but now it is already common in all social classes throughout the country. Its style is the same as the common vest (putong beixin 普通背心) but in front of the breasts (胸 xiong – chest) there is a row of buttons so as to tightly bind. In 1927 the style was revamped: the neckline (领口 lingkou) was enlarged and/or made heart-shaped (鸡心形 jixinxing) or horizontal (横方形 hengfangxing). Decorative elements like hems and embellishments were added as well.

Wan argues that the clothing of her time is small and narrow and that it allows for the decorative borders and lace of the little vest can be seen at the edge of the seams and openings of women’s clothing. Summer clothing, in particular, is light and women use airy (xibo 稀薄 – used to describe air) material for the little vest to attract men.

#6 –Moxiong (抹胸): This is the newest style of moxiong and it only has minor differences from the two oldest styles (#1 and #2 in Wan’s series.) Wan argues that fashionable women are all “original” and so they imitate what they think are Western styles. However, Wan argues, Western styles have absolutely nothing to do with this style of long moxiong. These garments like the moxiong are only used to bind breasts (束乳部 shu ruburubu has connections to breast feeding and breast milk.) The author writes that this kind of undergarment doesn’t conceal the breasts and that it is stuffier than the little vest. Wan notes that she has used her free time to collect every kind of pattern/design of undergarments and published these six styles. This style is mostly worn by fashionable women (Wan uses the term for “the weaker sex,” 女流, here) and it isn’t entirely popular, but it could be the “little shirt” in China’s future.

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