- Chinese Clothing: An Illustrated Guide, and: Mandarin Squares: Mandarins and Their Insignia, and: Chinese Dragon Robes, and: Traditional Chinese Clothing in Hong Kong and South China, 1840-1980
Historically, people have used clothing to create a visual representation of their individual selves; in the process, the dressed self has become the result of a synthesis of culture and the individual. While clothing has been integrally important to many cultures, in China the use of clothing as a pivotal feature of social organization was highly developed from the Ming dynasty up to recent times. Chinese costume has long been of interest to Westerners, but unfortunately little has been published in English in the way of systematic investigation. Valery Garrett has accomplished a remarkable feat in producing four books on the topic of Chinese clothing. Both specialists (such as costume historians) and nonspecialist readers will delight in the wealth of material presented in her books in a clear and straightforward manner. Costume historians will be pleased to see the numerous photographs, drawings, and thorough descriptions that provide detailed information on costume in China. Specialists on East Asia may be surprised to find that in China, dress was neither ephemeral nor merely symbolic, but highly complex and nuanced. Dress includes not only clothing, but adornment, grooming, and care of the body; it is a gestalt from which an image is created. In Chinese society, clothing became integral to the system of social organization in its representation of the social hierarchy. [End Page 449]
Garrett comes to her study of Chinese costume through her professional training as a fashion and textile designer in both the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, where she was also the Head of fashion design at Hong Kong Polytechnic. More recently, she has turned her attention to costume collections, and she works with the Hong Kong Museum of History. It is that combination of professional, academic, and curatorial interests that has led to such readable and eminently useful books on Chinese costume as these.
Of Garrett's four books, Chinese Clothing: An Illustrated Guide is the most comprehensive. In this book, Garrett covers dress in the Ming and Qing dynasties and in the twentieth century. Additionally, she has included chapters on military uniforms and special-occasion dress, children's wear, the dress of minority groups, and the materials used in clothing design. While most works on Chinese dress have focused on the Qing dynasty and its Manchu influence, in this book Garrett goes farther back in history to examine the elements of dress indigenous to the Han Chinese in the Ming dynasty. The Qing dynasty and the twentieth century are also thoroughly covered. She shows the complex dress code that developed to include sartorial requirements based on the type of social event that the wearer was to attend. Dress codes pertained to official or unofficial as well as to formal, semiformal, and informal events. The Chinese prided themselves on being civilized; this pride was symbolized by being well-dressed, and the dress code kept society well ordered.
Garrett does not fall into the usual trap of examining only ritual, ceremonial, and special-occasion dress but looks at the range of social classes...