2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226

Changing of Fashion in Clothes and Reaction of the Gentry in Ming Dynasty

Jen-shu Wu

Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica

This paper is divided into two parts. The first part deals with the changing of fashion in clothes. Since the 16th century, some sartorial changes had been found in the ways in which Ming commoners dressed themselves, a clear indication of a society in transition. As fashion styles became increasingly diversified, more and more, common people imitated those of the elite. One of the results was the obfuscation of social strata. Seeing fashion as a symbol of social status, ordinary people used it to undermine traditional social boundaries.

The second part discusses the reaction of the most affected gentry to this new phenomenon.  Since the fall of the gentry's social status after the mid-Ming dynasty was accompanied by the rise of the other social strata in economic status, the imitation of their clothing styles by other social strata gave them a deep sense of crisis. They adopted two strategies to deal with the situation. First, they appealed to government to reaffirm old regulations prescribing correspondence of social ranks with clothing styles. In addition, they wrote articles citing ancient rituals and traditional attacks of eccentric clothes to criticize this trespassing on the part of commoners. When both strategies failed, they renovated their own fashion styles in order to assert their social status. They also made the aesthetic distinction between elegance and vulgarity to highlight the difference between tastes of the gentry and those of others. In the midst of this competition and self-assertion, the late Ming fashion of clothes became more and more diversified.


Key Words: clothes, fashion, consumerism, gentry