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Robe History

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Chinese Robe History

Robes have a long history that dates back thousands of years and spans the entire globe. Chinese robe history is particularly noteworthy due to the introduction of silk, the significant role that robes played amongst Chinese peasants and the ruling classes alike, and China's cultural dominance throughout Eastern Asia.

China has long produced silk, having discovered it in the third millennium B.C.E. Once discovered, silk was first reserved only for the ruling emperor. Eventually, silk became available to China's upper classes followed by the general population. Silk's popularity soared. This passion for silk spread to other East Asian countries including Japan, Korea, and Vietnam once these countries were exposed to its wonders. Silk was traded along the Silk Road which opened in the 2nd Century B.C.E.

According to's Clothing and Fashion Encyclopedia, China's basic garment for men and women was a wrapped, robe-like garment. For the upper classes, silk was the material of choice; robes were tied at the waist and were worn either long or short over pants or a skirt. For the lower classes, robes were shorter and made from textiles such as silk, hemp, and cotton.

Robes were also worn by the Chinese Calvary beginning in the 1st Millennium B.C.E. These robes were typically short and worn over trousers. In fact, it's been widely reported that European missionaries once observed that "even the simplest soldiers are dressed in silk."

Han Chinese clothing, or Hanfu, originated during the Shang Dynasty with the introduction of the yi (a narrow cuffed, knee-length tunic that was tied with a sash), the chang (an ankle-length skirt), and the bixi (knee-length fabric). The dynasty that followed, the Western Zhou Dynasty, used clothing to indicate status with sleeve wideness and skirt length one of many identifiers.

Dragon robes appeared during the Song Dynasty as a form of court wear. Continuing the tradition of wearing specific apparel to signify status within the social hierarchy system, the color and elaborate details featured on their long silken robes conveyed precise military rank information. Civilian versions of dragon robes were also worn, again with details that revealed the individual's civilian rank.

Heavily influenced by China's clothing styles and silk fabrics, other East Asian countries adopted similar garments, including silk robes. In Korea, the national men's and women's dress is called "hanbok" or Korean robe. The women's hanbok, a short jacket worn over a skirt or trousers, is thought to have been inspired by fashions popular during the Tang Dynasty. It was during the Tang Dynasty when the Chinese embraced foreign cultures, blending foreign elements into traditional ones. In Vietnam, the ruling classes wore long robes and dragon robes much like their Chinese counterparts. In Japan, long silken T-shaped robes called Kimonos were worn by men and women for hundreds of years. Like other Asian robes, Japan's kimonos were heavily influenced by Chinese culture and the emergence of silk.

Today, traditional Chinese and Eastern robes have inspired elegant designs for modern women. Rich in history and made from luxurious natural fibers including silk, Dynasty Robes pay tribute to the past while addressing the needs of today's women.