The territory of China coalesced from several centers of Neolithic culture, including the northeast of Liaodong, North China Plain to the Weihe River basin, eastern Piedmont of Shandong, Yangtze River basin, Sichuan Basin, and several areas of the southeast coast. These Neolithic cultural centers almost certainly represent several different ethnic groups and can be easily differentiated on the basis of material culture. On the other hand, they were interconnected through trade, war and other means, in the long run, all of which are incorporated into China's political and cultural entities. Therefore, the term ancient China is a convenient phrase that conceals the major changes in regional culture. However, some generalizations were applicable.
Skills and techniques, such as the domestication of silkworms, the production of silk fiber, the weaving of silks, can be traced back at least to the third millennium A.D. in northern China, and possibly even earlier in the Yangtze River Basin. Archaeological evidence from that era, pottery objects keeping in wet clay silk marks and the corrosion layer on bronze wares, showed the clear traces of silk cloth. The preferred fabric of ancient Chinese elites had always been silk. As a proverb said, the upper class wore silk, the lower wore hemp.
The drawing and carving of people on bronze and pottery in the Shang Dynasty showed that the social elites wore long gowns of the patterned cloth. Bronze statues from the Sichuan Sanxingdui Culture, tracing back to the second millennium A.D., displayed a tapestry or embroidery on the bottom of the wearer's long gowns. Later depiction of civilians presented men in short jackets and trousers or loincloths and women in jackets and skirts. The soldiers wore armored vests with long-sleeved jackets trousers and boot.
Chinese silk textiles in the Warring States Period proved to the availability to produce garments with colorful and decent decoration at the time. The textiles found also show the wide popularity of Chinese silk in other Asian countries. Those examples produced in the Yangtze River Valley during the Warring States period were found in distant Turkic and southern Siberian archaeological sites. Painted wooden statues discovered in the sites of the Chu state in the Yangtze River Valley depict men and women in white silk dresses with rotating designs in various colors. Dresses are cut in a way that the left wraps over the right in a spiral around the body completely. Women's dresses were closed with wide sashes in contrasting colors while men wore narrower ones. The bronze sash hook are commonly found in tombs showing the durability of the style of narrow waistband. Elite tombs also show a long tradition of wearing jade necklaces and other jewellery.
The Qin and Han Dynasties
Clothing in the Qin and Han Dynasties basically followed the forms of those in the Warring States period. The samurai wore robes with small and short sleeves.
A robe, naming Qufu, was the most common type of clothing used in women's wear,with narrow and long-tailed, and generally trumpet-shaped when it was put on. The narrow sleeves of the Han clothing, painted with exquisite ornate patterns, were wrapping-around deep clothes which were twisted and turned around to the buttocks, tying with ribbons. The sleeves varied according to the width of the sleeves with bordered cuffs. The crossing collar were usually low to expose the underwear. If a few clothes were wore, every collar would be seen.
Due to the widespread popularity of gowns, women wearing skirts had decreased but not disappeared. The open cross-collar shirts in this period were generally very short only to the waist, pairing with shirts long and drooped to the ground.
The Sui and Tang Dynasties
The Tang dynasty represents a golden age in China's history. Although it still continued the clothing of its predecessors such as Han and Sui dynasties, there was an eclectic attitude to dresses that came from abroad, leading to a variation of exotic costumes and a change in the garment of the Tang people.
The men generally wore robes, forming on the basis of the Han and Wei Dynasties. In addition, the bureaucrats still wore formal dresses on important occasions, such as sacrificial ceremony. The style of the dress was inherited from the old system of the previous period, wearing a cage cap, in a big-sleeves gown, matching a jade decoration.
Female dress in the Tang Dynasty gradually became more relaxed, less constricting and even more revealing.The foreign influences prevalent during Tang China included cultures from Gandhara, Turkistan, Persia and Greece. The stylistic influences of these cultures were fused into Tang-style clothing without any one particular culture having especial prominence.
The Song and Yuan Dynasties
In the Song Dynasty, the casual clothing followed the styles of openning-front dress. The women's wear was based on a top garment with a separate lower skirt was more varied than the men’s. Beizi appeared.
Shenyi, was an ancient Chinese garment that was recorded in the Chinese pre-Qin period and redesigned or restored by the Song Dynasty scholar Zhu Xi after it was lost in the Han dynasty. It was recorded as a simple dress in Chinese literature such as Ritual. In the Han Dynasty, Shenyi was often remembered as a legend and did not receive much attention. In the post-Song period, it was not used outside of special occasions.
During the Yuan Dynasty, Han people's clothing was also influenced by the foreign costume culture. For example, the popular style of the Ming Dynasty was inherited from the waistline of the Yuan Dynasty.
The Qing Dynasty
In 1644, the Qing soldiers entered the territory and issued policy, having Han Chinese men to wear Manchurian attire and shave their hair into pigtails, for easy identification of those who had been conquered or rebellion, resulting in the gradual disappearance of the Ming garment, but the children, monks, priests, and women could still wear Ming clothes.
Due to the difficulty in implementing the policy, there were also the cases in which general public still dressed in the Ming clothing, even during the Revolution of 1911 the clothing of the Ming Dynasty was still preserved.
As the important symbol of the emperor, most of the court dress followed those of Manchuria but joined some elements of the prairie nation. The jade-grass-braided court hat, the long-hanging beading and the belts with the sappers, all included multicultural factors and demonstrated their political qualities as multinational rulers.
The women’s hair styles of both Han Chinese and Manchus still retained their original style in the early Qing Dynasty. Later, with mutual influence, the hair styles had changed significantly. Han women could still wear the decoration of the Ming Dynasty which affected greatly the aesthetics of the Manchu women. In addition, priests and monks in the Qing Dynasty could maintain their traditional hairstyle and dresses.