The fusion of tradition and fashion is making waves in China, and the Mǎmiàn skirt, a quintessential piece of traditional Chinese attire, is at the forefront of this trend. 

On May 17th, "China’s Most Beautiful Costumes Series – The Five Colors of Mǎmiàn Skirts" was released in Shanghai, published by Donghua University Press. This groundbreaking scholarly book delves into the origins, evolution, and aesthetic significance of the Mǎmiàn skirt through literature, images, and physical artifacts.

Jia Xizeng, the author of the book, an alumnus of Donghua University and a professor at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts & Design, explained, “The Mǎmiàn skirt is a classic and highly representative style in traditional Chinese attire. Its history is long and distinguished, its appearance unique, its craftsmanship exquisite, and its functionality well-thought-out. It embodies the integration of beauty and utility in traditional Chinese dress, as well as the humanistic philosophy of expressing culture through clothing.” He clarified that the term “Mǎmiàn” does not refer to a horse’s face but to defensive structures like watchtowers and bastions that extend from city walls, forming T-shaped angles to eliminate blind spots and allow for multi-directional defense. The skirt’s pleated design resembles these structures, hence the name Mǎmiàn skirt.

Donghua University noted that "China’s Most Beautiful Costumes Series – The Five Colors of Mǎmiàn Skirts" is the first academic work dedicated to this garment. It systematically studies the traditional colors of China, classifying 198 traditional hues and creating the first edition of the "Huacai·Guose" color card. The book meticulously catalogs various types of Mǎmiàn skirts unearthed from Ming dynasty tombs and presents detailed information on 106 Mǎmiàn skirt artifacts, supplemented by 200 high-resolution images that capture the intricate beauty of these garments.

The book offers an in-depth analysis of over a hundred traditional colors featured in Mǎmiàn skirts, showcasing the aesthetic characteristics of Chinese traditional hues. For instance, the “multicolored dark floral satin skirt with gold embroidery depicting courtyard scenes” features a rich palette including pink, light blue, red, purple, moon white, water red, dark blue, and yellow. The satin fabric is adorned with bright floral patterns and auspicious motifs like the Buddhist Eight Treasures. The skirt is further embellished with 30 dark blue border strips on both sides, which serve both decorative and functional purposes by reinforcing the seams and contrasting elegantly with the vibrant satin.

The vibrant colors of Mǎmiàn skirts are not limited to the fabric and borders; intricate embroidery and patchwork techniques also contribute to their decorative appeal. For example, the “red dark floral silk skirt with embroidered Eight Immortals” features auspicious dragon and phoenix motifs, with intricate stitching using peacock feather thread for added texture. The skirt’s panels are adorned with lively depictions of the Eight Immortals, showcasing meticulous craftsmanship and rich color combinations.

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