The Tang dynasty (618-907) is undoubtedly one of the most interesting periods in Chinese history. Military conquests under the reign of the great emperor Taizong (627-649) resulted in China becoming a rich and powerful empire with a civilisation that developed rapidly.
Poetry, crafts, dance, painting and music flourished, expressing the brilliance of the period and its people. Influences from foreigners, who came over the Silk Road from territories like Persia, India and Central Asia, helped this artistic growth, with travellers and merchants passing on their customs and knowledge.
The Tang dynasty is the only period to have known a female sovereign in Chinese history, namely Empress Wu Zetian (625-706) who ruled during the early Tang. One should not be surprised that in light of all this, and in contrast to dynasties before the Tang, many women were able to enjoy the sophisticated life style that evolved. Women acquired an equal position in society, and especially those of the upper classes had enormous freedom, such as to walk freely in the streets, participate in certain social activities like playing polo and show their femininity. All this being unimaginable in preceding dynasties and periods.
Women’s clothing became subject to changes, which is clearly reflected in Tang pottery and terracotta models of ladies. The most traditional dress for Tang women was based on a bodice or top and ankle-length skirt. Diversity of fashion made it inevitable that changes appeared during time; the hem-lines rose and dropped, the tops would be loose and then tight-fitting, and fabrics would be more or less luxurious, also depending on the wealth and economic position of the lady.
Basically there are three broad trends that can be distinguished during the Tang. The first was a style that derived from the previous Sui dynasty (581-618), which was characterised by short, close-fitting bodices and long skirts, usually in dark colours. Following this, was a fashion based on clothing worn by foreigners consisting of more ornamentation as well as bold and exotic colours. A more voluptuous or plump figure became the final trend, dressed in loose-fitting garments with high waistlines and full sleeves. These figurines were usually brightly coloured with hairpin ornaments in the coiffure.