8: Tang Dynasty Ru (襦, rū) – Shirt

The primary upper garment for women in the Tang dynasty was a “small-sleeve short jacket and long skirt with waist fastened up under the armpit.”1 Over the course of the Tang Dynasty, the sleeves grew in size and the collar opened up to reveal more of the chest (Figures 1-8). 2,3

Alternatively, the term 对襟 (duijin, dwā-jīn, “double breasted”) is used to denote the Tang Dynasty shirt, given that the collars do not cross as in other shirt-layers throughout Chinese history. Another type of shirt was the 衫 (shan, unlined shirt), which I have only come across in one source which describes it as low-cut. It is possible that the shan is the shirt with the curved neckline that is seen in some tomb figurines (Figures 1, 2).4 These figures also appear to be wearing the half-arm jacket (半臂, banbi).

The shirt is fairly straightforward, being very similar to a basic T-Tunic, but without under-arm gussets or gores. There are no extant shirts from the Tang Dynasty, so we are limited to period depictions including reliefs, murals, paintings, and tomb figurines, though we can supplement this with extant garments from preceding and succeeding periods. Like the skirt, the shirt can be considered a foundation garment. It changed over time, moving from inside the skirt to outside, changing fabrics, and having a variety of accessories paired with it. It could also feature embroidered cuffs or collars and front-openings decorated with patterned trim (Figure). This trim consisted either of embroidery or pieces of brocaded silk.5

In terms of construction, the shirt likely had a center back seam. The seam in the center back is described in the Book of Rites regarding the proper construction of the shenyi (深衣),6 and can be seen in upper-body extant garments. The Shosoin Repository has several 8th Century garments with a notable Chinese influence that have a center back seam,7 but I should note that these are male upper body undergarments.8 The China National Silk Museum has garments from the Southern Song9 and Yuan Dynasties10 with a center-back seam construction.  The China National Silk Museum has one shirt from the Northern Dynasty which appears to be lined, and it is difficult to see whether there is a center back seam (Figure ).11 It may be that the lining does not have a center back seam and the outer fabric does, though this would be odd considering other lined garments have a visible center back seam in the lining. Based on an assumed fabric width of 24 inches, fabric conservation, and an extant shirt from the Northern Dynasty (386-581 C.E.), there was a seam off the shoulder as well as at the cuff.12

The Book of Rites calls for a “square-shaped collar” for the shenyi,13 but given how the garments appear to rest in statuary, as well as on a figurine wearing cloth garments, I believe the necklines for women’s shirts were curved. I am only aware of one extant upper garment where the side seams are open and the textile is laid flat to show an angled collar, but it is unclear who wore this garment.14 Though they are usually displayed and photographed flat, it is arguable that extant upper-body garments from preceding and succeeding dynasties, as well as garments at the Shosoin Repository that show Chinese influence, have curved necklines. A textile fabric dated to the Tang Dynasty recovered from Astana tomb number 206 that appears to be part of an upper garment (either a shirt or jacket) made for a tomb figurine due to its small size, not unlike the two skirts found in another Astana tomb, looks to have a curved neckline (Figure ).15  Juni L. Yeung translated an article by Hu Jingming, originally posted on Baidu Tieba (an online community that is integrated with a Chinese internet search engine), which was posted to the Toronto Guqin Society’s page. The article presents an argument for a curved Ming Dynasty neckline.16 I have made shirts with both a square neckline and a curved neckline, and I prefer the fit of the latter.

We know that sleeve width, like skirt volume and length, was subject to sumptuary law through the Tang Dynasty. For example, in 826, Emperor Wenzong (文宗, r. 826-840) restricted sleeve width to one chi and 5 cun – or approximately 0.32 meters plus 160 millimeters, which is just under 19 inches.17 Sleeve width may be something that can perhaps indicate the social status in paintings and other media – it is logical to surmise that servants would wear more slim-fitting sleeves so as not to have them interfere when working (Figures 1 and 2).18 Based on evaluation of Chinese tomb figurines and frescos, slimmer sleeves were in vogue earlier in the Tang Dynasty (Figures 4and 8); unfortunately the difficult issue of provenance (due to unethical archaeological practices19 and looting from the 19th century through the modern era20) makes more exact dating for these art objects (and thus clothing trends) problematic.



Based on my experience with this garment, 2.5 to 3 yards of 24 inch wide fabric is more than enough to make a shirt to fit an approximate US women’s size 14. This can, of course, be approximated by cutting a standard modern 45 inch wide fabric down to 24 inches.21

My shirt pattern, using 24″ wide fabric. Each square is approximately 2″. Feel free to adjust by adding more length to the bottom edges of the body panel to make it longer.

To draft this pattern, you will need your bust measurement at its fullest point, shoulder to hip (over the bust), shoulder to underbust (over the bust), back of neck to hip, shoulder point to shoulder point, and shoulder to knuckles/where you want the sleeve to end. Draft the neckline pattern using Hu’s instructions – you will need to know the radius of the your neckline circle. Mark the radius along the folded center of the body panel, then shift them back 1.5-2 centimeters. Hu’s instructions are for a cross-collared robe, but for a Tang Dynasty shirt where the collar does not cross, you don’t need to extend the curve past the 90 degree position. Remember that you’ll be attaching a folded collar piece, which will be just approximately 2.5 inches wide.

To assemble, sew the sleeves together and then to the body fabric of the shirt without sewing them into tubes. Sew the center back seam, then hem the body panels and cuffs. Then sew the side seams. Try it on and mark where you want the ties to be – they should be somewhere below your bust and need to be long enough to tie in a secure knot. Lastly, press the edges of the collar in approximately 1/4 inch, then press the entire collar in half attach the collar to the neckline much like you would attach binding, making sure to attach the ties were you’ve marked. Press the ties toward the front, and if you’d like, hand stitch them to the collar so that they stay in that orientation.

I’ll update this page soon with pictures of the patterning and sewing process – as soon as I make another shirt.

  1. Zhou, X.; Gao, C. (1987). 5000 years of Chinese costumes. Hong Kong: The Commercial Press. p. 88.
  2. Chen, B. (2013). Dressing for the times: Fashion in Tang Dynasty China (618-907). (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Academic Commons. (doi: 10.7916/D8KK9B6D). p. 75.
  3. Shaorong, Y. (2004). Traditional Chinese clothing: Costumes, adornments and culture. San Francisco: Long River Press. p. 27
  4. Chen, B. (2013). pp. 83, 104
  5. Zhang, J. (2014). Thoughts on some grave goods from the tomb of Li Chui. In S. Grieff, R. Schiavone, J. Zhang, Hou, G., & Yang, J. (Eds.) The Tomb of Li Chui: Interdisciplinary studies into Tang period finds assemblage (149-168). Mainz, Germany: Römisch-Germanischen Zentralmuseums. pp. 159-160.
  6. Confucius. (475 B.C.E. – 221 B.C.E./2018). 深衣 – Shen Yi. (J. Legge, Trans.). Chinese Text Project. Retrieved from: https://ctext.org/liji/shen-yi
  7. Hanpi (sleeveless coat) of bast-fiber cloth, No. 2 (Chest, No. 88). (n.d.). The Imperial Household Agency: The Shōsōin Repository, Nara, Japan. Retrieved from: http://shosoin.kunaicho.go.jp/en-US/Treasure?id=0000012786 is an example of one of the hanpi items in the Shōsōin collection.
  8. Parent, M. N. (2001). Hanpi 半臂. JAANUS: Japanese architecture and art net users system (Dictionary). Retrieved from http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/h/hanpi.htm
  9. 小花菱纹罗单衣片. (Part of an unlined shirt made of dupo leno with a damask pattern of small, ornamented lozenges). (Song Dynasty). (Garment). China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. Retrieved from: http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/zggd/info_21.aspx?itemid=1831
  10. 花卉纹罗袍. (Lined gauze robe with floral pattern). (Yuan Dynasty). (Garment). China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. Retrieved from: http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/zggd/info_21.aspx?itemid=1852
  11. 绞缬绢衣. (Pain weave silk clothing with tied knot dye pattern). (Northern Dynasty, 386-581). (Garment). China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. Retrieved from: http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/zggd/info_21.aspx?itemid=1815
  12. Ibid.
  13.  Confucius. (475 B.C.E. – 221 B.C.E./2018).
  14. 小花菱纹罗单衣片.” (Part of an unlined shirt made of dupo leno with a damask pattern of small, ornamented lozenges). (Garment). (Song Dynasty). China National Silk Museum, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China. Retrieved from: http://www.chinasilkmuseum.com/zggd/info_21.aspx?itemid=1831
  15. Zhao, F. (2012). Silks in the Sui, Tang, and Five Dynasties. In D. Kuhn, (Ed.), Chinese Silks (pp. 203-257). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p. 227.
  16. Hu, J. (2011, April 11). Understanding hanfu aesthetics mathematically: Curves of a robe. (J. Yeung, Trans.). Toronto Guqin Society. Retrieved from: https://torguqin.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/hanfu-curves/
  17. Chen, B. (2013). p. 84.
  18.  It should also be noted that figurines with sleeve lengths that cover the hands by a substantial amount are often dancers, and are depicted in dancing poses. See figurines of dancers on the Silk Road Seattle website, D. C. Waugh (Ed.). (2007). “Musée Guimet:: China: From the Sui through the Song Dynasties.” Retrieved from: https://depts.washington.edu/silkroad/museums/mg/mgchinasuitang.html
  19. Haas, H. (2010). Who stole China’s China? the legacy of Sir Aurel Stein. Thesis (B.A.). Haverford College, Department of History, 2010.
  20. Bowlby, C. (2015, February 2). The palace of shame that makes China angry. BBC News, Retrieved from: https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30810596
  21. The extra 21 inches can be used for smaller projects or trim.