On a cloudy Monday afternoon, the air was filled with the scent of grass, and a light breeze was blowing. Park goers were lying on the lawn to take an afternoon nap or sitting on mats for a family picnic. Kids laughed and screamed, while their parents kept a close watch.
But then there were the two girls in ancient Chinese clothing, who were posing for pictures beside a gigantic tree at the heart of the park. One was whirling around, with a traditional Chinese fan in her hand and an orange ribbon flying in the wind, while the other took pictures of her.
Debbie Chen and Nancy Lin were wearing what is called Hanfu, the style of clothing worn by the Han people in ancient China. Plain but elegant, their long layered garments flowed down just over the ankle. The delicate costume jewelry they wore on their heads was an ornament, accenting their clothing.
They were accompanied by their friend Carol Xiao, who was doing the photography. All three are 21-year-old college students and have known each other for more than seven years.
Lin was wearing an orange top with white embroidery on the front, and a chiffon skirt in navy and shell pink. A multi-layer reddish belt was tied to her waist while an orange ribbon was twined around her arms and back. Beads in white and crimson were worn on her head and around her neck as ornaments. She said she is a big fan of traditional culture—she started to wear Hanfu about two years ago.
It took Lin some 30 to 40 minutes to get dressed up, she said, adding that her clothing resembled the style that originated from mural paintings of Shinü—court ladies, noble women, or other beauties found at the Mogao Caves in northwestern China’s Dunhuang, Gansu Province. These murals are significant records of social life in various dynasties in ancient China.
She bought her garments on Taobo, China’s biggest online shopping platform, at less than ¥300 ($42.30), which she thought was a reasonable price. Hanfu fanatics often spend much more on exquisite garments.
Having lived in New York for a few years, Lin says she now feels quite comfortable with wearing Hanfu in public space. “People don’t comment too much on others’ clothing. In the US there’s a lot of freedom,” she said.
Chen agrees. “My family is very supportive,” Chen said, “They think Hanfu is very beautiful.”
The three get together for Hanfu pictures whenever they can, and they share them with friends and family on China’s biggest social media platforms—WeChat, as well as Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
The trio say that Hanfu is gaining in popularity among younger generations in the Chinese community. When Lin first began to wear Hanfu, it wasn’t well accepted. But as public interest in the traditional clothing grows, people have become more open-minded. There are also a number of Hanfu organizations in New York City, which hold events such as Mid-Autumn Festival parades and Chinese New Year performances, aiming to promote traditional culture.
“It’s something that our ancient ancestors left us,” said Lin, “so there must be something positive about it.”