The Mao Suit

 Dr Sun Yat-Sen, the father of modern China, created the Mao Suit as a form of national dress. It is also known as the zhongshan zhuang (中山裝) taken after the Mandarin pronunciation of his name.

However it is was Mao Ze Dong who popularized this iconic suit by wearing it often in public and political events. Nearly all men wore it after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 until the end of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

The original Mao suit is a polyester two-piece suit in gray, olive green or navy blue. The suit consists of baggy pants and a tunic-style button down jacket with a flipped collar and four pockets. There is a significant symbolism behind the design of the suit:

  • Four Pockets: represent the Four Virtues in 管子 (Guǎnzi), a compilation of the philosophical work named after the seventh century philosopher Guǎn Zhòng.
  • Five Buttons: represent the five branches of the government (executive, legislative, judicial, control, and examination) in the constitution of the Republic of China.
  • Three Buttons on the Cuffs: represent Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principles of the People (三民主義), nationalism, people’s rights, people’s livelihood.

mandarin collar jackie chan

The Tang Suit

The tangzhuang (唐装) is a Chinese jacket that originated at the end of the Qing dynasty(1644–1911). It evolved from the magua, a Manchu item of clothing, which Han Chinese officials were required to wear during the Qing dynasty.

The Tang Suit consists of a jacket featuring a Mandarin collar, front opening and handmade frog buttons (a knob made of intricately knotted strings), and matched with pants. The fabric used is usually the luxurious silk brocade.

Formally, the Tang Suit is made in different colors, most commonly red, navy, gold, black and green. One common design is the use of Chinese characters as monograms such as Fu (福 "happiness") or Shou (寿 "longevity") to spread good luck and wishes.

mandarin collar

Mandarin Collar

The Mandarin collar, also known as the cadet, the Chinese or the Dr.No collar, is largely inspired by the collars worn by Chinese court officials up until the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

The length along a mandarin collar is straight, with either straight or rounded edges at top of the centre front. The edges of the collar either barely meet at the centre front or overlap slightly. Overlapping mandarin collars are often a continuation of a shirt's placket and have a button on the collar to secure the two sides of the shirt together.

In contemporary Western dress, mandarin collars are found in fashion-forward oriental-style and minimalist-style clothing. Since mandarin collars are short and do not fold over, neckties are not worn with mandarin-collared dress shirts. It is socially acceptable (and sartorial) to wear a mandarin-collared shirt with a suit at many moderately formal occasions.

frog buttons

Frog Buttons

The frog button is an ornamental braiding for fastening the front of a garment that consists of a ball button and a loop through which it passes. The purpose is to provide a closure for a garment while decorating it at the same time.

They are usually used on garments that appear Asian in design. Tops with a mandarin collar often use frogs at the shoulder or down the front to keep the two sections of the front closed. These type of buttons are typically handmade and self-fabric can be used to create frogs that are the same or contrast color to the garment.

silk brocade

Silk Brocade

Brocade is a class of richly decorative shuttle-woven fabrics, often made in colored silks and with or without metallic threads. This fabric is typically woven on a draw loom in a supplementary weft technique to give the appearance that the weave is actually embroidered on.

Dating back to the Middle Ages, brocade fabric was one of the few luxury fabrics worn by nobility throughout China, India, Greece, Japan, Korea and Byzantium. Today, silk brocade is still considered luxurious and decadent but implemented in a more contemporary fashion.

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1 comment

Dear Han San
I’m very happy to find your article.
Wonder if your team in Sg can tailor-make a Mao suit for me.
A few years ago I spoke to a few local tailors on this and they are obviously confused between Mao suit and Mandarin collars.
The conversation stopped there.

Regards KB


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