Chinese New Year clothes have historical, customary, and symbolic significance. Find out about Chinese New Year dress traditions and modern customs here.
Significance of New Clothes
One of the oldest traditions in the Chinese Spring Festival celebrations is acquiring new clothes for the new year. This is symbolically in line with many other aspects of the festival, which emphasize the idea of change, new beginnings, and ridding of the old.
In ancient (and simpler) times, it was not uncommon for people to have just one or two sets of clothes or outfits for the entire year, but the Chinese New Year meant that it's time for fresh new clothes to be worn!
In the past, this would usually be done by wives or mothers, who would normally sow or knit new clothes for the family ahead of the Chinese New Year.
Today, while this may still be done by elder family members, the tradition is often substituted with shopping for new clothes instead.
When to Wear New Clothes?
Any new clothes acquired should be worn on the first day of the Chinese New Year, and new Pajamas may be worn to sleep on Chinese New Year's Eve.
What Should You Wear? Traditional Chinese New Year Outfits
There are no specific criteria for what type or style of new clothes should be bought, and pretty much anything that's fashionable or in-style goes, but preferably not clothes that are purposefully torn or worn-out.
In the past, many people would keep traditional Chinese outfits, and use them specifically as Chinese New Year dresses. It is still possible to see elders fashioning such clothing items around the holidays, or by people who may be more religious/traditional.
Such traditional clothes may include items such as the 'Tang suit'; a men's jacket with an upturned collar typical of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), or a qipao; a tight-fitted dress for women, from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). Both of these pieces of clothing are normally made of silk and feature bright colors and intricate designs, typical of traditional Chinese fashion.
The traditional 'Zhongshan suit' (named after first Chinese president Sun Zhongshan, a.k.a. Sun Yat-sen, 1866-1925) may also be a popular choice for older family members during the festival.
Of course, there are various other traditional varieties of outfits specific to different regions or ethnic groups.
The Color of Chinese New Year Clothes
Red Clothes Is A Must
One common practice with regards to clothes that can still be witnessed today to a somewhat large extent is the use of the color red. As is probably already very well-known, red is the top Chinese lucky color and represents strength and prosperity.
After the festival has passed, many may go back to their normal-colored clothes. However, there is an exception. For individuals who were born in the same year as this Chinese calendar year's Chinese zodiac animal (2023 is the the Year of the Rabbit), incorporating the color red into daily fashion is common for weeks, months, or even for the whole year!
This usually is done by wearing red underwear/undergarments and socks or replacing the inner soles of shoes with red ones. This is traditionally believed to bring forth good luck for the entire year.
Gold Clothes is a Choice
If red is not classy enough for you, then go for gold! Aside from looking bright, gold is a luxurious color and is said to symbolize wealth. There is no better way to look great for the New Year than wearing clothes that would make you look like a million bucks!
Taboos about Chinese New Year Clothes
Do Not Wear Black
Never wear clothes in black during the Chinese New year because it is typically worn during funerals. The color has been associated with death. It is considered to be unlucky.
Do Not Buy New Shoes
In some southern regions, buying (and wearing) new shoes may be seen as bad luck, or a Chinese New Year Taboo.
Damaged Clothes Is A Big No-No
It is taboo to wear damaged clothes including ripped jeans. Damaged clothes are said to attract bad luck and you don't want to attract bad luck for the whole year, do you?
What color should you not wear on Chinese New Year?