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Shanghai suit

Chinese Culture Exchange with Western-style Clothing

Originated in the 17th-century Europe; the former western-style clothing was similar to one-piece long flowing robes, and gradually evolved into today’s modern suit styles from tuxedo looks—short in the front and long in the back. Dating back to the 18th century, suit tailoring originated from the United Kingdom; in that time, the Savile Row St. in London specialized in suit tailoring was where Royal uniforms and horse riding clothing were made, and later created a culture of custom suit tailoring ultimately. Many people may not know, however, the western-style clothing actually has been profoundly mixed together with Chinese culture, and further a high-level “Shanghai Style” craftsmanship with its exclusive measurement tools had even been created. Let’s go back to the late 19th century to explore the western-style clothing evolution in China!

Tailing Taipan’s bag tailor

Around 1842, before the Revolution of 1911, it was the time that the port of Shanghai was opened; during that period, foreigners living in concession districts liked to wear exotic and fancy dresses while attending in political and social occasions. In order to do business and interact with them, those Chinese in the upper class also strived with each other to emulate what foreigners wore so as to narrow the distance.

In that time, while foreign merchant ships came back and forth quite frequently in Shanghai Bund for initiating their business and trade with China, as well as made the business of the Ten Foreign Market so busy and prosperous, for making living, some clever tailors from Ningpo had already got in merchant ships by just simply carrying a tailor bag to offer their services regarding suit tailoring and alternations: they gathered in knots, took advantage of dinghies to approach large and tall merchant vessels, and tried to communicate with foreigners with their awkward English for getting business. During the process of repairing suits, tailors also learned cutting and sewing techniques for each part of men suit making. Over time, tailors mastered men’s tailor craftsmanship, and, as a result, made suits irrevocably committed to Chinese history.

Feng (red) to help the rise of tailors

Following the emergence of business due to the opening of the treaty ports, named as “Oriental Pearl” and “Paris of the Orient”, Shanghai at that time was on the world’s stage. People from around the world and every province of China came to Shanghai for doing business, and gave rise to an atmosphere of wearing suits. Also, those master bag-carrying tailors from Ningpo one after another launched their tailor shops along the street of Shanghai, and hence, made the legendary of Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors to become a synonym of fashion on clothing in Shanghai finally.


As the development of Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors was so booming advanced with the prosperity of business in Shanghai, Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors originated and turned western suits into a particular Shanghai style, and further nurtured more professional talents in tailoring. Besides Shanghai, in that time, Beijing where had a variety of foreign institutions and foreign companies was a birthplace of Westernization movement, and therefore Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors extended their influences throughout to the north gradually.

First Set of Chinese Tunic Suit

The tunic suit so far is still the leading garment for politicians to attend important occasions in China; also, the Chinese cultural history of costume also got great influences from it.

In 1895, besides cutting braid and launching the Guangzhou Uprising, Dr. Sun Yat-sen also advocated a clothing reform symbolizing the first step against the feudalism formed by the Qing Dynasty.

The idea of clothing revolution became more specific after the Revolution of 1911. Later, Dr. Sun Yat-sen raised an idea to make a new set of suit with a Prussian collar and four appressed pockets with covers: the pocket cover was designed to be an upside-down mountain-shaped style featuring the importance of knowledge, 5 buttons on the top fly meant the Five-power Constitution, and four buttons on cuffs symbolized the Three People's Principles.
Thereafter, the tunic suit dominated the Chinese fashion, and became a major formal garment for government officials of the Republic of China. In 1956, while Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors came to Beijing, Fengbang (Hongbang) tailors made the “Mao tunic" or "Mao suit" to those executives of the central government, such as Mr. Mao Zedong, Mr. Liu Shaoqi, and Mr. Zhou Enlai, and so on. Since then, the tunic suit has stood for the representative garment of China with specific Chinese characteristics.

Suits and Modern China

Suits gave witness to the development of modern China history, and became the main feature of the trend of the times. In the 1980s, while wearing suits became a tendency, some foreign trade companies started to produce suits as basic production lines after getting templates and patterns from Europe, America, and Japan etc; others even used the “Mao suit” craftsmanship as a basis to make suits as formal national clothing for the public at that time.

In the 1990s, while the political communication with other countries was getting frequent, the dress code of the diplomatic personnel was attached great importance increasingly. To offer decent well-dressed suits for the diplomatic personnel, Mr. Dave K.C. Shiung was invited by the Service Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve as technique director of suit making for the diplomatic corps. It was the first time that the traditional craftsmanship of Shanghai Style reappeared in the country since the reforming and opening-up policy.


After 30 years of rapid economic growth, the demand for suits among people has been growing greatly. Nowadays, when those suits made by production lines are on longer meet needs of new-generation Chinese gentlemen, hand-made custom suits emphasizing on high quality as well as continuing the tradition will offer more high-level experiences in suit for those men with superior tastes.