19th Century Around the World: Asia

by Karen

The 1800s were an interesting time in fashion. Some countries were focused on beauty while others were more focused on practicality. Let’s explore the different fashions of Asia in our first 19th Century Around the World series. Asia consists of such a diverse population it really makes for some exciting cultural aspects of fashion. Countries like China, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia – so many different kinds of apparel. Below is a brief description of each country’s traditional attire.


During the Qing Dynasty, which lasted from the 1600s through the 1900s, the Manchurian style of clothing was the in thing. The unlined, skinny, box-like robe was not cinched at the waist and made for a rather arrogant style. This type of tunic had a saddle collar as well.


In northern Russia, the Kokoshnik, a beautifully embroidered headdress was worn not only by married women but many maidens and girls as well. Believe it or not, in 1700 a decree was unveiled making all citizens dress in a European manner. The only exceptions were peasants and clergy. This decree lasted through the early 1900s. This broke up the folk traditions in some places.


Kimonos, literally translates to ‘things to wear,’ are ceremonial robes. The special ones were made of silk and embroidered with beautiful thread. A grand showing of over 50 kimonos from the 19th century will be on display until the 19th this month at New York City’s MET.

Saudi Arabia

Abayas are worn by the women of this country. Traditionally, it was a long black frock worn over other clothes. There were also several tribes within the country with styles quite different. The Thawb, a muslin gown, was worn by the women of Taif. And, in the town of Hijaz, overly embellished Sidaireeya or blouse worn under and Sirwal long pants worn under a sheer Kurtah.


The Kebaya is the traditional blouse of the Bali woman. Whether it was inspired by the Chinese tunic of the Ming Dynasty or the Dutch who colonized this island; it is definitely a gorgeous gown, even today. The bottom portion is a continuous unstitched swath of fabric. This piece is mistakenly called by some a sarong. The real name is Kain. Around the world, fashion is drastically different. It is amazing to see all the contrasting colors and fabrics, along with the accessories and adornments. Don't you agree? Did we miss a country you were interested in? Let us know. In our next installment of 19th Century Around the World, we will explore the various vintage fashions of Europe.

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