How do politics shape fashion? "In Mao to Now: Chinese Fashion from 1949 to the Present," curators Dr. Juanjuan Wu and Dr. Marilyn DeLong from the University of Minnesota's College of Design, and Minxin Bao, Professor from the Art and Design Institute at Donghua University, take a look at how clothing has been informed by the changing political and cultural climates in China. Beginning with the last days of dynastic rule, to the war lords of the late 1910s and '20s, to the Japanese invasion, to the civil war, to cultural revolution under Mao, to contemporary China, the smart exhibit takes a look at not only what people were wearing, but the cultural beliefs and trends behind the clothes.
According to the notes at the exhibit, the qipao originated in China, and were a blend of Han Chinese and Manchu styles, along with Western influence. Originally a symbol of gender equality (as well as femininity and sexuality), the meaning of the qipao has changed over the time. During the Mao years, the qipao became known as symbol of bourgeois "backwardness." Today, they are formal attire, worn at festive occasions.
The exhibition also has some examples of military clothes, including a women's double-breasted Lenin suit jacket from the 1950s. The Mao years meant asexual clothing, with drab colors and formless shapes. The Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, called for an end to elements of anything bourgeois, and much art, as well as fashion, was not deemed appropriate for the political climate.