1960s China: A Nation in Uniform
The decade of the 1950s saw women's clothing in China lose all aesthetic significance after the founding of New China. After experiencing the Great Leap Forward [*note] and the People's Communalization Movement [*note], Chinese women's clothing focused solely on functionality.
As the relationship between China and the Soviet Union soured in the 1960s, the once prevailing styles like Lenin coats and Bragi dresses, representing the solidarity between the two countries, completely vanished. Zhongshan suits ruled the world of male clothing and styles for women were developed using the suit as a base. The rigid collar was turned into a turndown one and the two upper chest pockets were removed to make the style more suitable for women. People referred to them as cadre clothes.
However, regardless of men or women's styles, the clothing of the day was invariably produced in drab shades of blue and gray, and was baggy and simple in fit. There were no 'women's clothing' in the sense that we understand it now, as female curves were kept strictly covered up. Embellishments like lace, high heels and skirts were practically non-existent.
In that decade, where materials were scarce, the purchase of a piece of new clothing was an event in itself. Many people only bought one set of clothes, usually for their wedding, and then wore it for years and years after. Children looked forward to the Lunar New Year mostly for two reasons: they got to eat meat and wear new clothes. However, in many families, the 'new' clothes that younger children received were often altered hand-me-downs from an older brother or sister.
Under such straitened economic circumstances, people made do with whatever they had on hand, and paid no attention to extras like the color of clothing.
The 'Iron Girls' of the 1960s worked just as hard as men [info.texnet.com.cn]
In the China of the 1960s, the Dazhai production team of Xiyang County in northwestern Shanxi Province was often held up as an advanced model to be followed. Its youth league branch secretary, Guo Fenglian, led a group of girls to establish role models for the ideal new rural woman. They were called the 'Iron Girls' for their hard work and distinctly unfeminine style of dressing. Soon, the term 'Iron Girl' had become definitive of a whole nation's era and the synonym for a hard-working young woman.
Destruction of the Four Olds [*note]
Women wear cheongsam [info.texnet.com.cn]
While it may be unfathomable to today's fashion conscious society, there was a time about 40 years ago when a movement swept through China encouraging the burning of the traditional cheongsam dress and other brightly colored clothing as symbols of old unwanted culture and traditions. In films of that era, characters that wore cheongsam were invariably depicted as bad or indecent women like female spies or mistresses.
The Red Guards Sweep the Country [*note]
On May 16, 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong addresses the Red Guards at Tiananmen Square in Beijing for the first time. Senior student Song Binbin, with her hair in two pigtails, puts a Red Guard armband on him. [info.texnet.com.cn]
On May 16, 1966, Chairman Mao Zedong addressed the Red Guards for the first time at Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Song Binbin, a senior student at the girls' school attached to Beijing Normal University, put a Red Guard armband on him. She wore her hair in two pigtails and Mao gave her a new name: Song Yaowu [note*]. The next day, People's Daily published an article by Song Yaowu. Her hairstyle was called the Red Guard hairstyle, which gained overnight popularity with young Chinese girls everywhere.
The 'Cultural Revolution' that began in 1966 saw the entry of the uniform as a fashion mode.
Unisex styles, in the form of army uniforms, dominated the scene. The underlying aim was to subsume individual personality in order to allow the political ideals of the time to be carried out.
The 1960s saw an era of drab clothing [info.texnet.com.cn]
Colorful clothing, especially the cheongsam, was considered a symbol of the feudalistic, capitalist classes. There was no right of choice in clothing, and consequently little to choose from.
Women wearing distinctly unfeminine clothing during the 1960s [info.texnet.com.cn]
A typical Red Guard dressed in a grass-green army uniform, wide leather belt, Mao Zedong badge, and always carried a Little Red Book (a compilation of Chairman Mao quotes) and a grass-green canvas messenger bag. As it was not easy to obtain all the pieces, some young Red Guards would dye their Zhongshan suits the appropriate green color.
A movie still from the 1957 film Soul of the Sea [info.texnet.com.cn]
In 1957, famous actor Zhao Dan [*note] starred in the movie Soul of the Sea, wearing a striped sailor's shirt, which was very much admired by young people of the day. Consequently, the streets of China in the early 1960s were filled with people wearing the iconic blue and white striped shirts.
They were so popular that a nursery rhyme at the time said that the epitome of coolness was a tunic-collared sailor's striped shirt, blue wool pants, Warrior shoes, slicked back hair, and an army cap.
Hard Living Means Patched Clothing
Women mending worn clothes [info.texnet.com.cn]
During that time period, there was a popular saying that went: 'New for three years, old for three years and patched for another three years'. It reflects the thrifty and hardworking spirit of the day, when clothes were mended and patched again and again to get the most use out of them.
In a time of harsh economic conditions and scare materials, wearing new clothes was considered shameful. The attitude was so prevalent that many people sewed patches on to little worn or new clothes so that they would look old.
The Army Uniform
A Red Guard holding the Little Red Book, in a pose that was popular in photos of that decade [info.texnet.com.cn]
The revolution went all out to eliminate gender differences, humanity and beauty. Mainland China in the 1960s was a world of red, blue and green uniforms. Army uniforms enjoyed the highest status in the fashion at the time.
Owning a set of army uniform — the most fashionable and revolutionized clothing — was the dream of millions of young people. Teenagers liked to dress in the grass-green uniforms and wear the army cap. If they couldn't get new ones, old ones would do just as well.
In fact, so popular was the uniform that both boys and girls wore it and it was the prevailing wedding outfit of the day.
The Liberation Shoes
A pair of liberation shoes [info.texnet.com.cn]
In the early 1960s, when China's rubber industry started to take off, the People's Liberation Army men began to replace their cloth shoes with liberation shoes (rubber soled shoes) as part of the army uniform. The tough, hardy shoes allowed them to train hard in the army and increased people's production at work and comfort in daily life.
Sweater shirt worn by the man [info.texnet.com.cn
The sweater shirt was a substitute for knitwear in an era when knitwear was still uncommon. It was considered high fashion by young people, but only came in one design: pullover style, big turndown collar, and in either blue or red color. And if the front was printed with the characters 'XXX Young People's Shock Brigade' the shirt was deemed all the more cool.
In summary, the 1960s was an era of hard living and straitened economic circumstances. Consequently, the clothing style of Chinese people at the time, especially women, reflected this in their plainness, severity and hardiness.
The Great Leap Forward was an economic and social campaign of the Communist Party of China (CPC), reflected in planning decisions from 1958 to 1961, which aimed to use China's vast population to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a modern communist society through the process of rapid industrialization, and collectivization.
The people's commune was the highest of three administrative levels in rural areas of the People's Republic of China during the period of 1958 to 1982-85 until townships replaced them. Communes, the largest collective units, were divided in turn into production brigades and production teams. The communes had governmental, political, and economic functions. It was born during the Great Leap Forward, when Mao Zedong had a vision of surpassing the United Kingdom and the United States in a short period of time in terms of steel production.
The Four Olds or the Four Old Things were 'Old Customs', 'Old Culture', 'Old Habits' and 'Old Ideas'. One of the stated goals of the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China was to bring an end to the Four Olds. The campaign to destroy the Four Olds began in Beijing on August 20, 1966, shortly after the launch of the Cultural Revolution.
Red Guards were a mass paramilitarysocial movement of young people in the People's Republic of China (PRC), who were mobilized by Mao Zedong in 1966 and 1967, during the Cultural Revolution.
Song Yaowu: On August 18, 1966, Song Binbin went to Tiananmen, as part of a delegation of Red Guards to be received by Mao. She was given the special honor of placing a Red Guard armband on Mao's sleeve. As she did this, Mao asked her name and she told him: Song Binbin. Loosely translated it means 'gentle and refined.' Mao had told her in a joking way, according to the photographer, that gentle was out, and 'Yaowu' was in. 'Yaowu' means 'seeking armed power'.
Zhao Dan (June 27, 1915 - October 10, 1980) was a Chinese actor popular in the golden age (1950s and 1960s) of Chinese Cinema.
(Source: info.texnet.com.cn/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)