A character to dress up any occasion
In his ballad “Flowers and Jade Trees in the Back Courtyard,” Chen Shubao, the corrupt last emperor of the Northern and Southern dynasties (420 – 589), boasted that his concubines’ “new garments and good looks could fell a city” (新装艳质本倾城). But according to folk wisdom, the clothing (装, zhuāng) played a bigger role than the person. As expressed by the Chinese proverb, “[Appearance is] 30 percent looks and 70 percent adornment” (三分靠长相，七分靠打扮).
The character 装 , the key to beauty, gets its pronunciation from the radical 壮 (zhuàng, strong) at the top, and its meaning from 衣 (yī, clothing) below. The character originally referred to packed luggage, and this meaning has remained in several idioms, including 轻装上阵 (qīngzhuāng shàngzhèn, “go into battle with light baggage”), meaning to approach a task without mental burdens, and 整装待发 (zhěngzhuāng dàifā, “all packed and ready to go”). 装 can also refer to other packing-related actions, such as 装车 (zhuāngchē, “load a truck”) or 装满 (zhuāngmǎn, “fill up”).
Later, 装’s definition was extended to clothing—baggage one outfits oneself with in daily life. Phrases with 装 in the suffix are abundant in the fashion industry, describing various types of clothing such as 军装 (jūnzhuāng, military uniform), 童装 (tóngzhuāng, children’s wear), 泳装 (yǒngzhuāng, swimwear), and 时装 (shízhuāngg, trendy clothing). Outlandish get-ups that don’t conform to any fashion norms are called 奇装异服 (qízhuāng yìfú).
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On the Character: 装 is a story from our issue, “China Chic.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.