When you love vintage clothing, you sometimes are lucky enough to get to help solve a mystery! Well, partially solve it anyway!
A week or so ago a friend who is also into collectibles brought a bright yellow top with beautiful embroidery to show me; he wanted to know if I could tell him anything about it. It had been in a collection of things from a relative's estate, simply tossed in quite carelessly with a lot of other things. The gentleman had served in World War II and had been in the Orient.
We established that was probably pretty old, was some kind of satin that I felt from the feel of it had rayon in it and that it was both handmade and Oriental. My best bet, I told him, was for me to take some pictures of it and ask some very knowledgeable friends (who are much more capable than I am)!
There were a few condition issues which you would expect from something that is evidently old and had not been well cared for...a couple of scuffs on the satin and a bit of fading in two or three places that seem to be from the peach and green embroidery threads. There was a very faint ring that looks like a place where dampness or water had come in contact with it...not badly, but enough to cause the leaves and a few of the poppies in the embroidery to leave their mark on the satin.
The front is definitely a work of art. The buttons are delightful, 2 colors of "braid" woven in and about to make stunning accents. The embroidery is incredibly lovely, hand done in beautiful colors. The curved front opening is edged in tiny lace...one more delicate touch.
I pressed it just a little and took pictures on a mannequin and sent them on their way. One friend came back quickly with the opinion that it was probably Chinese, possibly a man's shirt/top?
The second friend, after ooh-ing and aah-ing, was much more definitive. In her opinion, the buttons, the collar, the round collar opening and facing, and the embroidered poppies (reminiscent of the opium trade) would certainly peg it as Chinese. She asked us to do a burn test to see if it was silk or rayon; it was a little hard to tell but we decided it was more likely rayon.
She agreed that it probably was indeed rayon...that silk had been in short supply during the war and long afterward. She went on to say that the defined waistline and the cheong-sam type closure would be indicative of a woman's top. The tiny lace around the edge and the ruffles on the sleeves also were indicators. She wanted to know if it might have come from Shanghai or Formosa, but we have no way of knowing for sure of course.
To weave a bit of "supposing" into our story, we decided that it was probably brought back as a treasured gift since there was a lot of beautiful embroidered work available for the GI's to take home with them (especially in the R&R ports, such as Shanghai). Whatever its delightful surprise factor was (perhaps it didn't fit?), it had been quite forgotten with time and its fate was to be tossed aside and hidden away...until my friend found it!
At least this pretty little top has a new home and is being admired once again for its beauty. I suspect my friend will eventually sell it, so we will hope that it finds someone who will appreciate it...even wear it (yes, it's in quite good enough shape to wear...and wouldn't it be a stunning conversation piece???)
Special thanks to Elaine for sharing your wealth of knowledge on vintage clothing on this. We have so many more answers as a result of your expertise, my friend!
What we still don't know, and are hoping that another knowledgeable person will provide us with the answer is...is there a specific Chinese name for this type of garment? Something this charming deserves to have its identity established...and be provided with a new lease of life! We've made the first steps...can one of our readers help us solve the rest of our charming mystery?