Mao Suits

Up Contents Timeline and Maps



Despite its modern-day name, the roots of the Mao suit can be traced back to Sun Yat-sen and the Nationalist government. In an attempt to find a style of clothing that suited modern sensibilities without completely adopting western styles, Sun Yat-sen developed a suit that combined aspects of military uniforms, student uniforms, and  western-style suits. In the late 1920s civil servants of the Nationalist government were required by regulation to wear the Sun Yat-sen suit which would later be called the Mao suit.


Sun Yat-sen 1924  source      Mao Zedong 1939      source  



What are the differences and similarities between the clothes of Sun Yat-sen and his second wife Song Qingling, shown in the photo below?

Sun Yat-sen and Song Qingling in 1917                                      source

After the Communist Revolution, the Mao suit became a symbol of proletarian unity, and was regularly worn by party cadres. 

The collars, pockets, and seams of the Mao suits these men are wearing are all the same, but the suits are still not identical. 

Can you spot Mao Zedong within this group of men? How is he distinguished from the others?

Communist Party leaders in the 1950s                                           source



Political leaders were not the only ones to wear Mao suits. People of both genders, in all areas, and in all different kinds of professions began wearing variations of the Mao suit on a daily basis.


How do these outfits seem different from those worn by the political leaders above? Do you think these differences or the uniformity of the clothes of this period reflected the social structure of China?

Factory cadres at a meeting             source

Why do you think some of the men in these two scenes from the 1980s wear Mao jackets and others do not?


Commuters                                  source

Discussing building plans                   source


Children's clothing, while not generally called Mao suits, could also indicate political allegiance.  The red scarves seen around the necks of the children in these two pictures indicate that they are young pioneers. The scarves became important symbolic objects to many of the children in this period.

The label on the poster to the left reads "Set your mind on becoming a strong revolutionary successor."

Poster from 1965         source


Children on a field trip to a temple, circa 1980                      source


Move on to the Western-Style Suit