The cornflower-blue silk is worked with an overall pattern of finely couched gold gourds and satin stitched flowers on vine tendrils and amongst leaves shaded from white to several shades of greenish-blue. The contrasting black borders are densely embroidered with matching motifs with a splash of red-satin stitch interspersed with couched-gold characters reading shuangxi, “double happiness.” These auspicious characters combine with wishes for fertility symbolized by the gourds, growing on vines, to produce a garment not only of impressive beauty for a most privileged individual but a propitious one was well.
The superb workmanship evident in the high quality materials and exquisite embroidery on this vest indicates it was tailored for a lady of wealth. It might have been intended as informal court wear late during Manchu rule when the strictures governing the colors and motifs of court clothing established at the beginning of the dynasty had relaxed. On the other hand, it could well have graced the wardrobe of the wife or daughter of a wealthy merchant, one with means to keep his household well-appointed and its occupants well attired. In either case, a female of privilege, whether in the Manchu imperial domain or not, would have worn the present garment.
Manchu women wore this type of vest over the long robes created for their new sedentary lives in a new land and for some within palatial compounds. While the attire appropriate to their status was rooted in traditional Manchu tribal wear in form, it was literally cut out of Chinese cloth, woven and embroidered by way of techniques developed in China and decorated with images of long-standing significance to the Chinese.