two sample court hats made by students doing the activity

Activity: Make an Imperial Court Hat

  • 2 hours
    • Individual
  • Grades 1 - 6
  • Ages 6-7, 8-10, 11-14
  • Classroom or flat workspace

Make a court hat like the ones worn by the emperors and empresses of China, and show everyone who's boss!

The clothes that you wear can tell people a lot about you. They can let people know who you are, what family you belong to, what things you like, and what job you do. A court hat could quickly tell people that its owner was to be treated with respect!

Learning Goals

  • Understand that world cultures throughout history had different ranks.
  • Discover how clothing and other apparel was a useful way to quickly convey the wearer's rank to others.
  • Identify how hats were worn by the emperors and empresses in imperial China to denote their rank and status.

Background Information

A hat was an important part of the Imperial ensemble; it was a very visible and easy way of showing that someone was a person with power and status. Emperors and empresses both wore impressive court hats of red silk trimmed with sable fur and adorned with gold and pearls. The imperial concubines and the empress would secure their hair first with a diadem or circlet of gold, decorated with pearls and precious gems, which would be visible beneath the brim of her hat.

Emperor Yongzheng wears a hat of red silk and sable 

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Can you spot the empress's hat with the diadem?

Materials

  • template [PDF]
  • glue
  • cardboard or Bristol board
  • scissors
  • markers or crayons
  • embellishments (stickers, felt, feathers, rhinestones, buttons, beads, etc.)
  • your imagination!

Preparation

Look up images of Chinese royalty and try to spot the difference between the different types of hats.

Can you see different colours in the spheres on top of the hats? Hat spheres helped denote a person's station and rank.

Instructions

Step 1

hands glue the template to card stock

Print the downloadable template on card stock, or glue it to some leftover cardboard (like a cereal box) so that it will stand up on its own.

Step 2

hands cut out the ornament on the template

Cut out the hat and the ornament.

Step 3

hands glue the ornament to the hat

Put some glue on the tab at the bottom of your ornament, and glue the ornament to the top of the hat.

Step 4

hands decorate the hat

Colour in and decorate your hat. You can be creative. Don’t forget to include the circlet at the bottom if your court hat belongs to a concubine or empress. The hat in the picture below does not have a circlet, since it is being made for an emperor.

Step 5

a long strip of cardboard is glued into a circle

Make a circular band that fits your head out of cardboard or Bristol board. It should be about 5cm wide. Attach the circular band to the back of your hat.

Step 6

interns wearing fashionable court hats

Model your new Imperial court hat and tweet a picture to #atROM.

Follow-Up

  • Imagine that you are a curator in a museum, and you are putting this hat into an exhibition. Write a short label for the hat that answers some or all of the following questions:
  • Who wore this hat?
  • When did they wear it?
  • What is it made from?
  • How does this hat convey information about the person wearing it?
  • What garments do people in other cultures wear to show leadership?
  • What do people wear at your school to show leadership?

Teacher Reflection

  • Does the finished product demonstrate an understanding of the purpose and function of such attire?
  • Did the student create a straightforward reproduction or creatively interpret the assignment? Did the interpretation they chose convey the intended message about the hat and its wearer?

Extension Activities

Complete your Imperial ensemble with the Court Robe activity!

Glossary

Forbidden City: The Forbidden City was the largest palace complex in history, home to the emperors of China and their families from 1420 to 1912.
Diadem: A type of crown, like an ornamental headband, worn by royalty.