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Fashionable "Majie Dress"

Historically, maids in Guangzhou were called "Majie". Most maids were young widows or married women who hailed from poor families or who were staying with their parents before giving birth to a baby. The dress worn by these women was known as the "Majie Dress".

Typically made of gambiered Canton gauze, the "Majie Dress" featured a large front with fringe embellishments, a right lapel and cloth buttons, and was sleeveless. The dress was either white or black, matched with black trousers with a silver chain as the belt. "Majie" usually wore a plum-shaped silver badge on the chest and an exquisite pair of earrings. Over time, this dress gained popularity among the women and was even embraced by young ladies from noble families. At the turn of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the "Majie Dress" was the most fashionable item of clothing in Guangzhou.

The popularity of the "Majie Dress" was largely attributable to its fabric - gambiered Canton gauze, which was soft and smooth and rustled slightly when the wearer moved. This particular type of gauze was light, refreshingly cool, highly breathable, easy to wash, quick-drying, deep-colored and stain-resistant, and did not cling to the skin. Therefore, it was an immensely popular fabric for summer clothing.

Gambiered Canton gauze was made through a special process, and the most important step in the process was the "galangal drying". The fabric, woven with mulberry silk, was repeatedly dyed in the juice of the Chinese galangal, a plant native to the Lingnan region; iron-rich black mud from ponds was then rubbed onto the surface of the fabric; afterwards, the fabric was spread on a lawn for drying under the blazing sun. After the fabric became completely dry, the mud was shaken off and the fabric was washed clean; thus, the surface of the fabric would be shiningly black, and its base would become crimson or yellowish. Hence, the gambiered Canton gauze is also known as "the black gel fabric".

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