Style Inspirations from Story of Yanxi Palace

Chinese TV drama Story of Yanxi Palace has recently taken Greater China by storm. Set in 18th century Beijing, the 70-episode drama tells the story of smart and courageous seamstress Wei Yingluo, who eventually becomes a dedicated consort of the Qianlong Emperor. Apart from the beautiful actresses and engaging storyline involving romance, revenge, and conspiracies, the drama has also been praised for its accurate portrayal of Qing Dynasty-era makeup, costume and décor. Here are a few of its timeless aesthetics that you can still adopt nowadays!

Images: iQiyi Pictures

1. A Clean Eye Makeup

Most characters have a clean eye makeup with minimal eyeshadow. A dark (but not jet black) eyeliner is used for the upper lash line, while a paler shade is used at the tip of the waterline, just enough to make eyes look slightly bigger. The eyeliner softly blends into earth-tone shadow at the outer corner of the eye to make it look even more natural.

There’s one exception though: Being the major villain, Consort Gao has a louder makeup look which includes an ombré mauve eyeshadow that covers the entire eyelid and extends outwards to make her look purposefully older and more devilish.

2. Slender Brows

柳葉眉 (willow leaf brows) was the most popular brow shape during that era. Despite slight variations, all characters from the drama boast slender and slightly arched brows that gently taper at the ends. Such brows portray women as gentle, motherly figures. The less steep the brows, the more innocent the person looks. You can get on-fleek brows using a brow razor, brow scissors and stencil set. A brow fixer also helps to keep the brow tail sharp at all times.

3. Not Your Typical Bitten Lips


A demo by Wu Jinyan, the leading actress

The lip makeup takes its cue from絳唇妝 (red lips) which was trending during Qianlong’s reign. The look involves covering the entire lips with face powder, then adding just a red dot at the center of the lower lip. This creates those “small cherry lips” that are considered pretty in traditional China. You can cover your lips with concealer, then apply lip tint to the inner edges of the middle of both the upper and lower lips. Smack your lips together and voilà! You’re ready for the emperor’s visit.

4. The Giorgio Morandi Palette

Unlike other Chinese historical dramas, the décor and costumes of Story of Yanxi Palace are finished in dull colors. Many online sources claim that the drama’s palette strikes a remarkable resemblance to colors used by Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. Subdued and somber, the Morandi palette consists mainly of muted whites and grays, complemented by cream, beige, almond, taupe and grayish blue. The colors exude understated luxury and a vintage mood. Try them on your clothes and nails!

5. Embroidery

Wei Yingluo was admitted to the palace as a seamstress, so how can embroidery not be a selling point for the drama? Lavish embroidery of auspicious motifs such as dragons, phoenixes, peonies and rice plants are featured. These are embroidered on 羅 (mulberry silk gauze) from Suzhou using hand-operated embroidery machines. The higher the ranking of the wearer, the more intricate the designs are.

6. Velvet Flower Headpiece

In episode 6, Empress Fucha suggests promoting frugality in the palace by replacing the consorts’ jeweled headpieces with 絨花 (velvet flowers). The city of Nanjing was famous for making these flowers. Another popular jewelry technique during the Qing Dynasty was 點翠 which means inlaying kingfisher feathers in gold. Just like the rest of the costumes, jewelry in the drama mimics antiques in Beijing’s Palace Museum. These exquisite pieces may inspire your bridal hairstyles.

7. Triple Drop Earrings

It’s mentioned in episode 1 that 一耳三鉗 (three earrings on each lobe) was a tradition passed down from ancestors of the Qing Dynasty. The drop earrings in the drama feature mostly pearl, jade and coral beads hanging from a metal hoop. Clip-on earrings are a good option if you don’t want to triple the pain of piercing.