Chapter 436 - Qi-style Attire

Lady Fang tried to frighten him, “Your older sister’s body is healthy and won’t get sick. Have you forgotten that you had to take the bitter medicine for a while because your tummy hurt after having one more mouthful of shaved ice during the summer?” 

Little Linlin rolled up his sleeves to reveal his chubby arms as he argued, unconvinced, “Linlin’s body is also healthy! You see, Linlin has more meat than Older Sister! If Older Sister can eat, Linlin too can eat it, too!” 

The little fellow was so adorable that Xiaocao couldn’t help but burst into laughter. She took a small piece of watermelon and placed it in his hand, saying, “Mhm! Little Linlin has been obedient lately. You have been eating well and persisting in your daily run around the garden, so this is your reward. You can only have one piece a day. If you eat more, you’ll fall sick!” 

The little fellow, Fang Haolin, stuffed the watermelon into his mouth with a grin, “I’m not afraid! With Older Sister here, I don’t need to drink the bitter medicine!” After having a piece of watermelon, the little fellow knew to stop pestering them even though he still wanted more, and followed his nanny to the garden to play. 

“Madam, Young Miss, Jiang Siniang of Exquisite Garments is here.” Linlang was smiling and her voice was clear as she drew the door curtain and entered the room. A while ago, Modiste Jiang Siniang had sent them a calling card and came to visit Young Miss, but the young miss was not here at that time. Who knew that Jiang Siniang would come and visit again when the young miss had just returned? Did this mean that her young miss was special in the eyes of Modiste Jiang? 

Lady Fang also felt proud. The master of embroidery that others were rarely able to invite to their residence had come as a guest to her residence on multiple occasions! It was such a great honor. Her close friends would be so envious if they knew about this! 

“Hurry, invite her inside!” Lady Fang held her daughter’s hand as she stood up, “Come, let’s go to the main hall to greet the esteemed guest.” 

Yu Xiaocao looked at her own casual attire and thought, ‘Would it be impolite if I wore this out to greet guests?’ She lifted her head and smiled, “Godmother, I need to go back to change my clothes. I’ll immediately go to the main hall afterward.” 

“I’ve been careless in my considerations.” Lady Fang took a look at her daughter’s clothes, then lowered her gaze to her own clothing, which had wrinkled after she lay on the seat. She laughed, “See, even I, as your mother, am not as collected as you are!” 

“Godmother, this Modiste Jiang is only a master of embroidery, but you’re a third-rank noble madam. Why do you regard her so highly?” The Jiang Siniang that others deemed highly of was only the owner of Exquisite Garments to Xiaocao. These madams and misses must not have enough entertainment, to have ‘worshipped’ Jiang Siniang like a fan towards their idol. 

Lady Fang laughed, “My daughter sees the situation clearer than all of the capital’s women. For the past few years, the madams and misses in the capital have indeed gone a little overboard with their adulation towards Modiste Jiang. However, this Jiang Siniang does indeed have the skills. The phoenix that she embroiders seems almost able to take off into the air, and the flora she embroiders, able to attract bees and butterflies. The clothes that she designs are able to cover up a person’s shortcomings and bring out the good points of a person’s figure. No matter how young or old a woman is, who doesn’t like to be beautiful? That’s why many began to adulate Jiang Siniang’s skills.” 

“I don’t have any association with her, so why has she come to visit several times?” Yu Xiaocao mumbled. She was not so interested in apparels, and the clothes her godmother had prepared for her was, in her opinion, already good enough. Besides, the skills of the servants in the sewing department of their residence were quite good—she was satisfied with their needlework. 

Lady Fang changed into another set of clothes and smiled at her confused daughter, “Stop worrying and go change your clothes. Wouldn’t you understand once you meet the guest?” 

Yu Xiaocao returned to her courtyard and told Pipa to take out her newly-made modified Qi-style attire [1]. This set of clothes was actually the result of a whim when she went to the sewing department to commission for a set of practical garments suitable for traveling on horseback.

The outer garment was lilac and reached down to her thighs. It split into two sides at the waist and, in effect, accentuated the curve of her waist. A little folded collar sat prettily on her neck, while slightly darker confederate roses were embroidered on the oblique collar and the hem of her bell sleeves. The lower part of her garment was a light yellow, pleated skirt, and the front part of the upper garment and hemline of the skirt was embroidered with the same pattern.

She let Wutong style her hair into two cute hair buns and used strings of rice-sized pearls as a hair tie to hold them in place. The hair at the sides of her neck were bound into two small yet long braids that hung until her chest, making her seem playful and bright.

Jiang Siniang was softly conversing with Lady Fang when Yu Xiaocao arrived at the main hall. Jiang Siniang’s eyes lit up as she noticed her. Actually, Jiang Siniang was a fanatic for clothes and was completely obsessed over fashion design. This was also one of the reasons why she was always able to innovate on her old designs and receive the praises of the upper class. 

Since she was ten years old, Jiang Siniang had displayed a surprising talent for fashion design, but it had been so many years, and her inspiration was bound to dampen at some point. Although they were not as cooped up in their homes as the women of the previous dynasty, the women of this era still rarely traveled very far. In recent years, Jiang Siniang had reached her bottleneck in fashion design, and no matter how hard she tried, she could not reach a breakthrough. She was distressed over the fact that she could not seem to come up with anything new. 

About a month ago, she almost bumped into a passing rider on a horse outside of Exquisite Garments because she was too preoccupied with the design of the hemline of a piece of clothing. She was so startled that she immediately looked up, but she was instantly enraptured with the rider’s clothes. 

To be honest, if she were to describe the clothes the young girl was wearing in one word, it would be ‘plain’. It was made from ordinary muslin, and there was nothing special about the craftsmanship, but the design itself was never before seen in this region! 

It was a light green, straight-cut Qi-style attire with an oblique collar. It was made from muslin, and a pattern of peonies surrounded by butterflies was embroidered onto the outfit using colorful threads. Worn on top was a light blue, sleeveless jacket embellished with colorful clusters of flowers, and the edges of the sleeves and the hemline of the skirt was decorated with an inlay of faint, white flowers. The lower garment consisted of a loose pair of skirt pants made of the same material, and the hemline of the trousers were also adorned with the same pattern of peonies surrounded by butterflies. Although it was an outfit paired with trousers, it did not feel vulgar, but rather brought about an air of neatness. 

It was just a split second, but that small and delicate figure had deeply imprinted itself into the mind of Jiang Siniang. A voice in her heart told her, ‘This girl will be the key to my breakthrough. I must absolutely find her!’

She inquired about the identity of that girl through various sources, and only then did she find out that the young girl was actually a sixth-ranked official under the Ministry of Revenue. That day, that girl was riding towards the Imperial Plantation outside of the capital. She guessed that the trouser-attire was so that it was more practical to carry out any agricultural activities. 

She could not hold back her excitement, so she sent a calling card and visited the very next day, but the person who greeted her was Lady Fang. She was quite disheartened after she found out that the girl had left for Tanggu Town two days ago and they weren’t sure when she would return. She forced herself to discuss a few topics on apparel and accessories with Lady Fang before she excused herself. 

After that, she had her servants pay extra attention to the whereabouts of the only female official at court. In actuality, when the emperor awarded her to be an official, she had become the capital’s hottest discussion. At first, many were skeptical and made a lot of sarcastic remarks, but this young female official was quick to shut their mouths with her actions. 

She cultivated high-yield crops to the point where a single mu of land was able to produce two thousand catties of crops, and even managed to successfully plant fruit trees and watermelons out of their proper season. During fall, she managed to yield fresh vegetables by cultivating them in greenhouses so the people could enjoy a larger variety of dishes at mealtime during fall and winter. 

Even though it was already the beginning of winter, the prestigious families could still serve their guests with an exquisite plate of fruits filled with watermelon, cantaloupe, and a type of small tomatoes that seemed to be called cherry tomatoes. It was pleasant to their taste buds, tasting both sweet and sour at the same time. Those madams and misses of the prestigious families would also comment about this young female official once in a while; although they disapproved of a girl being appointed as an official, they couldn’t help but praise her for the results of her work. 

It was not hard to track the whereabouts of this young female official. Once she found out from her subordinate that Miss Yu had returned to the capital today, she hurriedly came to visit. Regardless of everything else, just the sight of this pretty young girl’s attire had already made her trip worthwhile. It was as though a door leading towards a new fashion had opened right in front of her eyes... 

Yu Xiaocao was taken by surprise by Jiang Siniang’s zealous gaze that seemed as though it wanted to swallow her whole. She forced a stiff smile on her face and politely offered the guest some fruits and dessert, but the other person’s burning gaze was fixed on her...clothes, as if she wanted to strip her bare. Was there...something wrong with this person? 

Jiang Siniang’s personal maidservant knew that her mistress’s obsession had resurfaced and shot Lady Fang and Miss Yu an apologetic smile. She lightly tugged on her mistress’s sleeve and softly called her, intending to remind her to be a little more reserved. 

Jiang Siniang, who was seemingly entranced, ignored her efforts and stood up, walking towards Xiaocao. Her slender and fair hand slowly reached towards Xiaocao’s collar, lightly feeling the embroidery as she mumbled, “The design of this collar is truly ingenious, and although the craftsmanship of this button knot is a little unrefined, it’s quite stylish. This pinched-waist design which splits in the middle accentuates the waist, and the layers of pleats gives volume to the skirt...the only thing lacking is the embroidery. If I made this, the quality of this attire would definitely improve tremendously and be able to reach the height of its beauty…”

Not one person in the world wouldn’t react to a pair of unfamiliar hands feeling about their body—to be precise, their clothes. Imaginary black lines hung on Yu Xiaocao’s forehead as she inwardly rolled her eyes as hard as she could. ‘Jiang Siniang, Modiste Jiang, is it alright for you to do things so carelessly?’

Jiang Siniang’s maidservant felt so awkward she wanted to hide somewhere no one could find her. She felt so embarrassed every time her mistress’s obsession surfaced, to the point where she wanted to cry. She apologized on behalf of her mistress, “Lady Fang, Miss Yu, I’m really sorry for this! Every time my mistress sees a new design or a particularly stylish set of clothes, she’d become a little...different! She’s not usually so impolite!”

The shock on Lady Fang’s face faded as she slowly nodded, “Only when one person reaches the point of obsession in a certain field, can they become the expert of said field and be true to the title of ‘master’. That is Modiste Jiang’s true nature, how can it be considered impolite?”


[1] Qi-style - Manchu style clothing, think Qing Dynasty inspired. Best example in our modern times would be the qipao.

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Myst's Thoughts

Translator: Vera