Wu Zetian (624-705) was the only woman to ever rule as Empress of China. We show three depictions of her above: on the left is an antique portrait, on the right is a photo of an actress in a historical pantomime, and the center sketch shows Wu Zetian in the typical dress of the period. That’s the look we’re going for—Tang Dynasty style, strapless underdress, flowing transparent robe with huge sleeves.

Carina Lau as Wu Zetian

Carina Lau as Wu Zetian.

The items we suggest, from left to right:

1. Tang Dynasty-style empress gown. The flowing transparent robe with this dress is wonderful. Notice that the inner gown tends to run small; if you need something larger, you can wear any strapless gown that doesn’t clash (see #2 for an example).
2. Red strapless chiffon gown. This is in case the gown that comes with #1 is too small; these come in red, black, burgundy, blue, white, purple…a bunch of colors!.
3. Bridal crown. A bridal crown works great for dressing up as an empress. If you’re looking for something bigger and better, China Cart carries a variety of crowns for everything from weddings to stage performances.
4. Optional wig. Tang Dynasty hairstyles tended to be big and poufy, so if you can’t do that with your own hair, you may want to try this wig. A nice firm pouf is really useful as a base for the crown, which is actually a set of hair sticks and combs. (Note: There’s apparently an unwritten rule that any remotely Asian-looking wig has to be labeled a “geisha wig.” Drives us nuts. Actually this is just the bouffant upsweep hairdo that women in China, Japan, and Korea have worn at various times over the past two thousand years.)

Makeup: Tang Dynasty ladies had some serious eyebrow action going on, as you can see from the photo of Carina Lau made up as Wu Zetian for the movie Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame. She looks awesome.

Wu Zetian was said to be ruthless, but there’s probably a lot of lurid male hysteria in the stories about her. She was definitely a very, very effective ruler, and China prospered under her reign. She—well, hang on, let her tell you herself:

That’s her character in Civilization 5. Don’t know about that cleavage, but the costume is right.