With the exception of the empress dowager and the highest-ranking members of the emperor's harem, women were not entitled to attend the audiences and ceremonies for which surcoats with rank-badges were worn. Manchu womens' insignia coats called longgua, differed from their male counterparts in style and decor. Womens' overgarments were full-length and, for the highest-ranking women, bore eight roundels with long, or five-clawed dragons. After 1759, the empress and empress dowager were assigned two types of surcoats: the first type was decorated only with roundels, the second had a lishui, or standing water border at the hem with eight roundels on the field above. See G. Dickinson and L. Wrigglesworth, Imperial Wardrobe , London, 1990, pp. 186-9.
The two highest ranks of imperial consorts and crown princesses were allowed to use both styles of longgua. The three lower ranks of imperial consorts had the same styles of longgua, but profile gui, or curly three-toed dragons were displayed in the roundels on the skirts rather than long dragons. All other imperial princesses and noblewomen wore full-length insignia overcoats, bearing the same badges as their husbands.
The roundels cut from the shoulders of this longgua bear four of the Twelve Symbols of Imperial Authority: the sun on the right shoulder and the moon on the left (as one looks at the robe), constellation at the chest and mountain at the back. The costume legislation of the mid-eighteenth century, which added these ancient symbols of sovereignty to the ritual and ceremonial costume of the Qing emperors for the first time, did not mention the use of any of these symbols for other ranks. In previous dynasties, the nobles and officials who assisted the emperor at the principal annual sacrifices were entitled to wear these ancient symbols on their robes, but in lesser numbers. Several Qing court robes survive, including ones for women, which bear two, four, eight or even all twelve of the symbols. Most of these apparent expressions of official privilege date from the later nineteenth century, when Qing power was in decline and dowager empresses served as regents to child emperors.