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I am reading a short story (set around 1976) by 魏微 (born in 1970 in Jiangsu, studied in Nanjing). The word 衣衫 repeatedly occurs. I searched the net and found references from 紅樓夢 and 唐詩, but the short story is among the easiest I have ever read, making but sparse use of 成語 and fancy vocabulary.

My dictionary defines 衣衫 as clothes. Is there a difference to 衣服? Any regional flavour, literary flavour or era related flavour for which one may choose it?

I searched jukuu and it seems to be rare outside fixed expressions. 魏微 uses it quite casually:

⋯我母亲那时很喜欢我,为我做很多漂亮的衣衫⋯

Or:

我穿着最好看的衣衫,倚在家门口的一棵老槐树上,⋯

  • bkrs:衣衫 [coat or clothing] 单衣; 衣服| 同义: 衣服, 衣物, 衣着yīzhuó, 衣裳 小马词典 has 20 compounds all ending in 衫, e.g. 衬衫 shirt; blouse; of course 衣服 much more common – user6065 May 12 '17 at 18:36
  • I like 魏微very much. What story r u reading? Is that 看叔叔们谈恋爱,which happened at a place called 微湖闸? – Qing Zhang Jun 12 '17 at 5:35
  • 衣衫is just a fancy way to say 衣服in this context. In daily Chinese, no body would say 衣衫, but in literature, 衣衫is quite often. – Qing Zhang Jun 12 '17 at 5:38
  • @QingZhang 是這篇:m.xiabook.com/xiandai/14751/936678.html – Ludi Jun 12 '17 at 11:33
  • You might want to read 看叔叔们谈恋爱 – Qing Zhang Jun 13 '17 at 1:33
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In olden time, there might be difference between the two terms

」[ (2) [upper garment;jacket] 衣,所以蔽体者也。上曰衣,下曰裳。]

and

」, [(1) 古代指无袖头的开衩上衣 [sleeveless jacket with vent in the sides of a jacket]. ]

In modern Chinese language, both 衣 and 衫 simply refers to 'clothes one wears on his upper body'

Together, 「衣衫 」is a compound word for the general term 'upper garment' much like 「刀劍 」(knife and sword) is a general term for 'weapons'

「服」as a noun, refers 'every article of clothing one wear on his person'. For example:  「軍服」(military uniform), 「制服」(uniform). 

「服」is also a verb for 'to wear' 

Together,「衣服」is a general term for 'clothes/clothing' just like 「刀斧」(knife and axe) is a general term for 'weapons'

「衣服」 is much more common than 「衣衫」 in day-to-day words.

A related term is 「衣裳」(upper garment + lower garment), which is also a general term for 'clothing'

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I'd like to answer this question in the perspective of accent.

In Jiang-Huai Mandarin, clothes are more often to be call 衣裳. Maybe the author does not have a good knowledge of linguistics, and thought it as 衣衫.

In standard Northern Mandarin, the most formal way to say clothes is 衣服. Although 衣衫/衣裳 is understandable, but it sounds genteel and not appropriate in oral language.

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@Tang Ho have an excellent and detailed explanation.

In a word, 衣服 is more like a daily word we would use. 衣衫 is a word we might see in literature material. It's a little bit wired to say"衣衫" without using any idiom/set-phrase.

For example, when it comes to describing "easily discovered, seen, or understood". The words like "obvious", "apparent" are more likely to be used than "manifest".

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