The word Qipao originally meant “Qing People’s Robe.” But in modern day, cheongsam dress immediately conjures up images of the famous traditional Chinese outfit, an icon of Eastern Asian fashion and a symbol of Shanghai City, with an enduring appeal the world over.
You may think, “Chinese women wear qipao every day or anybody know how to wear qipao.”
However, with the development of society, only a few people wear traditional cheongsam everyday, and a lot of people don’t even know how to wear qipao in modern life. Traditional qipao got avoided by people because it took time to wear one compare to modern clothes, and it was hard to move when wearing it.
Now, It hasn’t always been this way, that situation has been changed. Modern fashion coordinates the heat of qipao dress. Western trend is bright fashion, and qipao has a vintage design that western clothes don’t have. So, today’s young people are having fun that they arrange qipao style with their favorite fashion elements.
This time we’ll bring you a brief history of traditional cheongsam and unveil how the modern qipao fashion achieves rapid development, and hope you enjoy it!
As a piece of Chinese clothing, qipao is always a classic choice for women. A large number of Chinese women from overseas still believe that qipao has been a necessary item of their lives. So they would go to the local Chinatown to find a delicate, beautiful cheongsam that suits them.
During the early 21st century the traditional qipao got funkier patterns and became more modern. Nowadays, mainstream fashion takes inspiration from traditional Chinese dresses, and even Japanese fashion uses some conventional Chinese spirit.
To help you better understand the meaning of cheongsam, before we start talking about modern qipao, let’s take a look at how cheongsam was invented.
What is a Traditional Chinese Cheongsam Dress?
The cheongsam is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women, also known in Mandarin Chinese as Qipao, and Mandarin gown in English. The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or qipao that is best known today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and made fashionable by socialites and upper-class women at first.
Unlike what most people believe, the qipao isn’t a direct successor to the traditional dress in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It was instead mostly influenced by the West, following the Revolution of 1911. At that time, designers in Shanghai and Beijing reformed the outmoded Manchu dress with modern tailoring. They adopted an early form of the cheongsam, which emerged from the neutral garment called the Changpao.
The cheongsam of the early 1920s had a looser cut than the cheongsam of today, with long, wide sleeves.
The standing collar and slim waist of the qipao illustrate the curves of the female figure, going against the conservative idea of wrapping a woman’s chest and arms. It catered to the tastes of women’s liberation and gradually became an essential garment for urban women. In the next 20 years, the qipao stayed in the height of fashion, even becoming one of the national dresses for the Republic of China in 1929.
In the era of the Republic of China period, Qipao was used as a “Code” to communicate social status, and dressing out of the designated class distinction was frowned upon and punished. Even tourists can now rent qipaos from the street cheongsam shop and walk around with them in Shanghai.
As Chinese women have gained equal social status in the 1930s, they shed the traditional, ornate robes of the olden days. The new patterns soon became popular among female students in Shanghai, and before long, the trend attracted more and more women among the upper classes and in the world of entertainment.
These days, they would also wear qipao in formal situations like a wedding ceremony or festival party. Qipao became special ceremonial clothes for modern Chinese women in the present day.
Traditional Cheongsam Spreads All over China
The 20th century is the first time that Eastern and Western cultures collide on a large scale. A new innovation, the movies, meant that traditional Chinese styles came under the influence of Western fashions.
Inspired by the latest fashions from Paris, the traditional loose fit costumes of the Qing dynasty were updated, and made famous by the cinema. A new dress style – qipao was born while its high collars and simple lines look unmistakeably Chinese to us today.
It quickly became a fashion phenomenon that was adopted by movie stars and schoolgirls alike. The history of this iconic garment reflects the rise of the modern Chinese woman in the twentieth century.
The qipao is, in fact, a fusion of western style with Chinese tradition. And was a staple of a glamorous fashion scene back in the first golden age of Chinese cinema.
It quickly became the regular outfit of urban women in metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
However, shortly China has gone through two world wars, people’s living standards have declined dramatically, the cheongsam, which was considered a luxury dress, disappeared from everyday life in mainland China.
Nevertheless, the cheongsam’s popularity continued in Hong Kong, where it became everyday wear in the 1950s. Under the influence of European fashion, it was typically worn with high heels, a leather clutch, and white gloves. Movies industry, as well as the rise of Hong Kong beauty pageants, cemented the garment’s association with Hong Kong in international consciousness.
By the end of the ’60s, the popularity of the cheongsam declined, giving way to Western-style dresses, blouses, and suits. These mass-produced Western clothes were cheaper than handmade cheongsams, and by the early 1970s, it no longer constituted everyday wear for most Chinese women. However, it remains a significant garment in the history of Chinese women’s fashion.
The Inspiration for Modern Qipao Style
As China has opened up in the last few decades, the uniform clothing in shops has been replaced by a globally recognizable wardrobe.
There isn’t a distinctive Chinese style to people’s clothing. We could be anywhere in the world, that’s globalization for you. Nowadays, the whole world seems to wear just a handful of brands.
Chinese young people have started to take an interest in traditional culture due to the heightened attention of China (“China Trend”) from other countries. Because of this, young people started to pay more attention to traditional clothes in fashion.
At the moment dressing oriental tradition with western taste items, is coming into style among them.
With many socialites to dress, qipao makers improved their craft to such an extent that it became an art form. Qipao became more modern, exquisite, and valuable as pieces of art, not simply as apparel.
The golden age of the qipao is a vital resource for modern qipao’s inspirations.
The fresh idea of fashion always makes trends. And more and more new eastern style will be born by young people. Qipao will become closer to people in an ordinary way.
Modern Cheongsam Fashion Created by Young People
People’s gaze rests currently on the trend towards updating the classic qipao. This traditional dress is having a modern-day makeover from multiple parties, both at home and overseas.
The most notable surge of interest in qipao-style fashion in recent history, was during the 1980s, when designers such as Louis Williams and Robbie Amell brought the close-fitting lines of this style into contemporary fashion. As they did then, the luxurious and embroidery flowers of the qipao are identifiable on today’s catwalks, as well as on the high street.
What’s happened for sure is that people’s styling became more free. Young girls and boys aren’t afraid to wear different kinds of patterns that are out of trend and will mix and match their traditional style with modern accessories. China News reports some of the creative ways retro lovers have made the modern version of conventional costumes their own.
In the New Year, designers have taken a fresh look at classic clothing, and they are planning an exhibition that will explore the relationship between qipao and fashion.
“My friends including me, try to create a new dress style that was inspired by the ancient dress of China,” says Meimei Han, come from Beijing, a fashion designer student of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, who looked to ancient China as inspiration for her new season collection.
Of particular note was an embroidery floral dress designed by her, which was influenced by the art of Hanfu, shown inside a Paris museum last month. “It was a typical dress for China’s women of the era,” she adds.
The Feature of Modern Cheongsam Style
Specifically, traditional qipao has retro collar design, with the pankou button, and it fits the body closely, with these openings on both sides. Traditional qipaos are simple and elegant, as they are made from a single piece of material, buttoned-down one side of the body.
So what is a modern qipao look like?
While the modern qipao contains more westernized twist, it still preserves traditional Chinese design. In Chinese tradition, women should be discreet and gentle, not flaunting yourself, so be more modest.
A riot of original prints, materials, and cuts make modern qipaos a hot ticket item for women who are looking for a qipao with heaps of personality. The 2020 new modern cheongsam is a perfect example, with its daring cut-out back and detailed handmade lacework on the side high-slit. And its floral and bird embroidery on a skin-colored & see-through lace back. It seems that most of the forward girls are obsessed with backless dresses.
Modern qipao is several decades old and features that focus on various colors and artistic embroidery. Its specialty is hand-painted qipao, for which seasoned painters would design and paint symbols or patterns on the qipao according to your order.
The materials used at traditional qipao are what really make their qipaos special, with beautiful brocade, vintage silk, and a plethora of colors on offer. Buttons also come in a variety of materials, with traditional stones such as agate and jade proving particularly popular.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, the cheongsam continued to change, accentuating the femininity and sexuality of the urban Chinese woman. The dress became more fitted and body-hugging, with some daring designs featuring side slits that reached up to the thigh. It became customary to pair the dress with high heels. Women experimented with different fastenings, pipings, and collars, as well as short-capped sleeves, long sleeves with fur-lined cuffs, and sleeveless cheongsams.
As the garment evolved, traditional silks replaced to cheaper, contemporary textiles. In terms of design, the traditional embroidered florals remained widespread but geometric, and art deco patterns also gained popularity.
All of the qipao garments are seriously high-end, with decadent fabrics and elaborate designs sure to make any woman wearing a qipao feel like a true princess.
Modern qipao’s designs from season to season take their inspiration from slices of life — with anything from food to antique porcelain previously — marking the starting point for a collection. No matter the original inspiration, you can always expect a surprise design to be heavy on both romance and drama.
Shanghai – the Home of Qipao
China’s eastern regions are dominated by the modern Shanghai trendsetter for the nation. It’s the home of glitzy, glamorous Chinese fashion week, and China’s fashionistas are keen to buy.
Shanghai, as the home of qipao, has significant trends in qipao designs, and new technology is playing a bigger role. Shanghai, a dynamic and vibrant port city with a large population of foreigners, was at the cutting edge of this fashion shift.
Of all the dresses to have been worn in China, none can come close to matching the iconic status of Shanghai’s qipao.
Shanghai is one of the most famous qipao destinations in China. Many Qipao apprentices began their qipao-making apprenticeship at the age of 12; they spent lots of time in the store, learning how to measure customers to ensure they get a perfect fit.
Get yourself a piece of this feminine, figure-hugging symbol of eternal sensuality at one of Shanghai’s qipao tailors. From the moment you dress up a qipao, the feeling of old Shanghai is palpable.
If seeing actress’s awesome costumes in the movie “2046” has inspired you to invest in a qipao for yourself, as it’s excellent enough for the famous film star, it’s also good enough for us.
Nowhere has done more to bring the exquisite qipao up-to-date for the modern woman than Shanghai, the first area of Qipao, and a sure source of some of the best qipao in China. It’s also the most common location for international shoppers to discover the beauty of this classic garment.
Modern Qipao is on the Way to Global
It can be confirmed that the 21st century is the era of globalization. Due to globalization and technology developed, cultures of each region have expanded across the world, showing people like you and me their true colors in the form of music, movies, books, news, photographs, event in a fashion style!
But has the Chinese character of classic Qipao chic been lost to globalization?
In Beijing, designers have also been rethinking the ancient Chinese clothing. A few years ago, Beijing’s oldest qipao makers, Qiker, launched a state of the art qipao shop, designed to help shoppers create their own modern pieces, which is a veritable “Fast Fashion” offering. By Qipao’s usual standards – they have to spend two weeks completing a perfect design for customers, but now it just needs several hours.
The qipao showed in the Beijing Fashion Week embodied the theme of lotus and goldfish, which represents luck and wealth in Chinese tradition.
Many recent runway collections from Western designers have also celebrated the qipao. They designed patchwork qipao for spring and summer.
The famous fashion brand like Zara and H&M drew on the new products using the qipao-style collar and knots that are specially prepared for Asian women. Besides, they entered a whole new field; examples include the use of traditional woven textiles, used to make the maxi dress.
The New Scene of the Modern Cheongsam Dress
From female leaders and first ladies to common women in special ceremonies, the qipao has always remained a firm favorite.
As a unique Chinese dress, cheongsam is a wonderful blossom in Chinese fashion trends and enjoys great popularity among women to show their special grace, although these dresses have changed over the years to adapt to the times.
“I think any woman can wear a qipao. Plump or slim, as long as she has a certain body proportion, she would look great in it,” says Fen Zhang. The 30-year-old designer who runs a qipao studio in Hangzhou.
People have been exploring new designs to reveal the subtle beauty of Chinese women, but without being vulgar with it.
As times change, the customers demand more. Therefore, qipao learns from other fashion studios, keeping up with their latest developments.
Its target market is young independent Chinese women like herself. Qipao was a very rebelling dress in the very beginning, so when you tie it back to the origin of the qipao that is a kind of connected.
“Try as many things as possible. And those shall become the footstone of future innovations.”
Though the decor of the offline store indicates a love of tradition, the qipaos being turned out by fashion designers, are anything but conservative.
Think bold colors and prints galore, with a particular love of royal-themed fabrics in evidence. The range of silk, lace, and cotton on offer are sourced from China’s best fabric production area, and a beautiful qipao without too much embroidery can be yours within 5 to 7 days (expect to wait up to two weeks for more complicated designs).
The Voice from Qipao Designers
In the past three months, we’ve come to the Shanghai Institute of fashion in search of a true guardian of the classic 1930s qipao.
Ms. Chen is best known for running the Qipao Dress Institute for several decades, Shanghai’s leading fashion museum. Chen was dedicated to western fashion for a very long time, reflecting a trend towards wearing western, rather than traditional Chinese clothing, that emerged in China after reform and opening. And she has worked tirelessly to make a connection between the two sartorial worlds.
“What is interesting is foreign designers seeing or re-imagining the Qipao, or Chinese retro textile, with fresh eyes,” she said. “Qipao is not a new thing, it could even often appear in 21st Paris Fashion Week, but recently, its influence more than before.”
From soft silk to delicate lace and everything in between, fashion designers are always choosing the best fabrics with luxury and femininity in mind. But as we thought about the modern woman, we realized she needs an option to have both luxury and sexy.
They hope that as they offer modern qipao dress for the modern woman, it’s starting a new fashion trend. That honors all the ways women contribute to their families and communities. Their pieces admire your beauty, your strength, your versatility, and sees yourself for who you truly are.
Traditional qipao is worn by women all over old China, and there’s a wide variety ranging from casual for any given day, to extremely elegant for unique occasions.
Another one young fashion designer Wang, is determined to bring sexed-up qipaos back into China’s catwalks. For example, their new collections are really different qipao, quite revealing. Actually, a lot of modern dresses are very sexy, and they’re trying to revolutionize the qipao design.
“Our customers mostly are young people in China. Maybe they will have a very traditional qipao for their wedding, but they like qipao, they want to wear them in their everyday life.” Wang said, “I want to break the rules of qipao were designed. We want to create an option for today’s Chinese girls when they want to buy Chinese-looking clothes. There’s also an option that is like qipao; young people have the right to wear qipao.”
Wang told us they have two design teams to meet the different needs of customers, one is to keep the traditional design of the qipao, and the other is to design with trendy elements to attract young people.
Besides the new fashion trends, Wang’s team is using a 3D measurement machine to measure a customer’s body in 5 seconds instead of using a ruler. Customers just need to enter a room, and the scanner would get the figures and transfer onto the computer directly.
However, qipao as one of China’s classic fashions, if customer book a luxury wedding qipao dress, embroidered with red & white color, thick lace trim at the collar, sleeves and edges mostly, still would take a month to finish. And for a high-end 100% handmade qipao, it would take longer, even half a year to make.
We saw some spectacular hand embroidered pieces, with fantastic color gradation, and a full-bodied texture that machine stitched pieces didn’t have. Unsurprisingly and according to the shops that we spoke to, there are also fewer and fewer craftsmen who are capable of high-quality hand embroidery nowadays, making prices higher and wait times longer. But they were so beautiful that I thought if there was one occasion in life, we could splurge on something like this, it was this.
Thanks to all their efforts, the designers are taking the qipao into a further future.
Through this experience, we understood how were modern cheongsam developed this Chinese fashion trend elsewhere in the world. Mesmerizing pieces of clothing that can catch the eye of anyone coming to China with the retro designs, bright colors, delicate elegance and nature imitating patterns.
Now we can find this style in tops, dresses, robes, jackets, jumpsuits, or trousers, like the one in the pictures, from Pairs fashion week.
More and more young girls love this unique new fashion dress, they like to wear it and talk about it with their friends at school, on the commute, even in the office.
The best way to maintain the vitality of tradition is to bring it into daily life, to let people wear it, thus making it naturally charming, and only then will this unique Chinese treasure live on for generations to come.