updated 3 Jan 2012, 20:46
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Mon, Jan 31, 2011
China Daily/ANN
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Qipao, sexy elegance

Qipao, originating from the Manchu costume, is popularly known as cheongsam in Cantonese dialect, simply meaning "long dress."

Its neck is high, the collar closed and the sleeves may be short, medium or full length, depending on the season and individual taste.


Buttons adorn the right side and a loose chest smoothes into a fitted waist with long slits up the length of the skirt. All these combine to highlight the beauty of the female figure.

Keywords about Cheongsam:

The 1930s

Cheongsam is known to the world as "Chinese dress," and was most popular in the 1930s, the so-called "golden era" of Cheongsam. At the time, new designs from Europe and American were steadily flowing into Shanghai, along with foreign materials like nylon and lace. Fashion columns in newspapers and magazines and popular clothing calendars fueled the fashion craze.


In the 1930s, the upper class in Shanghai enjoyed luxurious lives and pursued fashion with an unprecedented appetite.

They admired Western culture, including swimming, riding, dancing and golfing, which required pretty and more suitable clothes. At that time, a slender waist was popular in the West, which made the cheongsam more slim and tight. It represented the ideal image of women in the 1930s, both attractive and strong.

Shanghai style and the cheongsam soon spread across China, making the garment more mainstream


The improved cheongsam adopted Western-style tailoring, such as set-in sleeves, shoulder pads and zips, to make the gown modest instead and practical. People wore cheongsam with both exotic high-heel leather shoes and Western-style costumes.

Ladies wore cheongsam with a scarf matched with a Western-style coat, fur-lined coat, wool shirt. First, the tall collar cheongsam was in fashion. The taller the collar was, the more popular it was.

Even in the midsummer, the cheongsam, which was thin as a cicada's wing, was worn with a tall collar reaching up to the ears.

Gradually, lower collars came into popularity. The lower the collar was,the more modern the garment was. People wore cheongsam without collars when the collar could not be lowered any further.

In 1929, with the influence of European and American short -sleeved shirts, the cheongsam, which used to be modesty in length, began to shorten. The lap was shortened to the knee, and its cuff became shorter and smaller. Then there was a school uniform-style cheongsam, the lap of which was shortened to just one inch above the knee, and its sleeves were Western style.

The change was criticized by the public, so after 1931 the cheongsam began to become long, with a drooping lap. In the middle 1930s, the length of the cheongsam came to its top. The lap drooped to the floor, covering the feet. That was called a "sweeping cheongsam." The sleeves, which used to cover the wrist, were shortened to the elbow. After that, the sleeves became shorter and shorter until they were 2 inches below the shoulder.

Cheongsams became nearly sleeveless after 1936. The cheongsam was not deeply forked in the past. When its sleeves were shortened, it was also split in two on the left side. Then the slit became higher and higher, going as high as the thigh. Due to public opposition, the slit gradually grew back to the knee or below. With the decrease of public pressure, the slit was shortened again rapidly. After 1933, the cheongsam with a high slit was very popular.

In recent years, people added many modern design elements to the cheongsam. Different designers had their own styles, which were exhibited in the changes to the lap of the garment, some of which were asymmetrical or patched. Some even changed the straight collar to a deep V or exaggerated the straight collar.


Commercial calendars appeared in Shanghai in roughly 1910 or so, and reached their peak in the 1930s. At the same time, the cheongsam was popular and was frequently featured in the calendars. Models wearing the costume often were used to advertise filter-tip cigarettes, soaps, toilet water, baby's milk powder, and nearly anything else.

Female Stars

As national Chinese style is becoming a theme in the modern fashion world, cheongsam has regained people's attention.

On the stage of big international film festivals, a great many Chinese female stars, such as Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li, were dressed in cheongsams, modern versions of which have modified traditional design. Even many Western designers are incorporating elements of cheongsams into their designs.

Tips: how to wear it more skillfully?

1. No matter what your stature is, the cheongsams that hang just over your knees are the best choice, as they reveal your figure and shoes, a must-have accessory.

2. Whether a cheongsam is well-made depends on its material. Though chiffon is prevalent this year, silk still wins many people's favor. We advise buying material from specialty shops, which may be pricier, but ensure higher quality.

3. Cheongsams aren't just for women wearing their hair in a bun. High-collar cheongsams can also be worn by women with short hair and those with long and curled hair.

4. Pear necklaces and jade bracelets are traditional accessories, while a new one is a small, striking watch, adding a modern flavor to the traditional outfit.

5. Certain body types are best suited for cheongsams; smooth shoulders, round hips, a long neck, a proper bosom and a medium stature are preferred.

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