History and legend of Chinese dress Cheongsam / Qipao
History and legend of Chinese dress Cheongsam / Qipao




Chinese dress Qipao / Cheongsam

History and legend


The history

Qipao / Cheongsam is an elegant type of Chinese dress. This close-fitting dress with a high neck and the slits on the sides, comes from China's Manchu Nationality.


There is a legend that a young fisherwoman lived by the Jingbo Lake. She was not only beautiful, but also clever and skillful. But when fishing, she often felt hindered by her long and loose fitting dress. Then an idea struck her: why not make a more practical dress for work? She got down to sewing and produced a long multi-looped-button gown with slits, which enabled her to tuck in the front piece of her dress, thus making her job much easier. As a fisherwoman, she never dreamed that a fortune would befall on her.

The young emperor who ruled China at that time had a dream one night. In the dream, his dead father told him that a lovely fisherwoman in Qipao by the Jingbo Lake would become his queen. After awakening from his deep sleep, the emperor sent his men to look for her. Sure enough, there she was! So she became the queen, bringing her Cheongsam with her. Manchu women all followed suit and soon the Qipao became popular.

We do not know whether the story is true or not. But one thing is certain. The Cheongsam came from the Manchus who grew out of ancient Nuzhen tribes. In the early 17th century, Nurhachi, a great political and military strategist, unified the various Nuzhen tribes and set up the Eight Banners System. Over the years, a collarless, tube-shaped gown was developed, which was worn by both men and women. That is the embryo of the Qipao. The dress is called Qipao in Chinese or translated as "banner gown", for it came from the people who lived under the Banner System.

The Chinese apparel Qipao became popular among ladies of the royal family in the Qing Dynasty. At that time, Qipaos were fitted loosely and were so long that they would reach the insteps. Usually, they were made of silk and the whole dress was embroidered, with broad lace trimmed at the collar, sleeves and edges.

In the 1920s, Qipao / Cheongsam became popular throughout China. With the influence of Western dress styles, the Cheongsam underwent a change. The cuffs grew narrower and were usually trimmed with thin lace. The length of the dress was shortened as well. This new adaptation allowed the beauty of female body to be fully displayed.

In the 1930s, wearing a Qipao / Cheongsam became fashion among women in the whole of China. Various styles existed during this period. Some were short, some were long, with low, high or even no collars at all.

Starting from the 1940s, Cheongsams became closer-fitting and more practical. In summer, women wore sleeveless dresses. Qipaos of this period were seldom adorned with patterns.

The Asian clothing Qipao became standard female attire until the 1960s. Following Western fashion, the tailors raised the hem, even to above the knee, so that the "long" was long no longer. In the West, during the sexual revolution of the 1960s the style was deemed something oppressive, like the Victorian bodice.

In Western popular culture, the qipao became synonymous with the 1960 movie character Suzie Wong and the sexual objectification of women.

Today, with its variety of styles, the sexy Chinese style dress Qipao / Cheongsam shows its charm at many markets. More and more women in China appreciate its beauty. For instance, when wives of China's diplomats attend important social gatherings, the Qipao is their first choice among dresses. Also a lot of Chinese brides choose a Qipao as their famous Chinese wedding dress. In fact, quite a number of influential people have suggested that Qipao / Cheongsam should become the national dress for women in China. This shows that the Cheongsam remains a vibrant part of Chinese culture.

Wearing a Qipao nowadays has turned into something of a vogue, both at home and abroad. Due to its elegance and classical looks the Qipao becomes a source of inspiration for fashion designers. World-renowned brands like CD, Versace, and Ralph Lauren have all cited some Qipao elements in their designs. Many foreign women are eager to get themselves a Qipao should they visit China. Chinese fashion Qipao is no longer a garment particular to Chinese women, but is adding to the vocabulary of beauty for women the world over.





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