The Timeless Elegance and Femininity of the Qipao Dress (Photos)

A young woman playing the Guzheng. (Image: Secret China)
A young woman playing the Guzheng. (Image: Secret China)

The qipao or cheongsam is a one-piece dress that women in China have worn since the Manchu ruled in the 17th century.

Traditionally, the qipao was a loose-fitting embroidered silk garment with a high neck and straight skirt.

It covered the whole body except the head, hands, and toes, and was worn almost every day

The original style of a qipao dress. (Image: Qingprof/Wikipedia)

The original style of a qipao dress as worn in the Guangxu Period (1875-1908) by Lady Heseri. (Image: Qingprof/Wikipedia)

Qipao (旗袍) means “banner gown” and became everyday wear after a Manchu leader named Nurhachi established the Banner system for organizing families into administrative divisions.

Interestingly, Han Chinese men in the Banner system had to wear the male version of the garment, known as the changpao (長袍).

The modern cheongsam was born in Shanghai in the 1920s, and popularized by celebrities and the upper class. It lost favor in the mainland after the Chinese Communist Party took over in 1949, but became fashionable in Hong Kong after many Shanghainese fled there, and where 1950s working women usually wore it with a jacket.

This is the sophisticated version that you can see nowadays, and it is worn for formal occasions, like weddings, and parties. Some businesses like hotels and Asian airlines also make it their female uniform.

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

It is tight-fitting, shows off a woman’s curves, and is sometimes floor-length with a slit up one or both sides. A variety of fabrics may be used, and it can be sleeveless or have bell sleeves.

Unfortunately it is most suited to petite women with slender figures which is a more classical body type seen in China.

These photos show just how graceful and stylish the dress can look. Tall Western women like me can only admire these delicate outfits and wish we could fit into something like that, let alone look so elegant!

Research by Lulu

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

(Image: Secret China)

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