Tailor Made Qipao Dresses

On this day, we received an invite to attend a qipao and Chinese tea social event, held at a friend’s exquisitely designed tailor showroom named Chunyi Qimei纯懿七美, based on the 18th floor of a commercial high rise just opposite Paradise Walk.

The most common name for this traditional Chinese woman’s dress is ‘Qipao旗袍,’ but another term sometimes used, and which you’ll see in my excerpt below is ‘Cheongsam,’ a Cantonese pronunciation of what would be ‘Changshan’ in pinyin.

Out of curiosity, I asked whether the qipao and cheongsam refer to the same style of dress, to which the answer was not really.

Qipao refers to the specific style of dress that took Shanghai by storm in the 1930s, whereas the term ‘cheongsam,’ literally ‘long gown,’ was a more old fashioned garment that existed during the Qing Dynasty.

However, many nowadays use the term cheongsam to refer to qipao, as is the case in the excerpt below.

We went up and met the owner, an elegant lady by the name of Yang Hongmei, and she very kindly showed me around the main facilities, of which the centrepiece was a raised wooden floor in the central section, where buyers take off their shoes and examine the ready made dresses hung in the many compartments.

She told me how many customers have their own ideas for qipao design, and once they have their measurements taken, the specialist can create a limited edition unique design for that specific client.

Ladies are also free to choose from the ready made designs and have a dress made to suit their measurements, or even buy direct from the rack if they happen to fit.

At the latest IWG ball last December, the theme was Old Shanghai, and the apparel de rigueur was no other than the qipao for women guests. Read my post about IWG here.

A little history 一节小历史课

Now, I did attempt my own research and write an article myself on the history of the qipao dress, but I couldn’t help feeling my lack of direct experience shone through my wording.

Instead, I wish to quote from an excellent article from the Culture Trip website. I will leave the link to their webpage, and give them full credit and gratitude for the following section of my post.

Culture Trip article on cheongsam history

The cheongsam, also known as a qipao, is a close-fitting dress that originated in 1920s Shanghai. 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 story of the cheongsam starts with the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and founding of the Republic of China in 1912. In the mid-1910s and early 1920s, Chinese intellectuals began to revolt against traditional values, calling instead for a democratic and egalitarian society based on Western standards, including the emancipation and education of women. Foot-binding, the painful practice of binding young girl’s feet to prevent their growth, was outlawed.

As women were allowed into the education system starting in the 1920s, becoming teachers and university students, they shed the traditional, ornate robes of the olden days and adopted an early form of the cheongsam, which emerged from the androgynous men’s garment called the changpao. Shanghai, an active and vibrant port city with a large population of foreigners, was at the cutting edge of this fashion shift.

The cheongsam of the early 1920s had a looser cut than the cheongsam of today, with long, wide sleeves. It quickly became the regular outfit of urban women in metropolitan cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. As the garment evolved, traditional silks were replaced with cheaper, contemporary textiles. In terms of design, the traditional embroidered florals remained widespread, but geometric and art deco patterns also gained popularity.

Through the 1930s and 1940s, 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.

However, shortly after the rise of the Communist government, the cheongsam, which was considered bourgeois, disappeared from everyday life in mainland China. In Shanghai, the birthplace of the cheongsam, the streets were patrolled to ensure that nobody wore fashionable clothing. The egalitarian ideology espoused by the Communists led women to adopt a tunic consisting of a jacket and trousers similar to the men’s.

Nevertheless, the cheongsam’s popularity continued in the British colony of 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 such as The World of Suzie Wong (1961), as well as the rise of Hong Kong beauty pageants, cemented the garment’s association with Hong Kong in the 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 Hong Kong women. However, it remains a significant garment in the history of Chinese women’s fashion.

Back to Paradise Walk 回到北城天街

Having asked for Mrs. Yang’s permission, I took photographs of her tailor showroom to share with my readers of Chongqinglife.

There are a number of different materials to choose from, depending on the particular style and time of year the wearer intends them for.

Apart from silk, it is also possible to choose cotton, hemp cloth and linen for a dress.

In addition to these, Chunyi Qimei can also produce hand made accessories, like fans, handkerchiefs, embroidered ornaments, purses and mags.

The tailors have designed and produced high quality qipao dresses all their professional lives Women visiting Chongqing can visit anytime during business hours and order their very own custom made to fit dress, not only as a memento, but a comfortable and elegant dress that can be worn on many social occasions.

I will share the address and photos with you below.

Chunzi Qimei Qipao Guild

18th floor, Block A, Haiyi Huayuan, 9 Paradise Walk, Jiangbei District, Chongqing

纯懿七美旗袍公馆

中国重庆江北区北城天街9号海怡花园A座18-3