The Chinese qipao or cheongsam as it is known as today originally started out as a long shapeless dress with long sleeves and no collar. Nothing was exposed except the head, the hands and the feet as the dress was ankle length. The men also wore the same style of gown, only his was longer. The design was originally worn to conceal the woman's figure.
During the Qing Dynasty when the Manchu ruled over China they developed a new social order.
Manchu socialite in qipao
The Banner people were of Manchu decent and the Manchu women wore the one piece shapeless dress called a qipao or banner quilt which was fit loosely. Under Manchu law in 1644 the Han Chinese were forced to shave their heads and wear a queue (long pigtail) and dress in the Manchu manner. Failure to do so was punishable by death. When the Manchu moved their capital to Beijing the qipao spread to the rest of China and eventually replaced the long skirts worn by the Han women. The qipao became the fashion of the Chinese over the next three hundred years and eventually was tailored to emulate western fashion, becoming slimmer and allowing for the waist to show, the sleeves became narrower as well. In 1911 the Xinhai Revolution brought an end to the Qing Dynasty and brought about the Republic of China, most Manchu gave up the qipao and wore Han style clothes.
Qipao during the period of the republic of China
In the 1920s a more tailored version of the dress was designed in Shanghai. The qipao was coming back with significant changes. Women wanted a more modern version of the outfit. The dress became form fitting with high cut slits on either side of the dress or sometimes a slit in the front to the side of the dress which enabled the wearer to move more freely. Emulating the shorter styles of the west the qipao too became shorter and instead of trousers under the garment they wore silk stockings. The dresses were worn mainly by high class courtesans and socialites. In the 1930's the qipao followed fashions of the west and became more figure hugging. Materials from foreign countries were brought in to give the dress a new flavour.
During the 1940's because of the Second World War the Shanghai economy crashed, food became scarce and material costs went up one hundred percent. The people became frugal using old clothes. The sleeves of the qipao were short in the summer months and long and slim in the cooler months. After the war few wore the qipao and by 1949 during the communist uprising woman were banned from wearing qipao. Shanghai tailors moved to Hong Kong and brought the fashion with them where it became popular.
The name cheongsam is derived from the Shanghai Cantonese word cheuhngsaam which was translated into its English version of cheongsam. Over the years the cheongsam comes and goes and today most wear it as a wedding gown, for social occasions and during the Chinese New Year. Not just popular in Asia the cheongsam has been worn in the west. It is noted for its elegance and feminine fit.
SOURCE : history.cultural-china.com
- Chen Tao -
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