The Qipao: The Lady Dress of Various Times in China

The ‘Qipao’ is probably the most recognized lady dress of China. The Qipao originated from the Qing dynasty when the Manchu dress was first worn by Chinese women. It was a simple women’s dress made up of two pieces of cloth cut to conform to the body, and includes slits at the sides for easy movement. It is also popularly known in its Cantonese name ‘cheungsam’, which means long shirt. As you look at it, it truly is a shirt made long to accommodate the whole body. But nowadays, Qipao is made versatile by the use of various fabrics, as well as cut in different lengths, with or without sleeves.

However, during the early part of the Republic of China, clothing for the young and old, boy and girl dress were composed of the mandarin jacket and long gown. The costumes were the same for both the formal and casual wear. The only difference is the style, material, color and size when used during formal functions, especially for the lady dress. Men and women alike use these clothing in whatever season. During spring or late autumn, the people usually don a sleeveless waistcoat to replace the jacket.

In the 1920’s in Shanghai, the place considered as the center of fashion in China, the women much preferred the Qipao- the lady dress with the high neck and slit skirt. The women became daring with their clothing, making the Qipao very popular with its beautiful fabric and body fit style. With the combined upper and lower parts of the body ensconced in one lady dress, the figure was constantly set off. And till the end of the 1920’s, the style changed due to the influence from the European and American costume. The length was reduced and the waistline tightened.

From the 1930’s up to the present, the Qipao continued to evolve to become the most significant lady dress in China today. From the traditional style, it slowly absorbed several characteristics and ideas of the western fashion, which made it more versatile and dynamic. This is considered as one of the major changes in the Chinese society as a whole. The changes applied to the Qipao show the growing confidence and prominence of China in the world economy by way of their traditional culture. They are more confident and far more objective of foreign cultures than they were years before.


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