When you think of a Chinese wedding dress, the figure-hugging red cheongsam is usually the first thing that pops into your head. The past 5,000 years have seen a lot of changes to its silhouette, but all throughout that time, it’s kept its status as the Chinese woman’s traditional dress of choice. Have you ever wondered how the cheongsam was created? How did the earliest Chinese ancestors come up with its design? Why are most qipaos worn during weddings a certain color? Here’s a list of answers to any questions in your head about the qipao:
1. Its origins were practical
Long ago, a young fisherwoman felt hindered by her long and loose-fitting dress, and had to figure out how to make her clothing more work appropriate. A long, multi-looped button gown with slits then enabled her to tuck in the front piece of her dress while working. This design satisfied both her femininity and her practical needs, and become the first qipao. At that time, the young emperor had a dream about marrying a fisherwoman wearing the dress she designed. He sent his men to find this mystery woman; when they did, he immediately married her. Her new status made the qipao she was wearing rise in popularity. The dress soon became a fashion statement and was copied by women all over the empire.
2. The more modern versions had Western influences
In 1911, China came under the influence of Western ideology and liberation. The qipao then underwent a major makeover; the dress was made with silk and was fastened on the right side, using dark colored or pearl toggles to hold it all in place. Unlike traditional gowns, it was much more figure hugging. These modifications ensured that the qipao satisfied the wish of women who wanted clothing that was traditional, but with a touch of modernity.
3. The dress even became a symbol of resistance
The qipao was very popular, especially during the Communist regime in the 1950s; they wanted to restrict clothing for everyone to ensure uniformity. In Hong Kong, a small island south of the mainland, women still continued to wear the qipao. Not only did they fight for their right to wear whatever they liked, they were also protesting against other deeds done during this time. The dress became much more than a fashion statement – it was also a political statement as well.
4. History tells us there are two main styles of qipao
Qipao has two main styles that came from two of China’s main cities – Beijing and Shanghai. The dresses that originated in Shanghai incorporated more Western influence such as the turnaround collar and V-neck. There could also be qipaos with ruffle collars, ruffle sleeves and slit sleeves. Shanghai’s version of the qipao is much more modern than its Beijing counterpart. Both the Ming and Qing Dynasty influence Beijing’s qipao style. It uses liberal amounts of the colors red and green, as is traditional of Northern Chinese women.
5. The qipao is red for a reason
Have you ever wondered why red is the color of choice for Chinese culture? In the West, red may have negative meanings because it’s related to the emotion of anger, and because it’s used to indicate danger. In China, red has always been special because of the ancient worship of fire. Before the age of electricity, fire kept our ancestors warm and helped them prepare their meals. Therefore, red is representative of fire in Chinese custom, and helps ward off evil spirits. It is also used to represent both happiness and good luck.
6. The qipao is now reserved for special occasions
Though the qipao went out of style in the 1940s, it still remains the dress of choice for special occasions, like weddings. Brides often choose to wear qipaos for at least part of their ceremonies. Some opt to wear red and gold accented qipaos with dragon and flower embroidery during the toast, or when they’re seeing guests off during their wedding reception.
7. Nowadays, brides have many options for obtaining their qipao
Many Chinese brides continue to wear the qipao during their weddings, to pay homage to their culture and tradition. Modern technology has made it easier to get a dress that matches a bride’s personal preferences. You can have your local tailor make you a qipao with your exact measurements. You can even order the dress of your dreams online, or hunt for it in major Chinese cities, such as in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, or Singapore.