A cheongsam is a unique Chinese dress for women. It is a classic example of eastern style combined with western fashion trends. Invented in Shanghai during the 1920s, it quickly became a fashionable clothing item for women of the upper class, whose passion for this new design inspired a generation of fashion designers who made cheongsams popular across the world. When shopping in Beijing, you’ll see a lot beautiful cheongsams that can make you look fabulous.
With a design based on the traditional clothing of the Manchu, an ethnic group that took control of China 300 years ago, a cheongsam shows more ethnic Manchu elements than traditional Han elements. For this reason, many people don’t regard it as a dress that represents authentic Chinese style.
But genuine or not, a cheongsam is undoubtedly one of the best dresses designed for women. Its tight, body-hugging outline gracefully highlights a woman’s figure. While its predecessor, the loose and long “qipao,” was designed to hide a woman as much as possible, the cheongsam was designed to tantalizingly show the sexy, slim body of a woman.
During the 1930’s, cheongsam fashion reached a height in mainland China, as this dress came to represent all the desirable attributes a young, modern Chinese woman wanted to possess: high status, feminine beauty, and a good taste in fashion. They also felt they had been truly liberated from an age of backwardness and ignorance during the last dynasty. However, the Communist Revolution in 1949 abruptly ended this fashion and the cheongsam disappeared on mainland China for 30 years. It was only revived here recently.
The patterns on a cheongsam vary from one clothing designer to the next, but the basic design of the dress has remained largely unchanged over the past 80 years. However, for different styles, important changes are made to a few small details: the zipper, collar, sleeves, slit, and the length of the dress.
Here is a brief list of the different details found on a cheongsam:
Zipper – round, straight, square, side, ruyi, and pipa
Collar – high, low, and collarless
Sleeves – long, short, and sleeveless
Slit – long, short, single, and double
Length – full-length, ankle-length, mid-thigh, and extra-short
In mainland China before 1949, there were two major styles of cheongsams developed in Beijing and Shanghai. They are called “Beijing Style” and “Shanghai Style.” The “Beijing Style” is more conservative and restrained, and it is more favored by traditional people. “Shanghai Style” is more vibrant and risqu, with a focus on western fashion trends.
Most cheongsams are made of pure silk, cloth, brocade, or wool. The patterns are mostly flower images based on Chinese paintings. Some people think there are two essential accessories to go with a cheongsam: an oil paper umbrella and a fragrant fan. A woman wearing a cheongsam and carrying these two items will have a sense of ancient grace and feminine elegance.
To keep it in a good condition, store your cheongsam properly. Ask the dealer or your personal shopper in Beijing for information on the right way to store a cheongsam. But as a general rule, always dry-clean it and hang your cheongsam in a closet instead of folding it. When you shop for cheongsams in Beijing, find a personal shopping assistant to help you get to the best shops with high quality work.