Few things portray a Chinese woman’s beauty better than the A woman must be reserved and gentle to look perfect in the dress, and these traits are consistent with the Chinese identity.”
It was a dress that every Shanghai woman had in the 1930s and today, it remains a bride’s musthave for her wedding day. After some twists and turns, qipao stands as an unspoken Chinese icon.
China’s first lady Peng Liyuan prompted a continuous sparkle of camera flashes when she wore qipao- style dresses during her husband’s State visits. Experts believe the so-called “Liyuan style” will stimulate the rejuvenation of the traditional garment.
“Few things portray a Chinese woman’s beauty better than the qipao. A woman must be reserved and gentle to look perfect in the dress, and these traits are consistent with the Chinese identity,” said Bao Mingxin, a retired professor from the Fashion and Art Design Institute of Donghua University.
Qipao best suits the Chinese female figure, Bao said. “It is demanding on the figure but women with slender curves wear it best. Those who are too big or too curvy may look funny in the dress.”
Guo Pei, a designer of qipao for Miss Etiquette at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, said the traditional garment is very different from Western-style clothes. “Western dresses give shape to people of all dimensions, but the soft fabric of qipao only looks good on a certain figure,” she said.
Qipao began to get popular in China in the 1920s. Experts believe it is derived from the Manchu robe in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which was, however, wide, flat, and heavy, modestly hiding the figure.
The dress began
its innovation in Shanghai and enjoyed a golden age in the 1930s after absorbing Western cutting skills. Folding was used at the chest and waist and setin sleeves and shoulder seams made the dress fit perfectly.
“Qipao made history in those years by demonstrating women’s shape. After gaining popularity in Shanghai, led by young students, it became standard attire nationwide,” said Bao, an expert in China’s fashion culture and history.
With the import of apparel fabric, China ushered in its first fashion season. Shanghai’s leading fashion dress company, Hongxiang, invited movie stars to qipao runway shows. Six dresses made by Hongxiang were shown at the Chicago World Expo in 1933.
Soong Ching-ling, whose husband Dr Sun Yat-sen was the founding father of the first Republic of China, had a classic look of wearing a cardigan with qipao, which triggered a fashion of mixing and matching among female intellectuals.
However, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, people dedicated themselves to work, so labor clothes replaced qipao, and it was abandoned during the “cultural revolution” (1966-76).
The fashion design industry prospered in the 1980s but designers and consumers under Western influence favored jeans and boots. “Qipao, which was left out for three decades, seemed outdated,” Bao said.
The trend of wearing qipao finally returned in the 1990s when people reexamined the traditional culture. The dress began to reappear frequently in films, fashion shows and beauty contests.
Women wear qipao at important occasions at home and abroad today and students bring the dress when they go overseas for education.
“I wore qipao at balls and banquets with students from all over the world because it’s a widely recognized Chinese identity. I don’t need to introduce myself and people will know I’m from China,” said Wang Yijia, 26, who went to the United States for graduate study in 2013.
a Chinese fashion pundit