China’s Most Infamous Dress: The Qípáo

China’s Most Infamous Dress: The Qípáo

The Qípáo 旗袍

I was recently caught up in the hype from the Melbourne Fashion Festival, which burst onto the scene from the 7th to 13th March 2016. A signature event organised by Creative Victoria and Virgin Australia, this year’s Festival expanded its repertoire of venues across Melbourne including The Melbourne Museum Precinct, Crown, City of Stonnington, and regional Victoria.

Models strutting on the runway parading various designers’ unique designs were an all-encompassing electrifying experience. Much kudos goes to the designers behind the stage as their artistic talents beautifully fuse various cultures together using the human body as a canvas.

China’s love affair with fashion can be seen in the elegant Qípáo.


When I was younger, I remember seeing my mom and grandmother don these elegant Chinese dresses. However, I did not know how to appreciate its full beauty back then. Yes, I knew it was a dress rich with history and heritage, but I could not see my scrawny 14 year old self back then doing much justice to it. I was pretty happy wearing my Levi’s jeans and tees.

All that changed when I visited Shanghai for the first time in April 2015. Friends insisted that I MUST tailor make a few personal Qípáos to bring back to Australia. So I did. I made three pieces.

A baby blue one with large white flower patterns, a white one with small peonies and cute black bees and finally a dramatic red strapless Qípáo that accentuates the female physique.

The stylish and often tight-fitting cheongsam or Qípáo that is best known today was created in the 1920s in Shanghai and made fashionable by upper class socialites. In Hong Kong, where many Shanghai tailors fled to after the communist revolution in China, the word chèuhngsāam may refer to either male or female garments. The word keipo (Qípáo) is either a more formal term for the female chèuhngsāam, or is used for the two-piece cheongsam variant that is popular in China.

The original Qípáo was wide and pretty loose. It covered most of the woman’s body, revealing only the head, hands, and the tips of the toes and staying true to Asian conservatism back then. With time, though, the Qípáo were tailored to lean towards the trend of being form fitting and slightly more revealing. The modern version, which is now recognised popularly in China as the “standard” Qípáo originated from Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. People eagerly sought a more modernised style of the dress and transformed the old Qípáo to suit their tastes. Slender and form fitting with a high cut, it was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that made these redesigned modern Qípáo an instant fad.


Today, I am seeing more #20sthrowback on social media as fashionistas post up modern Qípáo of their own to be viewed by their followers. It is interesting to see how the humble Qípáo will revolutionise the fashion industry in the 21st century as we see more cross-cultured fashion designers weave and showcase designs marrying the East and the West on the spectacular runway.

Do you have a special Qípáo?

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