Qipao: The Iconic Chinese Dress and How to Style It


The qipao, also known as cheongsam, is a traditional Chinese dress that has gained worldwide recognition for its elegance and unique design. With its high collar, figure-hugging silhouette, and beautiful patterns, the qipao has become an iconic symbol of Chinese culture and fashion. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of the qipao, as well as provide tips on how to style it for modern wear.

The History of Qipao

The qipao has a long and rich history that can be traced back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) in China. During this time, it was known as the “banner gown” and was worn by Manchu women as a symbol of their ethnic identity. The original qipao featured a loose fit, wide sleeves, and a loose skirt, which allowed for ease of movement. It was typically made of silk and adorned with intricate embroidery, representing the wearer’s social status and wealth.

In the 1920s, the qipao underwent a transformation as it was influenced by Western fashion. The loose fit was replaced with a more fitted silhouette that accentuated the female figure, and the length of the skirt was shortened to above the ankle, allowing for greater mobility. The high collar and unique button design became signature features of the modern qipao, giving it a distinct look that is recognized worldwide today.

The qipao gained popularity among Chinese women in the 1920s and 1930s, as it became a symbol of femininity and modernity. It was worn by women of all social classes and became a fashionable garment for various occasions, such as parties, weddings, and other formal events. The qipao also gained recognition internationally, as it was often worn by Chinese actresses in movies, making it a symbol of Chinese culture and beauty.

During the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of the qipao declined as China underwent significant social and cultural changes. However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in traditional Chinese fashion, and the qipao has once again gained popularity both in China and internationally. Many designers and fashion enthusiasts are incorporating the qipao into modern fashion, creating new styles and interpretations of this iconic dress.

The Significance of Qipao

The qipao has deep cultural significance in Chinese history and is considered a symbol of traditional Chinese fashion. It represents the elegance, grace, and femininity of Chinese women and has become a part of China’s national heritage. The qipao also carries symbolic meanings, as the intricate embroidery and patterns on the dress often represent auspicious symbols, such as dragons, phoenixes, and floral dress, which are believed to bring good luck and fortune.

The qipao also holds a special place in Chinese weddings, as it is often worn by brides as a symbol of purity and modesty. The dress is typically made of luxurious fabrics, such as silk or satin, and is often adorned with delicate lace or embroidery. The qipao worn by brides is usually in a bright red color, which symbolizes luck and happiness in Chinese culture. It is also common to see brides wearing a qipao with gold or silver accents, which represent wealth and prosperity. In addition to its cultural significance, the qipao has also made a mark in the world of fashion. Its unique design and elegance have caught the attention of fashion designers and enthusiasts globally. Many fashion shows and events feature modern interpretations of the qipao, showcasing its versatility and timeless appeal. The qipao has also been worn by many celebrities and fashion icons, further cementing its status as an iconic Chinese dress.

How to Style Qipao

Styling the qipao can be a fun and creative process, as there are various ways to wear this iconic dress to suit different occasions and personal styles. Here are some tips on how to style the qipao for modern wear:

1. Choose the Right Fit

The fit of the qipao is crucial in achieving a stylish and flattering look. Traditionally, the qipao is meant to be fitted, accentuating the curves of the female body. However, modern interpretations of the qipao may come in different silhouettes, such as A-line or flare, providing more options for different body shapes and personal preferences. When choosing a qipao, make sure it fits well around the bust, waist, and hips, and allows for ease of movement.

2. Pay Attention to Fabric and Color

The fabric and color of the qipao can greatly affect its overall look and feel. Silk or satin fabrics are commonly used for qipaos, as they add a touch of luxury and elegance to the dress. However, qipaos can also be made from other fabrics, such as lace, brocade, or even modern materials like chiffon or velvet, depending on the desired style and occasion. When it comes to color, the traditional red qipao is always a classic choice, but qipaos also come in a wide range of colors, from pastels to jewel tones, allowing for versatility in styling.

3. Experiment with Accessories

Accessories can play a key role in styling the qipao and adding a personal touch to the overall look. Traditional qipao accessories include silk shawls, ornate belts, and embroidered handbags, which can complement the dress and enhance its cultural significance. However, modern interpretations of the qipao also allow for more creativity in accessorizing. Try adding statement jewelry, such as chunky necklaces or bold earrings, to add a contemporary twist to the qipao. A stylish clutch or a pair of high heels can also elevate the look and make it suitable for different occasions.

4. Experiment with Hairstyles

The hairstyle can greatly influence the overall look and feel of the qipao. Traditionally, Chinese women would wear their hair in a classic updo, such as a bun or a twist, which complements the high collar of the qipao. However, modern interpretations of the qipao allow for more flexibility in hairstyles. Try wearing your hair down in loose waves for a more relaxed and contemporary look, or experiment with different updo styles, such as a braided crown or a sleek chignon, to add a touch of elegance. You can also accessorize your hair with decorative hairpins or hairbands to enhance the overall look.

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