History of Ethic wear: Cheongsams and Qipao
Growing up in Singapore, qipao (旗袍) are rarely featured in fashion magazines or sold widely in retail stores. In recent years, with the rise of the Chinese market and interest in our rich asian heritage and cultures, more and more people have chosen to wear our traditional costumes during the celebration of Lunar New Year. With the rise in demand, we have seen more elements of the qipao gradually entering the international fashion market, for example, in the Gucci Spring 2017 collection where the mandarin collars, floral embroidery and button fastening design are featured.
Back at home in Singapore, leading local fashion labels like Ong Shunmugam have embraced the beauty and heritage of our asian culture and have incorporated Qipao elements in some of their designs. If you take a closer look, the elements of qipao have various representations i.e. the mandarin collars, button fastening design, intricate embroidery works, auspicious prints and fabric choices.
Before you rush to get a piece of these clothing, let us share with you the history of qipao and its other name “Cheongsam”. If you manage to get your hands on these delicate pieces, be sure to take extra care like sending them for regular dry cleaning services after wearing them. Should they be laundered, the embroideries on these clothing and its fabric texture may get damaged and distorted
Origins: Qipao and Cheongsam, are they different?
The word qipao and cheongsam are used interchangeably today. However, the two separate terms symbolise the difference in origins. Cheongsam is in Cantonese and it means “long gown” when translated. As for qipao (旗袍), it is in Mandarin and it means banner robe.
Why banner robe? This can be traced back to the eight banners system introduced during the Qing Dynasty by the Manchus. Each warrior has a banner which they belong to. The Manchus differentiate themselves from the rest, the Hans, by wearing changpao, “long robes” (長袍) for the men and qipao (旗袍) for the women. The qipao back in the days looked really different as they were loosely fitted on one’s body and would be covered to the toes.
Birth of the body-fitted Qipao and Cheongsam
When the Qing Dynasty ended in 1911, there was a reform in China, and women started wearing a modified lighter version of Qipao, which often includes wide trousers.
By 1920, it is said that as influenced by the Western below the knee flapper dress, the long gowns came back in style and there were slimmer versions of qipao. At this point in time, qipao was worn with pants just like how men wore changpao. However, things changed when stockings and high heels were introduced in 1930. This is when the side slits are lengthened and the qipao has also become tighter. This would be the feminine body-hugging qipao which we are all familiar with like seen in the Shanghai girls poster. Following the popularisation of Qipao, new materials such as lace were introduced, as well as other affordable materials like cotton, wool, twill, and linen.
Qipao and Cheongsam today
After China’s Communist Revolution, the qipao was banned in China and anyone who wore it was arrested. Fortunately, the qipao tailors have fled to Hong Kong and the tradition continues to flourish and that is how the name cheongsam comes about. In Singapore, cheongsam could be seen worn regularly by the locals until the 1960s.
Today, qipao materials include satin, silk, brocade, velvet, lace, and cotton and the list goes on. For the more elaborate and exquisite designs, they are usually adorned with sequins, beads, or gold and silver-lined embroideries. For some ladies today, they would wear qipao or qipao inspired wedding gowns during their wedding. Qipao itself has a feminine silhouette that flatters and elongates one’s body. Furthermore, these Chinese inspired elements like the intricate embroideries accentuate the elegance of the dress. These details are very delicate and proper care thus needs to be taken when washing them.
However, it is important to note that qipao itself with or without these elaborate details still have to be dry cleaned due to the fabric used in the construction of the garment. For instance, this stunning striking red cheongsam from Shanghai Tang. Even though it neither has lace nor beads, it has been specifically stated as dry clean only.
With Presto expertise in laundry and dry cleaning services, you can send us your cheongsams and we will help you with the cleaning. Our gentle and professional washing procedures will ensure that your delicate clothing stays clean and intact. You can contact us for laundry pickup services, reach out to us via our website, or contact our friendly staff at +65 6354 3277 to find out more.