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A graceful oriental classic: The Cheongsam

By Chloe Chang
Translated by Anna Yang

The cheongsam (qipao) dress remains a classic example of Chinese women's fashion, much like the kimono's connection with Japanese culture. Although its form-fitting design is famed for showcasing Asian feminine beauty and elegance, it can flatter almost any body type and be worn in a variety of social settings.

The cheongsam reached the height of popularity back in the 1930s. As noted by well-known Chinese writer Eileen Chang, who fell in love with the dress, "To those who don't talk much, their outfit is a way of speech; what they wear is like a drama show." In more modern times, other famous figures attached to the qipao have included actress Maggie Cheung, using the dress to show off her charms in the film "In the Mood for Love".

A graceful oriental classic: The Cheongsam

The cheongsam comes in a variety of styles, including some that are long and others cut above the knees, plus sleeved and sleeveless versions. The length of the side slits is another key element. Today, convenient customized dressmaking services ensure that the style remains fashionable. This process usually includes choosing one's preferred cheongsam style, locating a cheongsam dressmaker, buying the fabric, taking body measurements, making the dress, fitting and, if necessary, alterations. The result is a one-of-a kind qipao.

If you don't have time to source fabric in a store, a specialty dressmaker shop will accomplish all of the above customization steps including preparing the fabric and making the dress for you. The fabric, design and pattern are the soul of the cheongsam, and traditional fabrics include silk tapestry satin, pure silk, and sequin lace fabric. Dressmakers can provide information about the various meanings and occasions associated with different designs. For example, dragon and phoenix symbols are appropriate for weddings while peony flowers symbolize wealth and golden fish represent abundant offspring. Careful measurements and fittings are recommended to better show off your curves and high-heeled shoes can work well with this style. A good dressmaker will help conceal imperfections and highlight charms as they create your very own unique cheongsam that can be passed down to future generations.

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