Saturday, April 21, 2012


The Roaring Twenties are back in fashion with the flapper look being the hottest trend this spring. Designer collections like Gucci Spring 2012, Ralph Lauren Spring 2012, and Marchesa Spring 2012 are just a few that showcased this style at the New York, Paris, Milan and London spring runway shows. The 1920s evoked a spirit of modernity and elegance where women transformed their way of dressing into more liberal, sexy and chic looks.

Just like the West, 1920s China was going through a similar change as well, as the traditional Chinese garment, the “qipao” (pronounced chi-pao in Mandarin) or cheongsam (in Cantonese, as it is widely known in the West) was getting a more stylish, tight-fitting and body-hugging change. Originally, the qipao came about during the Qing Dynasty when China was under Manchu rule as the traditional Chinese dress for Manchu women. The old qipaos hung on the body loosely (similar to an A-line long gown) covering most of the woman’s body, just revealing the head, hands, and tips of the toes. Then, prosperous and dazzling Shanghai (known as “the Paris of the East”) roared into the 1920s and fashionable women from high society started seeking a more modern form of dress which was slender, form-fitting and flattering…eventually emerging as the newly designed tight-fitting qipao. 

in a blue Qing Dynasty qipao
In the past decade or so, there has been a revival which resulted in an enduring popularity of the qipao in China, which many women now wear as a beautiful and elegant ensemble at style functions, events and parties. 

A beautiful pink qipao
CC Image QiPao courtesy of hto2008 on Flickr and

If you’re a foreigner living in China like myself, the search for the perfect qipao becomes an endless mission to have this must-have item in your closet. After losing a beautiful qipao I once bought a few years ago in my misplaced luggage while traveling, I am now on the hunt again for this iconic and elusive dress. 

Traditional red qipao 
CC Image QiPao courtesy of hto2008 on Flickr
made available under
Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

Short qipao styles are popular like this fuchsia dress
CC Image 旗袍 courtesy of VelvetMomoKo on Flickr

Where to buy a qipao:

Shanghai is probably the best place to buy a qipao because of the variety of stores, tailors and shops available in the city. This also goes for the high-quality of fabrics and silks available. Here is a small list of the best places to buy a qipao in Shanghai:

Maoming Road (French Concession)

Maoming Road in the former French Concession is known for its more than 15 high-quality qipao shops where you can choose from off-the-rack or custom-made. Here, you have an endless array of choices when it comes to qipao styles: long, short, elaborately designed fabrics, and different colors and textures.

South Bund Fabric Market

If you are on a tight budget, the South Bund Fabric Market is the perfect place to shop. You can have a beautiful qipao tailor-made here for as little as 150rmb (US$24). Remember, bargaining is the key!

Tianzifang (Taikang Road)

Tianzifang, also known as Shanghai’s art street, has a few ready-to-wear qipao shops for your browsing and shopping pleasure.

Shanghai Tang (Xintiandi shopping complex)

Last, but not least, Hong Kong luxury fashion brand Shanghai Tang is probably where you can find high-end, superb quality and intricately designed qipaos with an array of dresses, tops and blouses to choose from, with designs inspired by bright colors, and a mix of traditional elements of Chinese dressing and modern society.

Happy shopping!!