One of 2018’s most popular movies showcased an unprecedented but well-received predominantly Asian cast. The movie, based off of the New York Times Bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians, gave the world a peek at what life was really like for Asians in Singapore, the crazy rich ones of course. So much more of Asia’s culture, specifically Chinese, was included in the book while the movie showcased garments of more modern styles. In fact,the traditional and still beautiful cheongsam in the book seldom appear on the big screen! Yet we could still spot a few celebrities wearing cheongsam, for example, Elizabeth Taylor, Nicole Kidman, and Anne Hathaway.
What Is A Cheongsam?
The cheongsam is also called the qipao and the only difference is that the former is the English derivative of the Cantonese term, and the latter is used in Mandarin Chinese. Even if the traditional Chinese dress’s epic moment never made it to the silver screen, it’s highly likely that you’ve already seen a cheongsam dress before but you just never knew what they were called or you simply tagged them as traditional Chinese clothing. Fair enough, that’s exactly what it is, a Chinese traditional dress.
Now that you know what it’s called, you may want to confirm if what you saw that one time long ago or in one of Jackie Chan’s movies was what you think it was, you’re best off typing ‘What is a cheongsam?’ into the search bar. Go ahead, do it. There you will see all sorts of traditional Chinese clothing most of them for females but there are also male cheongsams. The Chinese may wear them at important festivals such as New Year Eve.
So yes, what you have in mind is a qipao dress. Yes, we will be using the terms interchangeably just so you can get the real feel of this Chinese style dress. As you’re looking through those cheongsam online results you will realize just how beautiful these dresses are. An 18-year-old American girl from Utah thought that they were so beautiful that she decided to wear one to her prom. Unfortunately for her, someone who was actually Asian saw her photos on Twitter and implied that she was being racist for wearing a cheongsam as a prom dress. This person’s tweet actually made the post go viral, making the 18-year-old the center of backlash.
People claimed that she was appropriating the Chinese culture for wearing the qipao. Days passed and the hate for the girl grew. But, along with that came Asians that were happy to see that she took an interest in this Chinese style dress. Many Chinese people complimented her on how good she looked in the cheongsam. Eventually, the hate was drowned out by the support that overpowered it.
Cheongsam History and Revolution
The qipao dress the teen wore is the more modern version of the Chinese qipao dress. The earlier versions were less form-fitting and would even be described today as baggy. Women’s bodies were far more covered up in the cheongsams than they are today. In its earlier days, the cheongsam was designed to hide the feminine figure. Much has changed since then. In fact, some of the first search results you will find are actually the sexy cheongsam versions like Chun-li in the Street Fighter game franchise or Xiao Yu in Namco’s Tekken game franchise.
By the next decade, the cheongsam evolved into a garment that highlighted the woman’s figure instead of concealing it. Soon enough the qipao dresses would be made to have thigh-high slits and shorter sleeves, some without sleeves at all. Ladies experimented with the designs and made the cheongsam their own. This was until the communist government took hold of the reins.
Not a single cheongsam could be seen on the streets of China. Women were then forced to wear the same clothes that men wore called the Mao suit. Fortunately, enough, the cheongsam didn’t die out for in Hong Kong, it had become daily wear. But, as much as it would have been great to see the cheongsam flourish, it did not. Just as it has gone with countries past and countries to come, Western fashion took over and the cheongsam was tagged as traditional wear.
These days, you will see Chinese women getting married in cheongsams. This makes the ceremony more akin to a traditional Chinese wedding. Although the qipao was not intentionally made for weddings, it has now become the Chinese traditional wedding dress. The designs of modern cheongsam are incorporated with Western styles and come in either white or red with gold accents. Of course, they come in many other colors, but none of them are as popular as the Western traditional white, and the lucky Asian red and gold combination.
The qipao dress is also still worn by a staff of establishments that are in tourist locations. The donning of the traditional dresses adds to the visual aesthetic that tourists will do anything to see and indulge in. You will also most likely see Chinese women in these dresses outside of Asia, in your local China town! In fact, many shops sell cheongsams and the merchants couldn’t care less whether you’re Asian or not.
This means that you can find out just what it’s like to wear the traditional Chinese dress for yourself! If you’re worried about being judged for it, try asking your Asian friends how they feel about you wearing one. It’s always helpful to have input from other people. Also, think long and hard about taking pictures and posting them on social media platforms. Most importantly, wear it with respect and you can do that by doing your research. Learning as much as you can about its history will make you realize why there were so many people calling that American girl a racist and then understand why those who defended her were happy to know that she appreciated their culture.
The cheongsam or the qipao is a piece of traditional Chinese clothing and should be worn with respect. It carries with it a rich history and a culture of art and design. Try one out for yourself but do it with care and a sincere appreciation for everything it stands for.