The modern qipao or cheongsam is seen as the ubiquitous Chinese woman’s dress. Coming into vogue as the new Chinese republic was founded in 1911, the qipao was seen as the woman’s dress of ‘new’ China. Although it retained the basic form of the dress of the ‘Banner people’, the Manchus (who were not ethnic Chinese), changes in details in ornamentation and tailoring marked the ‘overthrowing’ of the feudal past.
This dress is an interesting piece of modern technology: the velvet and ‘crepe’ are synthetic fabrics (as opposed to organic textiles such as silk, which these fabrics are traditionally made with), and machine woven (as opposed to loom weaving). There is also a lace detail that is in the very fashionable art deco style. This dress thus is an interesting combination of a traditional Chinese form with modern Western influences.
The qipao was worn mainly by women in urban centres, generally until the socialist People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. Shanghai was well known for its congregation of skilled tailors and dressmakers who incorporated features of Western tailoring (for e.g. darts and laces) into the construction of the qipao. After 1949, for fear of reprisals for ‘being bourgeois’ and being associated with capitalism, many of these tailors fled to Hong Kong, where the tradition of qipao making continued for many years.