Cheongsams and Vintage Photography

The years between the 1920s to the 1940s marked a glorious period for the development of modern Chinese women’s garments, with the 1930s witnessing the heyday. This was when cheongsams were established as an irreplaceable and representative variety of Chinese female clothing.

Half-sleeve Jacquard Satin Cheongsam in Dark-coffee-brown

The modeling of cheongsams entered a phase of maturity in the 1930s thanks to the absorption of western tailoring techniques, establishing the tight-fitting silhouette as the typical and classic style, a center for all the other variations in terms of lap length, embellishment, etc.

Photo of Lady in Gingham Cheongsam with Decorated Hem

Although originated from the old Manchu women’s robes, cheongsams actually marked a far cry from that ancient category of ethnic clothing. They evolved into the standard dress that integrated Chinese and western clothing characteristics for Chinese women in the Republican-China and early New China era.

Half-sleeve Black Satin Cheongsam with Wide Hem and Half Sleeves

Salmon-pink Jacquard Satin Lined Cheongsam with Lace Hem

On this jacquard satin cheongsam, or chi pao, the highly-decorative almost 9cm-wide black lace hem, poses an interesting contrast to the foundation fabric, which is in the popular salmon pink color. The bold palette of pink and black accentuates a mysterious feminine beauty. While hemming with lace, the maker of this gown carefully pleated the lace tapes when necessary to make it more adaptive to the curvy edge of the bottom lap, collar and cuff. The noticeable black piping together with the” 一”-shaped frogs on the right-side slit serves as a bridge between the decorative elements on the upper half with those on the lower.

This picture was taken in Shanghai in the 1930s or 1940s. The cheongsam in this photo is in the cloth with printed large check patterns, a trendy fabric in the 1930s and 1940s. In order to maintain the continuity of the check patterns while trimming out a fitted silhouette, the tailor adopted a technique named “helpful pulling” by ironing instead of the traditional dart-adding.

Smoke-grey Long-sleeve Jacquard Crepe Cotton-padded Cheongsam with Satin Hem

Wedding Photo II: Bride in Cheongsam and Groom in Long Gown and Riding Jacket

These two photos are wedding photos of the bride in cheongsam and the groom in a long gown and riding jacket.

This picture was taken in the early period of the Republican China (1911-1949 AD) by a photo studio named Die Lai, literally meaning “butterflies coming”, located in Shanghai. The groom in this picture wears a dark-color long gown covered with a riding jacket, or “magua” in Chinese, a style of jacket for men during the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD). The bride is in a long cheongsam with light-color floral patterns and narrow piping in the same color.

It was a trend for brides to wear long-sleeve cheongsams during that period of time. There are several pairs of frogs on the bride’s cheongsam, with one flower-shaped pair on the upper rim of the collar, one “一”-shaped pair on the lower and one flower-shaped pair in the middle of the diagonal placket.

Photo of Fashion Lady in Black Lace Cheongsam with Vest-style Underskirt

Short-sleeve Ivory Charmeuse Cheongsam with Butterfly Patterns

Long-sleeve Black Velvet Cheongsam with Orange Burnt Motifs

This photo was taken in Shanghai in the 1930s or 1940s. The sleeveless low-collar cheongsam in this picture is made of plain satin. The highlight of this garment lies in its ingenious design of hem that crosses above the bust, embellished with embroidered patterns in light and shiny colors, serving as highly-decorative elements for this item. Such an innovative design based on a traditional Chinese model reveals the good understanding of differences between Chinese and western apparel by the Chinese garment-designers in the period of Republican China (1912-1949 AD), and their perfect combination of Chinese and western elements in apparel-design to present world-acknowledged modern Chinese models.

This picture was taken in Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s. It is speculated that the textile for the cheongsam embellished with complete floral patterns is jacquard satin. The ingenious tailoring skills of the artisan can be unveiled by the tight-fitting silhouette of this gown although no bust or waist darts were added.

Red-foundation Short-sleeve Burnout Velvet Cheongsam with Golden Floral Patterns.

Photo of Lady in Plain Satin Cheongsam with High Collar.

This picture was taken in Shanghai in the 1930s and 1940s.

Wedding Photo of Bride in Cheongsam and Groom in Long Gown and Ridding Jacket with Family

Ethnic Costume Museum, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology
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