Cheongsams and Vintage Photography
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.
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.
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.
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.