The Glamorous Era

By Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

Cheongsams and Vintage Photography

Photo of Ladies in Cheongsam, The period of Republic of China, From the collection of: Museum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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.

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

Half-sleeve Jacquard Satin Cheongsam in Dark-coffee-brownMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Short-sleeve Purple Silk Cheongsam with Machine EmbroideryMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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Photo of Lady in Gingham Cheongsam with Decorated Hem

Photo of Lady in Gingham Cheongsam with Decorated HemMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Photo of Bride in Wedding Dress with Flower Girl, Page Boy and Female GuestsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Half-sleeve Black Satin Cheongsam with Wide Hem and Half SleevesMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Salmon-pink Jacquard Satin Lined Cheongsam with Lace HemMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Photo of Lady in Long Sleeveless Cheongsam with Large Printed Check PatternsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Smoke-grey Long-sleeve Jacquard Crepe Cotton-padded Cheongsam with Satin HemMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Wedding Photo II: Bride in Cheongsam and Groom in Long Gown and Riding JacketMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Wedding Photo I: Bride in Cheongsam and Groom in Long Gown and Riding JacketMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Photo of Fashion Lady in Black Lace Cheongsam with Vest-style UnderskirtMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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Short-sleeve Ivory Charmeuse Cheongsam with Butterfly Patterns

Short-sleeve Ivory Charmeuse Cheongsam with Butterfly PatternsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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Long-sleeve Black Velvet Cheongsam with Orange Burnt Motifs

Black-ground Long-sleeve Burnout Velvet Cheongsam with Orange Floral PatternsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Photo of Lady in Diagonal-Placket Cheongsam with Embroidery-decorated HemMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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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.

Photo of Lady in Silk Cheongsam with Printed Floral MotifsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Red-foundation Short-sleeve Burnout Velvet Cheongsam with Golden Floral PatternsMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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Photo of Lady in Plain Satin Cheongsam with High Collar.

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

Photo of Lady in Plain Satin Cheongsam with High CollarMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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

Wedding Photo of Bride in Cheongsam and Groom in Long Gown and Ridding Jacket with FamilyMuseum of Ethnic Costumes, Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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