New Shanghai Style Mandarin Dresses

Shanghai has been China’s main fashion center for the past century, and today’s trends can be summarised into the 4 following categories.

1) Shanghai Classic

Traditional elements are applied, such as fine trimming, ornate buttons, and elaborate embroidery. Originating from Suzhou, a city near Shanghai, “Su Xiu”, the Su embroidery is the main characteristic and has been famous for centuries.Mandarin dresses in the Shanghai classic category are meant for special occasions.


2) Shanghai Natural

Mandarin dresses in this category are comfortable, for casual activities, such as hanging out with friends.


3) Shanghai Cosmopolitan

These outfits blend traditional Mandarin dress styles with functionality to create what could be described as ‘work wear chic’.


4) Shanghai Youthful

The Mandarin dress is given a youthful and modern update to create fun and trendy dresses aimed at a younger audience.


We hope you’ve found a style you like!


by Hannah

Qipao today

Although Qipao are no longer worn as daily wear dresses, there has been a surge in popularity of the garment in recent years.

82.pngA typical Shanghai Qipao store

Notably, over 2000 ladies wore their Qipao dresses proudly to attend the fifth Shanghai Cheongsam Salon at Shanghai Oriental Arts Centre on May 20, 2012. The goal of the event was to promote and share the elegant etiquette of wearing a Qipao.

As a devout admirer of the Qipao, Ms Wang, who attended the event, explained that she has over 52 Qipao dresses including a specially altered one with a back slit to wear when cycling. She would like to see the Qipao being worn more often by women. The club itself  has a Culture Centre in the Xuhui district of Shanghai where members are required to wear Qipao to join activities such as exhibitions, flower arrangement, tea or dance performances. They also run external events such as lectures or cultural afternoons to an increasing public audience.

Here are links to some documentaries following the evolution of the Chinese Qipao to modern times by China’s international television channel CCTV:

Sources and interesting articles on the Shanghai Cheongsam Salon:

by Hannah

What is a Qipao?

81.pngA poster of women wearing Qipao in the 1920s/30s.

The Cheongsam (known as Qipao in Mandarin, previously called the Ch’ipao in the West) is the dress that most westerners associate with China. It originated from a type of Manchurian female garment and has a rich history, but has undergone a lot of change over time. The Qipao dress is supposed to represent the interior elegance of the woman wearing it.

The main characteristics of Qipao are; the mandarin collar, fitted waist, Chinese “frog” (knotted) buttons, hemmed slits on two sides, and a tailored form fit. Usually, Qipaos are made from satin brocade, silk, or cotton. With their impressive embroideries, Qipaos can be regarded as exquisite works of art that embody a great deal of beauty, passion, resilience and love. On the other hand, the Qipao also represents an old art that is at risk of dying out. Nowadays, Qipaos display a mix of Chinese and Western clothing styles.

Over 300 years ago, Qipaos were custom made by tailors for ladies of noble birth or wealthy families as a garment symbolic of high status. They became the outfit of choice for important social gatherings, including Chinese traditional weddings, and even today, for some, to wear a Qipao is to act like an elegant lady of status. In some ways, the Qipao can be said to reflect a woman’s inner self, personality, style and vision. For the Chinese New Year, Chinese girls often wear a Qipao, because they consider the Qipao as a positive sign that the year ahead will be better than the last!

by Hannah

Chinese Cheongsam Qipao

Cheongsam,also known as Qipao or mandarin gown, is a body-hugging one-piece Chinese dress for women with distinctive Chinese features and enjoys a growing popularity in the international world of high fashion.


When the early Manchu rulers came to China, they organized certain people, mainly Manchus, into “banners” (qi) and called them “banner people” (qiren), which then became loosely the name of all Manchus. The Manchu women wore normally a one-piece dress which, likewise, came to be called “qipao” or “banner dress.” Although the 1911 Revolution toppled the rule of the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912 CE), the female dress survived the political change and, with later improvements, has become the traditional dress for Chinese women.


The evolution of the cheongsam is interesting. The traditional Qipao was just a long loosely-fitted and baggy dress. The women were required to wear it when then Qing dynasty forbade the use of Han Fu clothing carrying the penalty of death. It does not reveal much, only the head, hands and tips of the toes. But through the years, it was tailored to become more fitting and modern to fit the standard cheongsam we know today. The dress was developed in 1900s when the Qing dynasty ended. People sought to upgrade the Qipao with sleeker and fitting designs according to their taste.

73Two women wear cheongsam in 1930s, a commercial advertisement in Shanghai74

The updated version is a tight, body-hugging style with high cut and underpants which were emphasizes the shape of women. It is classic yet different greatly from the traditional design of the Qipao. The styles also vary according to change. As the world became more westernized, the basic Qipao design also changed. Sleeveless and high-necked motif became popular as well as bell-sleeves design. Beaded, satiny and velvety Qipao were also created for formal wear.

Easy to slip on and comfortable to wear, the cheongsam fits well the female Chinese figure. Its neck is high, collar closed, and its sleeves may be short, medium or full length, depending on season and taste. The dress is buttoned on the right side, with a loose chest, a fitting waist, and slits up from the sides, all of which combine to set off the beauty of the female shape.

The cheongsam is not too complicated to make. Nor does it call for too much material, for there are no accessories like belts, scarves, sashes or frills to go with it.

Another beauty of the cheongsam is that, made of different materials and to varying lengths, they can be worn either on casual or formal occasions. In either case, it creates an impression of simple and quiet charm, elegance and neatness. No wonder it is so much liked by women not only of China but of foreign countries as well.