The Long And Short Of The Cheongsam

Come the Lunar New Year, many Chinese women the world over get out their best cheongsams to look their grandest during the most important holiday of the year. This close-fitting outfit serves to flatter the feminine figure, which is always a plus. A high neckline and slits down the sides are de rigueur, with lengths varying from the elegant full-length to the more practical knee-length, and above the knee for those with the requisite confidence. The Cheongsam, or Qipao, originated with the Manchus, and as with many things, a legend has grown up around how it was first created.

tym-mandarin-cheongsam2The cheongsam has evolved over the centuries, and was not always the figure-flattering outfit seen here
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The story goes that there was a young, beautiful fisherwoman who lived by Jingbo Lake. She was often hindered while fishing by her long, loose dress. As intelligent and skilled as she was beautiful, she got the idea to make her own, more practical dress. She created a long gown with slits that let her tuck in the front of the dress for added mobility. As things were, no matter how great the development was, it was scarcely likely to gain any foothold beyond her own village or province. But as luck would have it, the Emperor of that time has a dream about her, a beautiful fisherwoman who would become his queen. He found her and did indeed marry her. She brought her cheongsam with her, and soon it became a hit with Manchu women everywhere.

During the Qing Dynasty, the long, loose-fitting cheongsams of the day became popular with the royal family. Made of silk, with extensive embroidering and lace-trimmed collars, sleeves and edges, these were no working clothes, but the garments of the elite.

tym-mandarin-cheongsam-ancientA 19th Century, Daoguang Period cheongsam

In the 1920s and 30s, the cheongsam began to gain popularity with women throughout China, and Western style began to influence changes to the basic design. The 1940s saw the advent of closer-fitting styles and sleeveless designs. In the 1960s the Western influence was felt once again, allowing hemlines to rise.

At times considered behind-the-times, the Cheongsam has seen a resurgence of sorts in recent years, as Chinese diplomats, wives and celebrities wear them to major events. Top-tier designers such as Ralph Lauren and Versace have used elements of the Cheongsam in their own creations. It is as popular with Chinese women as it has ever been, and has gained fans among non-Chinese as well.

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Author: Song Lianyi

The beginner’s course for a fun and effective way to learn Mandarin Chinese. Specially written for people who have never learned a foreign language before.

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