The History of the Cheongsam


In my last post I spoke about my popo (grandmother) and the 2 striking Cheongsam that she made for me, I thought it will be fun to examine the history of the Cheongsam and how it all came about.

In my limited knowledge of the Cheongsam/Qipao, I have always associated it with the traditional wear of Chinese ladies, Chinese New Year and perhaps waitress uniform in a Chinese restaurant. It is a traditional wear like how the Indians have their Saris and the Malays with Kebaya. However unlike our Indian and Malay counterparts in Singapore who often wear the Saris or Kebaya during festivities or formal events or even day to day, we Chinese rarely don on the Cheongsam. But in recent years, I’m excited to see more ladies wearing the Cheongsam for house-to-house visitation during Chinese New Year. It seems to suggest that Hey! Cheongsam, you are not forgotten!

So where did the Cheongsam come from and why was it so neglected now?

I did a quick search on the internet and I’ll endeavour to try and summarize what I’ve learnt so far..


The Cheongsam originated from the Qing Dynasty in China under the Manchu rule. The original Cheongsam was conservative and had a loose fitting bodice. It is usually long that covers most part of the body and is often made of silk with intricate embroidery that suggest one’s wealth. This is especially adored by the royal ladies.


From the 1920’s, the Cheongsam took a spin and underwent a change (for the better that is). With influences from the west, a tighter fitting bodice and shorter dress length was adopted to accentuate the curves of a female body. The changes didn’t stop there, it went on to take on various variations like a sleeveless Cheongsam and dresses adorned with patterns. Charge on to 1960’s, the Cheongsam went through even more changes alongside western influences as well as the personification of the Cheongsam through movies.


Ladies in the past used to wear a lot of Cheongsam even in their daily lives. But I suppose just like the corset, it is not necessarily a piece of clothing that allows women to have maximum ease when doing chores or at the work place. However in recent times, I believe more and more Chinese ladies are starting to see the beauty of the Cheongsam once again and with the many different styles now, it is alluring and sexy to be in a fitted Cheongsam.

I have always admired the workmanship that goes into a Cheongsam and is extremely charmed by the look the Cheongsam can always seems to make. I even toyed with the idea of wearing a Cheongsam for my second change at the wedding. Now, who says the Cheongsam is dated.


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