History of Chinese Qipao


Even if you haven’t heard the name of Qipao (pronounced “chi-pao”) – you almost for sure have seen this tight-fitting dress in movies or magazines depicting the stylish Chinese girls.
Where do qipao come from?

Its origin can be tracked back to the Warring States Period of China (more than 2 millennia ago). However the style itself was developed much later  – during Qing Dynasty (from 17th century). It was characterized then by straight lines and loose forms. As China was ruled by Manchu people (founders of the Qing dynasty) – the regulations forced all people to have short haircuts and wear changpao (another name for “qipao”). Breaking this rule would result in death penalty (“one who keeps long hair might not keep her head”). In the end of 19th century China became more open, students were allowed to study abroad. As a result  fresh ideas from West began gradually changing the people’s perception of fashion and standards of beauty. One could witness “experiments” with the length of qipao as the most daring girls would hem the dress just above the knees.

In 1911 Xinhai Revolution put end to Qing Dynasty and together with it to some outdated conventional ideas and rules. At this time Shanghai became a center of Chinese fashion. The new style of qipao began to emerge.

If before just few colors had been used in qipao – now designers could “play” with  the whole gamut of colors and their combinations to produce unique dresses. Approximately in this period the side slits became popular as well.

In 1930s-1940s with the growing popularity of high-heeled shoes and stockings, qipao entered their golden era. The style of that period was characterized by short length (above the knee or sometimes mid-thigh), lighter colors and body-hugging shape. The dress became widespread not only in Shanghai, but also in other mainland cities and Hong Kong.

Things changed again in 1949 – when after the Communist Revolution a unisex clothing style (shirt and trousers) was advocated and qipao fell out of favor in mainland.

Another qipao

Lovely Qipao

But everything new is well-forgotten old and today qipao is getting new life. You can see many girls wearing fashionable qipao designed as evening dresses, employees of different companies (airlines, hotels, restaurants) wearing it as uniform and even brides having tailor-made beautiful qipao for their weddings.

In 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing qipao starred on millions of screens as it was chosen to be an official uniform of female athletes of Chinese delegation.

Today many producers design these beautiful dresses and they have become a usual item in the wardrobe of Chinese (and not only Chinese) girls. I myself have five qipao :-).

I hope that some of the readers of my blog will join this trend and make the eyes of men wide open…

Qipao fan, Crystal Tao

7 comments to History of Chinese Qipao

  • ahkiwi

    You are right labeling that one a “Lovely Qipao”, it certainly is.

    The top one is also nice.

    My eyes are wide open! … see –> :shock:

  • me

    Qipaos do NOT date back to the warring states period. The much more dignified and elegant style of dress for Han Chinese until the Manchu conquest was HANFU.

    • Sean Wong

      The biggest believe it or not is if it opening opens to the right or left. which is why Confucius said “微管仲,吾其被以左衽矣” Qipao actually open to the right same as the Han way, but the male version, the 马褂 opens to the left like the nomad way. (the practical reason is that when it opens to the right, it’s easier to do mounted archery, which is a diving line between Hans and the nomads.) As for style, the tight dress style for woman is always popular for the poor population. Just imagine how much those free-flowing style of Hanfu would get in the way for people doing actual farm and housework, and few could afford the silk that make those dress possible.

  • Ian

    To “me” Try reading the article properly first.. it states “the Origins…

  • me

    The correct info should be
    the qipao was Manchurian in origin and had nothing to do with the Warring States period.

    It’s sad that so many Chinese don’t even know their own culture and think that qipaos represent 5000 years of Chinese clothing history.

  • me

    “Just imagine how much those free-flowing style of Hanfu would get in the way for people doing actual farm and housework, and few could afford the silk that make those dress possible.”

    It’s much easier to do farming and housework in loose fitting clothes than tight-fitting ones. Imagine trying to scrub the floor or planting rice in a high-collored, tight and constricting qipao. In ancient pre-Manchu days, common people and farmers wore hanfu of simple materials without the flowing skirts and sleeves practical for labor.

  • Matt

    Actually the Bocskai-style traditional clothing in Hungary is almost the same as the Tangzhuang, as the ancestors of Hungarians are the Huns. Qipao and Tangzhuang are not traditional Chinese clothes.

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