With Chinese New Year just around the corner, the cheongsam is enjoying its yearly resurrection from the musty closets of the past. For those seeking the perfect attire to complement the occasion, the cheongsam represents elegance, sophistication and the epitome of Chinese feminine beauty. The designer Vivienne Tam once said, “When a woman puts on a cheongsam, a metamorphosis takes place – she’s taller, more elegant, in a state of grace.”
The evolution of the cheongsam began in 1911 and remains culturally relevant today. Be inspired to wear a cheongsam this Chinese New Year and usher in the Year of the Snake with style.
The cheongsam originated from long gowns worn by the Manchu women during the Qing Dynasty. They were loosely fitted with four slits on four sides, to facilitating the mounting and dismounting of horses. With the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, women sought less restrictive clothing to reflect social progress and female emancipation. Hemlines became shorter and the garment became increasingly fitted.
Top: Clothing of the Manchu Nationality
Image courtesy from traditions.cultural-china.com
The cheongsam gained fashion prominence due to endorsement by celebrities and Sun Yat Sen’s wife, Song Qing-ling. Calendar posters featuring cheongsam-clad models influenced cultural tastes and the cheongsam became associated with the national attire for women.
Right: Song Qing-ling
Image courtesy from meiguoxing.com
The heyday of the cheongsam coincided with the rise of Shanghai. The city was considered the Paris of the East and the fashion capital of China. The cheongsam was worn in a variety of ways: long, short, low or high collars. The cut became more slender and the outfit was Westernized with high heels.
Left: Shanghai film star Ruan Lingyu in the 1930s
Image courtesy from online.wsj.com
1950s - 1960s
In Singapore, the cheongsam was associated with women of wealthy Chinese families before the outbreak of the Second World War (1942-45). In the 50s, the garment became the choice of everyday dress for working women. In response to the tight-fitting Western frocks of the time, darts were introduced for a more form-fitting cheongsam.
The cheongsam declined in popularity as the younger generation deemed it old-fashioned and impractical for everyday wear. It became expensive to tailor an outfit, and women were less willing to attend multiple fittings. Ready-to-wear Western garments became more fashionable as boutiques and department stores burgeoned in Singapore.
The cheongsam made a comeback as the dress for all occasions. Women wore it to formal and public events, especially among wives of politicians and significant female figures, such as directors of institutions, senior lawyers and academics.
Left: Mrs Lee Kuan Yew at her husband’s 80th birthday
Image courtesy from danielyunhx.com
Wong Kar-Wai directed In the Mood for Love, a story of unrequited love in 1960s Hong Kong. The movie was acclaimed for its costume design and portrayed the beauty of the cheongsam. Maggie Cheung appeared in more than 20 cheongsams, showcasing a range of Chinese and Western prints on unconventional fabrics, such as floral on cotton sateen.
Left: Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love
Image courtesy from tonguechic.com
Medal ceremony hostesses at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing wore blue-and-white cheongsams, designed by art faculty members of the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT).
Singaporean designers such as Lai Chan, Tan Yoong, Tan Sheau Yun and Priscilla Shunmugam continue to make cheongsams for the modern woman. Although the cheongsam is no longer a must-have in a woman’s wardrobe, it is still worn on special occasions such as weddings and Chinese New Year. To this day, the dress is a symbol of national heritage and timeless Chinese elegance.
Right: Priscilla Shunmugam cheongsam, Spring/Summer 2013
Image courtesy from facebook.com/OngShunmugam
Check out our range of cheongsam at Wardrobe Women at TANGS Orchard, L2 and TANGS VivoCity, L1 today!
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