You’ve seen it in films, you’ve seen it in star-studded events, and you’ve probably seen a gorgeous lady or two spotting a Cheongsam for a dinner party. There can’t be any other traditional dress that’s more flattering to a woman’s body, and that is the Cheongsam.
If you’re looking to buy a Cheongsam or have it tailor-made, Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to do so. A high-quality Cheongsam is a statement piece that stands out on its own with elegance and needs no elaborate accessorizing.
Here’s what the Cheongsam is about, what you need to consider, and where to get them.
A brief history
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The Cheongsam as it is known today had its roots in the Qing dynasty when the Manchus came to rule over the country. Manchu women wore a one-piece dress known as the Qi Pao, and it was a rather loose and straight garment that flared slightly at the end. The Qi Pao became a fashionable dress to wear for the Han Chinese women only in the 1920s and gradually evolved from being a loose-fitting and conservative dress to become the form-fitting dress that flatters the feminine silhouette. These days, you can find them in both short and full-length versions, as well as with slits and interesting collars.
In Shanghai, the Qi Pas came to be known as zansae, which means a long dress, and in Hong Kong, it is known as the Cheongsam.
Getting a Cheongsam
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Unlike shopping at H&M, shopping for a Cheongsam can be a very reflective and interesting process, especially if you’re thinking of having it tailor-made from scratch.
First, decide on the types of fabrics that you like and what occasion you’d wear them for. Silk and satin are the most glamorous materials you can choose, while cotton and linen ones look and feel fantastic for slightly more casual days out.
Next, think about where you’d most likely want to wear a Cheongsam. If you’re getting one for the nice dinners, parties, and weddings, you ought to consider splurging on good quality fabric and a more elegant cut, like the full-length version. If you imagine yourself wearing it in summer or want one that can take you from casual to formal, a cotton-based one is comfortable, and you can ask for a more elaborate collar to jazz things up.
Lastly, consider opting for a proper tailoring experience, especially so if you’re visiting Hong Kong. It will take longer and cost more, but consider how rare it is these days to buy a dress that’s still made with traditional craftsmanship, and especially so for a garment like the Cheongsam, which is meant to be highlight a woman’s unique silhouette. If you’re getting a Cheongsam as a gift, then a ready-made one that’s good for subsequent tailoring will be your best bet.
Where to buy a Cheongsam
What happens when a former fashion model decides to give the Cheongsam a contemporary twist? You get dresses that take you from the runway to the dinner party, earning compliments as you go along. Grace Choi’s Cheongsam designs weave modern fashion elements and materials into the classic frame and cut of Cheongsam, meaning you’ll find dresses with asymmetrical hemlines and the use of mesh and chiffon. Prices don’t come cheap, but they are definitely cocktail party worthy.
Address: 8A, Kimley Commercial Building, 142 Queen's Road Central, HK (by appointment)
Tel: 3111 2268
Blanc de Chine
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This label as been around since 1993, and is known for its highly luxurious Cheongsams that also marry Western and Eastern design techniques. Blanc de Chine’s Cheongsams have a minimalist and avant-garde feel to them, without losing the unmistakable flair of tradition. Prices are even higher than Yi Ming’s, but you’ll be guaranteed to turn heads.
Shop 123, Prince’s Bldg, 10 Chater Rd
Where to tailor a Cheongsam
Getting a Cheongsam tailor made is an experience itself. It’s a financial and emotional investment to have measurements taken on parts of your body that you didn’t know you need precision for, to choose your favorite fabric, and finally to wait in suspense. Visit any of these shops the day you arrive in Hong Kong and leave with a piece of culture and fashion.
Mee Wah Qipao
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This shop has been around from the 1930s, so they technically have been making Cheongsams since they became a fashion must-have. With craftsmanship that has been handed over the generations, Mee Wah’s master craftsman revealed in an interview that in his 60s, he’s the youngest of the shifts left. To get a taste of unaltered tradition, Mee Wah Qipao will probably not disappoint..
Queen's Hong Kong, 76 Queen's Rd W, Hong Kong
Linva is another establishment that has been around for decades, and whose work since 1965 has ensured its survival in amidst the onslaught of fast fashion labels. Leung Ching-Wah, the master tailor of the shop, insists on making Cheongsams in the most traditional way possible, which means that it could take more than a month for a completely made-to-measure Cheongsam. However, if you’re not in town for that long, ready-made ones are with available, and you can get alteration services there.
G/F 38 Cochrane St Central, Hong Kong