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May 26, 2018

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How fashion comes and goes

IN the 1930s, Shanghai women’s fashion was greatly influenced by social trends and Western culture.

Women from different social classes observed different qipao dress codes. Students, wealthy housewives, career women and student returning from overseas study were all readily identifiable by their dresses.

There were three major categories.

One of them was students. Their qipao had clean, straight lines and were typically made of cotton. At the time, girls allowed to pursue an education were usually from middle-class families with open-minded parents.

Qipao was the standard uniform for girls in high schools and universities. Because the students had to engage in sports and exercises, their qipao were about 3.3cm shorter than the standard dress. They were not allowed to wear body-hugging qipao.

Then there was the qipao category of dresses worn by dancing queens and celebrities. They were sexy, with more skin exposure. The dresses were tight, fitted at the hip and waist, and the hemline was above the knees.

The third category of qipao were dresses for the rich wives of wealthy, privileged families. Fabric quality and exquisite tailoring were hallmarks of those dresses, which were often embroidered with flowers, butterflies, bamboo or birds and trimmed with gold or silver piping.

Qipao fashion ended in 1949 with the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Social focus turned to revolutionary themes, away from aesthetic pursuits. Women dressed like soldiers in plain, simple clothes. Dull gray shirts and trousers replaced colorful dresses.

In the late 1950s, the qipao was considered a symbol of decadence on China’s mainland.

Gone for almost 30 years, the qipao began re-emerging in the late 1980s, when China opened its doors to the outside world.

In 2004, actress Gong Li walked the red carpet of the 57th Cannes Film Festival in a beautiful qipao dress, putting the style back in the public eye.

Today qipao is more of a formal dress for important occasions, such as weddings or major events and rarely worn as daily clothing.

Numerous qipao clubs and festivals have also sprung up to venerate the cherished old style.


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