Dress with style, grace and turbulent history

An elegant qipao displayed in a tailor shop in Beijing’s Ya Show Clothing Market.

An elegant qipao displayed in a tailor shop in Beijing’s Ya Show Clothing Market, June 2011.

China has come a long way sartorially from the days of communist revolution when people dressed uniformly, eschewing variety and color—the proletarian notion of unity.

Now free to wear what they want, despite all the options from the West, some Chinese women still choose to wear the traditional qipao—pronounced “tee-pow.”

“Girls today look really good in a qipao,” said 84-year-old Li Jinchun sat at a café outside Ya Show Clothing Market, who remembered women having to stop wearing the qipao and make-up after 1949 when the communists took power. “It’s different now, the style has changed, but it still looks beautiful.”

The qipao originated in the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty. Back then it was baggy and full length to the ankles and wrists, in order to conceal a woman’s figure and conform to feudal society’s conservative principles.

Come the 1920s and especially in Shanghai, designers added western elements to the qipao to show off female figures. After the communist revolution in China, the qipao was banned due to its Shanghai association and by connection, the capitalist West.

The relaxation of dress regulations starting in the 1980s that led to western styled dress in China, also meant the qipao came back into fashion, which is no bad thing if you ask me.