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Cheongsam 101: A cheat sheet to the history and design behind the traditional attire

Cheongsam 101: A cheat sheet to the history and design behind the traditional attire

Chinese gem

Text: Stephanie Boey

Image: Calleigh Yap

Quick facts on the origins and design behind the Chinese dress.

After finding out the many styles of the baju kurung, learned multiple ways on how to tie a saree, the next thing to learn up on is our traditional Malaysian attire series is the cheongsam.

Traditionally known as the qipao in Mandarin, it's no surprise that the garment originated in China. But did you know that it was first introduced in the 17th century during the Manchu rule? The word qipao translates to banner gown, signifying its one-piece style dress. The original style was loose and A-lined, with long, full sleeves and was worn among high nobles in court. Its silhouette was a lot more modest than the cheongsam we're used to seeing. The modern fitted cheongsam we see today was first popularised by celebrities and socialites in Shanghai as early as the 1920s—possibly inspired by the roaring ‘20s movement and flapper dresses.

What's most interesting to learn about the cheongsam is the amount of detail that goes into designing the garment. The buttons that are found at the base of the Mandarin collar are known as the pankou and consist of three main types: Straight, simple floral and elaborate. The first being the most commonly found and the latter two as decorative ornaments.

Another thing to look out for in a cheongsam are the prints. The Chinese phoenix also known as the fenghuang represents the union of a male and female, and is often found in wedding cheongsams. Two cranes are a popular sight, and symbolise double happiness. Finally, the dragon serves as a metaphor for power, strength and good luck.

 

For a quick cheat sheet on the cheongsam, swipe below: