This sleeveless black velvet qipao (cheongsam) is what I call the Little Black Qipao, and like the classic Little Black Dress, is extremely versatile. The slight stretch of the velvet combined with black is extremely slimming, and the simple neckline is the perfect for dressing up with jewelry.
It has been a surprisingly warm Autumn in Shanghai this year. In fact it is mid-November and the chill has only just hit the air, reminding me that I really should finish this post before it gets too late in the year.
I took this series of photos a few weeks ago in late October at Sinan Mansions in the Former French Concession. It is kind of amazing to remember that last year this time my belly was the size of a gym ball and I was photographing pregnancy qipaos… well, how time flies!
Sinan Mansions (思南公馆／思南公館) is located at the cross-roads of Sinan Road and Fuxing Road, formerly known as Rue Massenet and Route Lafeyette, in the Former French Concession in Shanghai. As the name implies, it is a collection of mansions, originally built in the 20s and 30s, redeveloped and re-opened in 2010 with a hotel and commercial section.
The majority of the restored mansions, now private residential properties, are off-bounds. But there is a large section of the development open to the public, which features the striking ballroom of the Hotel Massenet. This building was the former dormitory for missionaries from a nearby church, and during the restoration was torn down and re-built brick by brick at a different angle to the original. The series of arches with contrasting red and grey bricks is my favourite part of the whole project.
There are also a few mansions in the open to public area, turned into coffee shops/tea houses, or rented out for general commercial purposes. I have read that these mansions were restored in a similar manner to the Hotel Massenet ballroom – that is, ripped up, foundations re-built, and then re-laid over the new foundations. They do look a little “too restored” for my liking, but I appreciate the attempt and think it was a good job overall by Chinese standards. And what the development has lost in character, is somewhat made up for by the elegance of the buildings and woodwork that has been restored, and the superbly maintained greenery.
In the few years after it first re-opened, Sinan Mansions housed a number of chic eateries, and was a popular destination for the young and the hip. But as is too often the case in Shanghai, this did not last long. These days it continues to see its fair share of tourists, but most of the popular restaurants and local crowd have moved on. Despite the poorly managed tenant mix, it sill has some beautiful spots, particularly in the mid afternoon sun, which is how I came to choose the location for these photos.
The Little Black Qipao
A black sleeveless velvet qipao is an absolute staple for the qipao wardrobe. In fact, if you are looking to buy your first qipao and don’t quite know where to start, I would say this is the place. I call it the Little Black Qipao LBQ, or the qipao version of the LBD (Little Black Dress), easily dressed up, easily dressed down, and accommodating for a range of figures due to its light stretch.
The Little Black Qipao I have is very simple. Sleeveless, but with a modestly cut shoulder that almost extends into a cap sleeve. A single black pankou (Chinese knotted button) sits at the base of the neck, below a 4cm (~1.5 inch) collar. The chest piece of the dress is clear, with no front (diagonal opening at the chest area), and the dress is zipped up at the centre of the back. The hemline sits about 15cm (6 inches) above the ankle, with side slits halfway down the thigh.
I tried a few different ways of accessorizing the dress in the photos – plain; with a brooch at the base of the neck (reminiscent of 1930s Shanghai, and the ladies in Lust, Caution); and with a pearl necklace. The pearls in particular are very cute with my vintage mesh Oroton bag. You can’t quite see my shoes in the shots, but I chose a pair of heeled black peeptoe slingbacks. Although I think if you have the right attitude (and maybe the legs) you could rock this dress with some white sneakers, feiyues would be nice. What do you think?