After spending a few weeks on the rather serious task of writing about qipao history, I really couldn’t resist doing something more fun and light-hearted, especially after the last post on the 1930s. Yes, there is more history to come, but for now I am going to indulge and spend this sunny October autumn afternoon writing about my first Shanghainese qipao (or cheongsam). Also the qipao that I wore to the traditional Taiwanese liushuixi (流水席, we used it as a replacement rehearsal dinner) of our wedding. Maybe more on that in another post.
This is me in my first Shanghainese qipao (or cheongsam), in a gorgeous red and white printed silk. In my traditional Shanghainese lane house apartment.
The local fabric market
I first arrived in Shanghai for the summer of 2012, and by then I had spent a few years obsessing about qipao already, with 2 or 3 in my possession, but all bought off the rack. So within my first month – through a combination of online research and talking to newly met acquaintances – I ended up at the local fabric market. Up two crowded floors and past a series of shops that honestly all looked the same at first glance, I made my way to a small stall that came recommended.
The stall was packed with rolls of silk in the lower shelves, and full of customer orders in the higher shelves. The owners were typical Shanghainese shopkeepers – at first dismissive and altogether too busy to talk to you, but once they did and ascertained you genuinely wanted to buy something, they would not stop talking to you.
“mmm, qipaos seem to suit you quite well”
I rarely have the occasion to wear silk dresses, but I still could not resist the allure of the silk rolls. I chose a striking white and red printed silk, and specified exactly what I wanted – essentially a 1930s style qipao with the only deviation being below-the-knee length rather than floor length: form fitted, a high 2-inch stiff collar, capped sleeves, thigh-high side openings, pankous only (traditional knotted buttons; no zippers, which is what most modern day qipaos use for ease of wear).
Two or three weeks later, I came back to pick up my qipao. I got behind a small curtain pulled over a corner of the shop to change, and looked at myself in the portable full length mirror that the shop keeper brought out to the front of the stall. It was gorgeous. The shop keeper commented: “mmm, qipaos seem to suit you quite well” (yes… I realize she may say this to every single one of her customers).
I have not worn this qipao many times since 2013, but I love it (and it’s so pretty in the wardrobe!). I am glad I got to wear it to a part of our wedding, although it was quite a last minute decision as I was already 4 months pregnant, it still fit (just!) and was perfect for the occasion. Unfortunately we didn’t have professional photographers at that particular event, and I am now quite heavily pregnant, so I can’t show the full dress in person, but hope I think the photos below are beautiful anyway. Enjoy!