The modernized qipao was first created and developed in Shanghai in the 1920s. Some have said it’s under the influence of Beijing styles.
Qipao’s modernized self was form fitting and more, in fact, much more revealing.
Comparing to its all-cover-up traditional style, it introduced sleeveless high-necked dresses and the slit on the side became higher, the length of qipao and its sleeves have also become much more flexible.
With the liking from Shanghai’s movie stars; high society; celebrities and high class courtesans, the modern version of qipao had become the ultimate party gown.
In 1949, the communist revolution took over China. Many Shanghai qipao tailors (shi-fu) fled to Hong Kong and Taiwan. They and the mainland emigrants brought the trend with them and the modernized qipao continues to be popular to this day.
Because of its figure hugging; often tight fitting shape, a well-fitted qipao requires to be tailor made to suit the individual.
By the 1940s, the modern version qipao was already being made in a wide variety of fabrics. Women often chose their material and discussed their preferred length of qipao and sleeves, also where to slit with their tailors.
An experienced qipao shi-fu hand sewing all the fastening buttons as Chinese call these buttons ‘pan kou’ (盤扣) and the patterned button-base. The button-base are like beautiful woven and knotted flowers. They are the main feature of a qipao.
These days, a good qipao shi-fu is hard to find, and their work is often expensive. Therefore, young women tend to buy their modern qipao from retailers.
In 1989, my mother made a trip to Taiwan from Australia. During her limited stay in Taipei, she had chosen a black velvet fabric to tailor-made an ankle length qipao.
That qipao had red silk lining framing the edge of the black velvet, and of course, all hand sewn red silk fastening buttons and patterned button-base.
She later on wore it in Perth as an evening gown and I thought she looked superb in it!
Personally, I prefer a floral qipao, with the length sitting just above knees and cap-sleeved style.
Funny enough! The longer I live in a western country, the more I love to wear a qipao in public – which I certainly wouldn’t do when I was younger!
In my next qipao story, I’ll share my thoughts on some public figures, from politicians to entertainers.., a ‘who’s who’ of whom I thought wore it exceptionally well…