From Qipao to Cheongsam: Unveiling the Evolution of Traditional Chinese Women’s Attire

The Evolution of Traditional Chinese Women’s Attire

From Qipao to Cheongsam: Unveiling the Evolution of Traditional Chinese Women’s Attire


Chinese culture is rich in history and traditions that have influenced the world in various ways. One essential aspect of this heritage is traditional clothing, which reflects the values, social norms, and lifestyle of the Chinese people. Among the most iconic and widely recognized traditional Chinese women’s attires are the Qipao and the Cheongsam. In this article, we will delve into the fascinating evolution of these garments, tracing their origins, transformations, and enduring popularity in modern times.

1. The Origins of Qipao: A Symbol of Elegance

The Qipao, also known as the “Banner Dress,” has a history that can be traced back to the last dynasty of Imperial China. Originating in the northern regions, this garment was initially worn by the Manchu ethnic group. It featured a loosely fitted gown with wide sleeves and a long skirt that covered the wearer’s ankles. The aim was to create a modest and conservative image for women in line with Confucian ideals.

Over time, the Qipao went through various modifications, influenced by different dynasties and cultural shifts. During the Republican period in the early 20th century, it experienced significant changes as it merged with western fashion trends. The new design featured a high collar, a slim, tailored fit, and a higher hemline, which accentuated the femininity and elegance of women, reflecting the changing roles of women in Chinese society.

2. The Rise of the Cheongsam: A Modern Interpretation

Following the foundation of the Republic of China in 1912, the Qipao continued to adapt to the changing times. It gradually transformed into the Cheongsam, as it departed from its original loose fit and embraced a more form-fitting silhouette. This transition was driven by fashion innovators like Shanghai-based dressmakers who catered to the needs of cosmopolitan women.

The Cheongsam, with its body-hugging design, high collar, and side slits, quickly gained popularity not only among Chinese women but also among the international community. It became a symbol of modernity and sophistication, being associated with successful, independent women. The Cheongsam represented a fusion of Chinese cultural elements with western influences, adding a touch of exotic appeal to the already stunning garment.

3. The Revival and Reinvention of Traditional Clothing

Despite some decline in popularity during the Cultural Revolution, both the Qipao and Cheongsam made a significant comeback in the 1980s. The revival was fueled by a desire to reaffirm cultural identity and reclaim the pride in China’s heritage. The fashion industry embraced this renewed interest, resulting in creative reinterpretations of traditional Chinese clothing.

Designers introduced innovative cuts, fabrics, and embellishments, adapting the Cheongsam to contemporary tastes. Traditional Qipaos and Cheongsams are now available in a vast array of designs, colors, and lengths, allowing women to express their individuality and merge tradition with modernity effortlessly.


Q: What is the difference between Qipao and Cheongsam?

A: While historically the Qipao referred to a looser-fitting dress with wide sleeves, the Cheongsam developed from the Qipao and has a more form-fitting silhouette with a high collar and side slits.

Q: When did the Cheongsam gain popularity?

A: The Cheongsam rose to prominence during the 1920s and 1930s in Shanghai, becoming a symbol of modernity and sophistication.

Q: Why did traditional Chinese clothing experience a decline during the Cultural Revolution?

A: During the Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong promoted a more egalitarian society, discouraging the display of wealth and class distinctions. Traditional clothing was considered a symbol of bourgeois culture and was thus criticized or even banned.

Q: How has traditional Chinese clothing evolved in modern times?

A: Traditional Chinese clothing has experienced a revival, with designers introducing contemporary elements, fabrics, and cuts while retaining the essence of the Qipao and Cheongsam. Modern designs allow for personal expression and cultural fusion, reflecting the dynamic nature of fashion and society.


The Qipao and Cheongsam hold a significant place in Chinese history and culture. These garments have evolved over time, adapting to changing societal norms, fashion trends, and cultural influences. From their origins as traditional clothing to their resurgence as symbols of cultural pride and personal expression, the Qipao and Cheongsam continue to captivate people worldwide with their elegance, sophistication, and timeless allure.