This post was written by Lindy Shopper.
After finding this gorgeous dress on eBay, I was inspired to post about cheongsam (plural cheongsams?). I have loved these sexy Asian dresses since I saw the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as a kid. Also known as “qipao” in Mandarin, the cheongsam has a long history that overlaps with the jazz age and swing era.
According to Wikipedia, the original qipao was wide and loose, and meant to cover a woman’s shape, but “the modern version, which is now recognized popularly in China as the “standard” qipao, was first developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, partly under the influence of Beijing styles. People eagerly sought a more modernized style of dress and transformed the old qipao to suit their tastes…it was high-class courtesans and celebrities in the city that would make these redesigned tight fitting qipao popular at that time. In Shanghai it was first known as zansae or “long dress” (長衫 – Mandarin Chinese: chángshān, Shanghainese: zansae, Cantonese: chèuhngsāam), and it is this name that survives in English as the “cheongsam”…as Western fashions changed, the basic cheongsam design changed too, introducing high-necked sleeveless dresses, bell-like sleeves, and the black lace frothing at the hem of a ball gown. By the 1940s, cheongsam came in a wide variety of fabrics with an equal variety of accessories.”
Case in point, the amazing 1940’s cheongsam pictured at above/right, with a gorgeous silk pattern, double piped seam along the neck with fantastic toggles going all the way down the side of the dress. While the trend originated in China, this dress was made in Japan. I also see that the bust/waist/hip ratio on this dress is a little more forgiving than the versions sold today, which leave little room in the hips. Someone buy this dress because you will look so elegant in it!
If you’d like a new cheongsam, there are multitudes of them on eBay and other internet retail sites, some as cheap as $10.00. When I had to come up with an inexpensive costume for The Carolina Fascinators, I remembered that I’d been wanting one of these dresses and how they came in an array of colors, sizes, and prices on eBay. These dresses are not made of silk, obviously, but if we are going to sweat in them, perhaps a cheap dress isn’t such a bad idea. These dresses are visually stunning, in great colors and prints, and come in a variety of styles (sleeves, sleeveless, knee length, calve length, halter, etc.).
There are a few drawbacks that we discovered – they are cheaply made and we had to sew the snaps back on, reinforce the toggles, and if you don’t get the right size you may split a seam while dancing. Those slits are there so you can move, because this is supposed to be a form fitting dress. The cut on these dresses was not conducive to any of our shapes – narrow hips meant ordering a size that fit the hips and all of us had to have them tailored to take them in at the waist, or bust, or both. However, it was worth the tailoring and mending because the dresses looked amazing in the end.
Also, don’t get hung up on the size labels. This girl needed an XXL for the hips. Those of you that know me know that the booty is not THAT big. Buy the size you need, based on the size charts provided.
I’ll leave you with a video clip of my initial inspiration. As an FYI, if you want Kate Capshaw’s sequin cheongsam, Sequin Queen will make you one for $250.00. ;)