What Does Qipao&Cheongsam Mean?-Chinese dress by women

The Chinese are known for their majestic, stylish and articulate way of dressing. Their way of dressing can be traced to vast ages ago and was influenced by culture and religion. We are going to look at one way of dressing called Qipao. People use the term interchangeably with Cheongsam, the two are not that different. But originate from different parts of China.

What does qipao mean?

Qipao is a Chinese Mandarin word that can be translated to a loose dress or banner dress.

What does cheongsam mean?

Cheongsam is a Cantonese word that translates to long dress in English.

What is a qipao dress?

A Qipao dress is a one-piece dress often seen having beautiful floral patterns. It is a body-fitting dress with a straight collar. It is made of silk mostly embroidered and has cloth buttons on the front. The dress has undergone some changes since the beginning and nowadays Qipao can be seen as a body-hugging, well-fitting one-piece dress. The length can now be either long or knee-high depending on the wearers’ preferences.

Qipao history

ethnic clothing of the Manchu people

Qipao dress started with the Manchus. In the early 16th century, in the Qing dynasty, the ruler Nurhaci created a system known as the eight-banner system. This meant that warriors were divided into eight barracks and each barrack had its flag. The system was powerful and saw Manchus, being a minority ethnic group, stay in power for about 250 years.

People living under the Manchus banner system that to distinguish themselves from the rest of the citizens and that meant wearing differently. This is when the banner dress-qipao for ladies and long robes for men came to be. The Qipao was rather loose, bulky, and fully covered the legs and hands.

The Qing dynasty fell in 1911 and the women especially students left the old qipao for a modernized version. This included shortening the Qipao and pairing it with trousers. In the 1920s the qipao re-emerged in the fashion world but it was again tighter and shorter. It was seen to have been affected by the western style since Shanghai was opened up as a port and received many people bringing a cultural revolution. It was very popular with officials and celebrities and was announced as the Chinese National dress.

Stockings and high heel shoes were introduced in Shanghai in the 1930s and the Qipao saw the trousers getting done away with and getting two side slits. When the communist rule began in 1949, they tried to erase many cultural aspects, history, and the ancient ways to bring about revolution. This saw the Qipao lose its popularity for a while until the Shanghainese tailors escaped to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was British controlled and the tailors brought back the Qipao to life and could be seen on working women in official dresses.

How to wear qipao?

As we have seen above that there are different lengths of Qipao, it is a personal choice when it comes to length.  A well-made Qipao dress should be well-fitting and hug the body shape. These dresses can be matched with some stockings to give a sophisticated look or higher side slits for the most daring people and nightlife lovers.

Officially it can be matched with a jacket to protect the wearer from cold since the Qipao is mostly short-sleeved. For dinner events, a silk scarf may be added on the back and let dangle on the sides, going in between the biceps and the upper torso and then hanging out from the elbows.

Qipao shows power and elegance when worn with heels and hair held back in a bun. Anyone can wear a Qipao dress as it is retro fashion wear but should know some designs are preserved for special occasions. An example is that you shouldn’t wear a red Qipao to a wedding unless you are the bride.

How to make a qipao?

qipao dress style

To make this dress you will need muslin or cotton to use as a stencil as silk is very expensive, an invisible zipper, bias tape for collar finishing, and the design. You will also need tailoring supplies.

With the design in place, you will transfer it to the muslin and adjust measurements as required. Transfer the measurements to the silk and stitch it to the final dress. Make use of bias tape along the edges, curves, and the collar.

What shoes to wear with qipao?

The choice of shoes to match up with the dress depends on the final look that the wearer wants to achieve. The fashion industry has developed so much and has seen many new ideas come to be. Some shoes go well with the dress while some completely don’t. fashion has a very thin line between a hit or miss so be careful.

A girl looking for a playful simple look will do a Qipao dress with boots or sneakers. This will come out as fashionable and a bit hippie with touches of culture.

The most used shoe is the high heel. A high heel with the same color as the Qipao is a winning match. heels give that delicate and sophisticated look.

A bit loose Qipao dress will go well with flat shoes for that casual look. For people who want to stand out, they can match the dress with nude sandal shoes.

Qipao is a very versatile dress and shouldn’t be much of a problem to find footwear that will go along with it.

Why is qipao a representative dress in china?

Qipao dress has come a long way since the Qing dynasty and has been prohibited and almost forgotten but it still emerged again and spread to almost all households of China. First, the dress was used to make a statement that the ladies were under the banner ruler so it can be taken as a dress to distinct people and give a sense of importance.

The dress was worn later as a show of rebellion amongst women and it found its way into political arenas and people of influence. This is when it was declared the Chinese women’s national dress.

Qipao vs cheongsam

Both terms mean the same. The only difference is the origin of the name; qipao is in Mandarin while cheongsam is Cantonese.


Qipao is an elegant dress with cultural notes and hints of modernization, it represents beauty and is very versatile. This dress will continue to be in the fashion world for quite a long time and it’s a piece every woman should have.

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