How to Choose a Cheongsam / Qipao

With Christmas out of the way and Lunar New Year round the corner, I thought this is a perfect time to offer some tips for selecting a Cheongsam or “Qipao” – the national costume of China, as some of us may be interested to shop for one to wear for Lunar New Year festivities.

Although the Cheongsam/Qipao is designed to flatter the feminine body, few of us has the perfect figure to carry it off well. Here are some guidelines that can help you choose the right Cheongsam for your body shape so that your Cheongsam will accentuate your assets and gloss over your flaws.

There are few unique style elements of Cheongsam such as the collar, the sleeves, the buttons, the length and the slit of the dress.

Let’s start from the top, ie the collar of the Cheongsam. Traditionally, the collar of Cheongsam is high and fits tightly around the neck. The edges of the collar are shaped as a semicircle, flattering the soft and slender neck of women. There is usually a Chinese knot button at the base of the collar which adds an interesting detail.

The “V” opening of the neckline elongates the face and neck, making us appear slimmer!

The “V” opening of the neckline elongates the face and neck, making us appear slimmer!

Obviously, women with longer necks will look fabulous wearing the high collar Cheongsams, however those of us with rounder faces and shorter necks do have alternatives to choose from. Simply pick a Cheongsam with lower collar or collarless design and make the “V” opening of the neckline a little deeper. This little trick will elongate our faces and necks, thus making us appear slimmer!

The length of sleeves is another unique element of the Cheongsam. There are generally 3 lengths: short sleeves, three-quarter sleeves and sleeveless. Women with slim arms will look great in sleeveless styles, while those of us who are concerned about flabby arms and bulky shoulders would be more comfortable with short or three-quarter sleeves to camouflage our wobbly bits. Those of us with slopping shoulders may want to consider adding shoulder pads under our Cheongsams, while those of us with broader shoulders will look much better without them.

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One of the sexiest details of the Cheongsam is high slits on both sides, designed to display slender legs and also for ease of movement. Nowadays, Cheongsams usually come in different lengths - above the knee, midi and floor length. The slits are placed differently too: 2 side slits, 1 side slit, front slit or back slit. Of course, if you have beautiful long legs, any length is fine and any slit placement will be alright. For the rest of us (and those who are vertically challenged), knee length Cheongsams are the most universally flattering fit. For the pear-shaped women, a straight-cut Cheongsams with side slits are more forgiving.

If you’re going to buy only 1 or 2 Cheongsams, pick a better fabric like silk or brocade. These are classic styles and the better material will hold well over time. Traditionally, Cheongsams were made of silk however, I find that silk (especially shiny ones) are more suitable for skinny women. This is because the smooth and shiny silk material will highlight the lumps and bumps of those of us who are not so slim! Do take note that silk is more expensive and requires dry-cleaning.

Brocades are heavier, hence they hold their shape better.

Brocades are heavier, hence they hold their shape better.

Brocades and jacquards are also good fabric choices for Cheongsams. These are heavier fabrics, hence they hold their shape better than the soft and delicate silk ones. However, these tend to look more formal, because designers like to stitch raised embroidery patterns on them with gold or silver threads.

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Let’s talk a little about colour choices. Red is probably the most popular colour, because the Chinese believe that wearing red will bring prosperity and good luck. Just make sure that you don’t look like a waitress in a Chinese restaurant! Bright reds are suitable for brides, pinks are great for slimmer and younger ladies, while more matured women look elegant and dignified in dark reds and purple hues. Larger women look slimmer in darker shades, like black, navy or pewter.

Lastly, the embroideries and prints on cheongsams are symbolic and related to the Chinese culture too. For example, the peony flower very popular it is China’s national flower - it symbolizes prosperity and wealthy. The lotus flower on the other hand symbolizes purity and beauty. Wearing chrysanthemums represents joy and longevity. Fishes - prosperity as the Chinese pronunciation of fish: “yu” means abundance. The dragon symbolizes the supreme power of the emperor. In ancient times, only nobleman and officials can wear dragon designs while the imperial concubines, princesses and diplomatic wives will wear the accompanying phoenix designs.

Well, that’s it for today’s blog. Did you find it interesting? Will you be wearing a cheongsam this Lunar New Year? If you are, I’d love to see your cheongsam choices! Please take a selfie and tag us on instagram #bnmcheongsamchallenge.

Happy 2017 everybody! May your new year be filled with joy overflowing, abundance and prosperity! Enjoy a fabulous week ahead, peeps ;)