Saturday 11 July 2020

The Qi Pao, Pill Box Hats & Shanghai Fashion 1930s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
One of my photographic interests is visual stories "photo-films" (see an example The Girl of Nanjing) that endeavor to recreate Shanghai in the 1930s by using fashion elements popular during its heyday era. The most popular fashion statement of the time was the qi pao (aka the cheongsam in Cantonese) which evolved to its present form over the years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1922).

During that dynastic period, women of Han descent wore two piece outfits while the Manchu women wore a long robe. With the advent of unity in China, women all over the country began to wear the qipaoEarly on in the 1900s, the qipao was loose-fitting, generally long-sleeved, and worn with unadorned, plain hairstyles. The modern version of the dress, now recognized as the ‘standard’ qipao, was developed in Shanghai in the 1920s, and became more form-fitting and with a high cut, and frequently worn with hairdos known as "finger waves".

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
Evolving from its original appearance as a plain and sober Chinese robe to a more exciting style, the qi pao eschewed more traditional silks embellished with embroidery for cheaper contemporary textiles, with a greater variety of designs such as florals, dragons and geometrical patterns.

Society women in China knew that wearing their qi pao with its high collar, side slits and hour-glass body-conscious shape was being equated with an Eastern mystique. They added fur stole in winters, and pill box hats with veils to add more mystery to their appearance. The latter were invented by milliners and hat-makers in the 1930s, and were hugely popular for their simplicity and elegance. 

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the qi pao was seen as a feudal dress of the ancient times, and abandoned as daily clothing. However, in 1984, the qi pao/cheongsam was specified as the formal attire of female diplomatic agents by the People's Republic of China.

Uncredited Photo. Source Pinterest

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