Episode 11. The History of the Qipao / Cheongsam

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The History of the Qipao/Cheongsam The Asian Sewist Collective Podcast

We are back for season 2! On our season premiere, we discuss the history of the qipao/cheongsam, how the garment has changed over time and its cultural significance. We also share important podcast updates, what we were up to this summer and of course, our latest sewing projects. For show notes and a transcript of this episode, please see: https://asiansewistcollective.com/episode-11-history-of-the-qipao-cheongsam/ If you find our podcast informative and enjoy listening, you can support us by joining our monthly membership or making a one-time donation via Ko-Fi: https://ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective


Patterns & Designers mentioned

Seabright Swim by Friday Pattern Company

Ogden Cami by True Bias

Qipao patterns by Porcupine Patterns, a Singapore-based, Asian-owned indie sewing pattern designer

Resources and Sources

Qipao from early 20th century China
Madame Wellington Koo wearing a qipao
Shanghai, sometime in the 1920s-40s
Unknown qipao/cheongsam from the late 20th century
Nancy Kwan wearing a cheongsam in The World of Suzie Wong
Anna May Wong as Lotus Flower in The Toll of the Sea
Grace Kelly wearing a qipao
Maggie Cheung wearing a cheongsam as she stars opposite Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love
Vivienne Tam Fall 2007 RTW collection
An example of cultural appropriation via Keziah Daum, a Utah teen who wore a qipao to prom

ASC Researcher Cindy’s Resources:

An Open Letter to White Makers & Designers Who Are Inspired By the Kimono and Japanese Culture, written by Emi Ito and posted on Ysolda.

Show transcript

Nicole: Have you ever, speaking of burrito, have you ever…

Ada: Flown with a burrito in my backpack for a friend? Yes. 

Nicole: That was definitely not the question I was about to ask but a very fun and important fact about your past.

Ada: Welcome to the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. The Asian Sewist Collective is a group of Asian people from around the world brought together by our shared appreciation for fiber and textile arts, and our desire to see more Asian representation in the sewing community. In this podcast, we explore the intersection of our identities and our shared sewing practice, as we create a space for Asian sewists and our allies. 

I’m your co-host, Ada Chen, and I’m recording from Denver, Colorado. Denver is the traditional territory of the Ute, Cheyenne and Arapaho peoples. I’m a Taiwanese American marketer turned entrepreneur and these days you’ll find me running my own all natural skincare business called Chuan Skincare. That’s C-H-U-A-N and sharing my marketing tips on my blog, The Cultivate Method. Most importantly for this podcast, you can find my sewing at @i.hope.sew on Instagram.

Nicole: And I’m your co host, Nicole, I’m based out of Chicago, Illinois, the original homelands of the Council of the Three Fires, the Ojibwe, the Potawatomi, and the Odawa people. I’m Filipinx-American and I’m a woman and a lawyer by day and a sewing enthusiast the rest of the time. You can find me on Instagram at @NicoleAngelineSews.

Ada: So welcome to season two of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. We took a few weeks off after we recorded season one and now we’re back with a whole new set of episodes. Nicole, did you do anything fun during our break?

Nicole: Nothing particularly notable. I don’t remember exactly when we stopped recording season one. But there’s of course, like the between the season stuff. But I’m enjoying summer break. I think I’ve mentioned on the show before that I’m a student as well, part time law student and I took the summer off. And it was great. Like I have not taken a semester off including summers since 2019. So I was definitely, yeah, it was much needed. It’s kind of hard to try to get me to go back to class in the fall. But we’re doing it. We’re doing it. I’m still working from home. But the work itself picked up a lot during the summer. So it’s like things are going back to whatever normal looks like for the people I work with. 

But let’s see, I had a few fun sewing projects. I always have more ideas than I do time or energy. But so I made my first swimsuit. That was exciting. I even took it for a test run at a pool slash beach thing. We can talk about that, like it’s a beach core or a quarry beach, I guess 

Ada: What? 

Nicole: So formerly it was a quarry, like a stone quarry. But then once that they stopped using it as that and this was like over 100 years ago, it wasn’t a quarry anymore, then they converted it to a community pool. But it’s I guess it’s a pool, but it has a beach that leads up to it. And they think there’s one and that’s like a beach that goes into it and the water gets gradually deeper. And it goes up to four feet, which obviously is not very deep, but then they have a drop off. And there’s a 15 foot foot deep end with diving platforms and actual floating docks where you can climb off and just jump into the water. And so that was fun. And my swimsuit stayed on, which is cool. Have you made a swimsuit before?

Ada: I have not, I have a muslin cut out or a toile. But I didn’t get to it yet. The summer, Colorado has two seasons, summer and winter. And we’re getting to the cutoff point really soon. So it might just become a sports bra.

Nicole: Fair enough Chicago’s like that too, where it’s like very short spring and summer spring and fall seasons. But what stopped me from making swim before was this fear that it was gonna like something was gonna pop and it was going to be terrible. But you know, if we made it, it’s all good. And I also have a terno make that I did, but it’s not going to be published or out there until October which is Filipino American History Month. But yeah, and I’m starting a new job in September. So right after this episode premieres, I’ll be starting a new job. So that’s exciting. I guess I haven’t gone anywhere. What about you Ada?

Ada: That’s a lot. I was busy too. I made some progress on my business. Not only did I do some in person pop ups, which was interesting to get used to again, but I also landed my first wholesale client so now you can find my products and a real physical zero waste store here which is a little…

Nicole: That’s awesome. 

Ada: Thanks. It’s kind of mind blowing to me. At the same time. I was like juggling all my caregiving stuff. So my mom had surgery. It was successful. She’s recovering fine. She started chemo so I’ve been managing all the logistics and a lot of driving because nothing seems to be centrally located here. And I did get a break from that because I went to New York to do a pop up but I had a less than ideal experience. Where I was with that pop up. So I decided to prioritize my mental health. And I wrapped it up early and took off some time. While I was there, which was actually really fun, I got to catch up with friends in real life outdoors, or the New York equivalent of outdoors, which is like a parklet in the street. And I got to meet some sewing friends too. So that was really cool. And I got some fabric and buttons. And of course, we were also still working on podcast stuff, too, which is a great segue into what you, my dear listener can expect to hear from us this season.

Nicole: Okay, I’m going to tell you about season two. But I just want to say that I am so jealous that you got to meet some of our ASC podcast people, like I haven’t even met you yet, you might not be a real person. For all I know, it could be just a simulation, a very good simulation. But I’m so jealous. I can’t wait to get out there and meet some sewing friends. You know, from the podcast and beyond. I’m like, and you went shopping. I’m so jealous. 

So season two. In season two, you can expect the same number of episodes of season one, we’re aiming for 10 full length episodes released every Thursday. And you still get the sneak peeks and great content via our Instagram account as well as weekly emails if you’re signed up for our email list. And if you want to sign up, you can go to our website at AsianSewistCollective.com. And emails remind you when each episode is out. We also have some great guests lined up for the season as well as some more deep dives on garments, fabrics and more. I’m excited also because every week we asked you to rate and review us on your podcasting app to support the show. And thank you for doing that. This season. We’re also introducing another way that you can support us too, right Ada?

Ada: Yeah, so after much thought we have decided to launch a paid subscription powered by Ko-Fi, pronounced coffee, but spelled k-o-dash-f-i. And as an independent podcast, we are 100% bootstrapped and volunteer run. So it means that we paid for and produced season one all on our own. So Nicole, and I have these lovely mics that we bought for ourselves on our setups. And I paid for all the software in subscriptions that we needed to get started. And we were really lucky to break even in season one because of a very generous contribution from Berene of Happy Sew Lucky. And the funds collected from her Asian Love Banner fundraiser with Sewtopia, you might remember that we gave them a shout out, I think on season one, episode eight. Now, obviously, this isn’t a sustainable way to run or fund a podcast. And as we learned in season one, it takes a lot of time and effort to produce high quality content for you. And personally, I really want to be able to compensate everyone on our team for their time, effort and skills put towards making this podcast and opening up a paid subscription tier is one way to do that.

Nicole: So if you find our episodes informative and you enjoy listening, you can support us through our paid subscription tier for $10 a month, you’ll get access to a bonus monthly sew and chat session hosted by Ada and myself, and some extra behind the scenes content. Now these sew and chat sessions will be at least an hour long. And you’ll get to meet us over zoom as well as other members of the podcast team. And we’ll chat and talk about you know, different topics each month. We’ve got fun topics like vintage sewing machines, scary sewing habits, you know, when October rolls around, we all have them. It’s okay, holiday sewing as well as self care. We’ve got these great, you know, sew and chats planned for you. And if you can’t make the live sew and chat, you’ll get a link to the recording afterwards and all paying subscribers will be able to interact with us on a members only section on our coffee page. So to join, go to ko-fi.com/asiansewistcollective to sign up. And if a monthly subscription is out of reach for you, that’s okay, you can make a one-off contribution to the podcast as well.

Ada: And of course, we will still be releasing the podcast for free every week. So this is still new for us. And my hope is that at the end of season two, we’ll be able to provide a breakdown of where this subscription money is going to, so you know where your contributions are going. Now that we’ve gotten all the housekeeping out of the way before we dive into this week’s episode, Nicole, can you tell us about your current sewing project?

Nicole: Yeah, I can. So what I’m currently working on is a birthday suit. 

Ada: We don’t have the license to that song, but I’m singing it in my head. 

Nicole: So I’m tickled by the idea of a birthday suit just because I don’t know a lot of folks make things for themselves a special on their birthday. And last year I did a birthday dress and I was as I was thinking about what I wanted to do for myself. The birthday suit just stuck with me just because I’m actually making something. It’s not just going to be like in the nude, which is why I laugh about it. I’m like the only one that thinks that’s funny is okay. And I thought I was gonna make like a suit suit with it. A jacket, and probably a skirt or pants, but then I thought, you know, I’m going to make a swimsuit. So my birthday suit is going to be a swimsuit. 

I already have the fabric and I already have the pattern. The pattern is from Friday Pattern Company and it’s called the Seabright Swim. So it is a one piece swimsuit that has a deep V, like I think it goes down to the navel, and then just has a brief bottom. And you can also add sleeves to it if you want to make it like a rash guard, but I’m just going to do the sleeveless version. And the swim fabric is from the Fab Clique Shop, which is Filipino owned. I’m excited about that. But it’s a metallic like holographic silver swim fabric. Fabric is cut. I have not sewed it up yet, but it looks like it’s gonna be easy. So that first swimsuit that I made a few weeks ago was intimidating. But I had all the tools I needed. So I feel good about making my birthday suit. So that’s what I’m working on. I’m very immature sometimes. But birthday suit is what is what I’m going with this year. What about you Ada, what are you currently working on?

Ada: I mean, that’s pretty cute and pretty and metallic silver. Love it. All fun things. It’s a similar kind of idea. I guess I didn’t think of it that way. But now that you say birthday suit I recently finished and Ogden Cami by True Bias. And I know if you’ve been in the indie pattern world for any amount of time, you’ve probably seen this pattern. It’s kind of one of everybody’s tried and true’s. So I wanted to see if it would hold for me. And it was my birthday a few weeks before we recorded this.

Nicole: Happy belated birthday. 

Ada: Thank you. I’m just gonna say I was making it for my birthday. I actually I did about three quarters of it hand sewing because I needed something to take with me on my trip that I could do on the plane or at night. So I had already pre cut this out of a not quite scrap of a fabric but the end of a piece that I had used to make a dress before this. So I made it out of the Merchant and Mills Tottori Cross in Plum I think is the color that I picked up at Fabricate, which recently closed in Boulde, and I made the lining and have enough to make the lining from the scrap I cut from the dress actually had to cut the back piece into because of the way it laid out. So the lining is actually made out of something I picked up from the remnant bin at Fancy Tiger. So a very Colorado top if I do say so. It is the Ogden Cami by True Bias, which is based here in Denver, Fancy Tiger and Fabricate are here, both local fabric shops. I felt like very Colorado with my little tank top and I got up to attaching the lining about a quarter of the way with hand stitching before I got home. And when I got home I was like well, my machines here just finished. Done. Yeah, it was so much faster. And actually it was great for scrap busting. So if you have smaller pieces or you want to color block it, I thought it was fantastic for that. There are a few adjustments I think I’m going to make on it moving forward, but really happy with how it turned out.

Nicole: Very cool. Well, Happy belated birthday again, and I’m proud of you for all your hand sewing. Very cool.

Ada: Thanks. Happy early birthday!

Nicole: Thank you. 

Ada: So today’s episode is actually going to be one that we promised you last season but we decided to move to this season, we are going to be talking about the qipao or cheongsam. A beautiful style of dress that many people associate with China. And it’s not just a dress, though, we decided to talk about it because the style actually encapsulates so much about Chinese history and cultural identity, feminism and femininity as well.

Nicole: And if you’re not familiar with the qipao or cheongsam, we will try to describe it for you. Often it’s got number one, a mandarin collar with rounded top corners meeting at the center front, two knotted panko buttons that are made with bias tape serving as closures at the base of the collar and along the, three diagonal opening going from the base of the collar to the underarm. Also four, decorative binding on the edges and five, side slits from the hem to at least above the knee. We’ve got pictures in the show notes if you’d like to see some examples.

Ada: That was great pronunciation. I am here to do all the spelling for everyone. So this garment is called the qipao in Mandarin Chinese spelled q-i-p-a-o and the literal translation of this word is banner robe, which refers to the Manchurian ruling class of the last Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty which ruled from the 17th to the early 20th century, and they were called the banner people. So banner robe, banner people makes sense. If you’ve heard to it referred to as cheongsam, that’s from Cantonese Chinese, sorry to the Cantonese speakers I am trying but it is spelled or romanized as ch-e-u OR -e-o-n-g-s-a-m. In the literal translation it’s long shirt, because it was originally a long ankle length garment. 

So both of the terms wherever you see it or hear it describe the same thing. And it’s interesting to note that this garment style is actually pretty modern. I know I just referenced the Qing Dynasty. But here’s a quick history. That is a very fast overview of modern China. So the last imperial dynasty was ruled by the Manchu people, an ethnic minority group in China, who conquered the Han Chinese, the ethnic majority group. 

So quick note here, the Han Chinese are the ethnic group that most people think of when they think of Chinese people, but they are by no means the only ethnic group in China. They’re about 92% of the total population of mainland China or the PRC, 97% of the population of Taiwan or ROC, and about three quarters of the population of Singapore. So, the rulers dictated that the Han Chinese men should adopt the Manchurian style of dress, which was the original banner robe that I talked about. 

And if you fast forward to the Opium Wars in the mid 1800s, to the revolution in the early 1900s, and by the 1920s, the previously inward looking China was now more exposed to the influences of European powers who took up residence in its cities. Chinese women began to study abroad for the first time and these educated women took on the traditional male dress the qipao as a way to show that they were now intellectuals and no longer relegated to the traditional Confucian female’s domestic sphere. So the Nationalist government or Guomingdang, or the KMT, as it’s abbreviated in English came to power post-Imperialism between 1925 to 1948. And they named the qipao the official national dress for women in an attempt to communicate to the world that China was now an educated forward thinking country.

Nicole: And we’d love to talk about the many ways women have used their clothes to communicate empowerment from the green, purple and white clothing of the suffragettes to the power pantsuit. But in short, you could say that this was also an instance where fashion took on a real political meeting. So by the 1930s, the garment looked changed significantly, from long sleeve loose and boxy fit to a sleeveless form fitting and with high slits fit, and this was to better show off a curvy figure reflecting changing body ideals, and also the further influence of Western fashion. Now, instead of the traditional figures, qipao were advertised in Art Deco motifs and transparent lace over slips. They were accessorized with Western furs and hairstyles. At this point, the garment was still ankle-length, though, and sleeves, if they had them, were still cut on.

Ada: So Oei Hui-lan (aka Madame Wellington Koo), Rosamond Soong Ch’ing-ling (aka Madame Sun Yat-sen), and Soong Mei-ling (aka Madame Chiang Kai-Shek) were all famous political wives and fashion icons who were photographed and featured in American fashion publications wearing qipao in the 1920s to 40s. Madame Chiang Kai Shek was especially instrumental in its popularization as she toured America and addressed both houses of Congress wearing her various qipao but after 1949 and the fall of the Nationalist government to the Communists the qipao quickly fell out of favor in China, as was anything that hinted at traditional culture. 

So all of the qipao tailors who were there fled, not all of them, many of them fled and established themselves in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, where the qipao experienced kind of like a golden age between the 50s and the 60s amongst the Chinese diaspora. 

So you’ll probably know that the 1950s was also a golden age of fashion in Europe as well, if you think of Dior’s New Look whose designs really showcase the ideal standards of feminine beauty at the time. And so ;ikewise, the qipao style evolved to become more form fitting, the hemlines rose and we started to see set in sleeves, it was really glamorous. So the style that you’re used to seeing now isn’t really traditional in the sense of a Japanese kimono or Korean hanbok is, but really it’s a product of the 20th century.

Nicole: By this time, the qipao’s popularity had spread to the west. actresses such as Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. were photographed wearing qipao in the 1950s. And of course, the most famous example Nancy Kwan wore a very tight, short qipao in the Hollywood film, The World of Suzie Wong. It was around this time that you started to see these super sexy versions of the qipao and if you think of these stereotypical hypersexualized servile Asian woman portrayed in western pop culture, she would be Suzie Wong and this image has persisted even to today think Nicki Minaj and her Chun Li music video and a short tight qipao dress with Asian background dancers or Katy Perry wearing a short tight version to the MTV Music Awards. The qipao seems to serve as shorthand for sexy and exotic. And when describing the chipao Valerie Steele, the curator at the FIT museum for the China Chic East Meets West exhibit, actually called it sensual and elegant quote unquote, or take a look at the interpretations of the Met Gala in 2015. So if you remember the theme that year was China Through the Looking Glass. Now these give some clues into how Western eyes view Chinese culture as fashion inspiration. 

And another thing is think about the use of the qipao in the service industry. So for example, Asian airline flight attendant uniforms, housekeeping staff and hotels or waitstaff at Chinese restaurants. And the qipao is often used to give people that feeling of an Asian woman being available to serve and pamper.

Ada: Kind of hate those examples, especially the I think Nicki Minaj hers was like a latex suit. But Katy Perry’s had a lot of different appropriative costumes. It’s bad. It’s bad if you want to look at it, Google Katy Perry and all her costumes. 

But anyway, so while the popularity of the qipao has ebbed and flowed in Asia and the West, we thought a bit more again in the 90s when Galliano, Dior, Vivienne Tam and Anna Sui created qipao inspired looks for the red carpet. And of course, we saw some gorgeous versions in the Wong Kar Wai classic In the Mood for Love. Photos, again, in the show notes, this will be a show notes link, you do not want to miss it.

So today the garment is mainly worn amongst the Chinese diaspora for weddings and other special occasions. Traditional Chinese weddings often call for changing outfits multiple times throughout the dinner reception and a red and gold qipao is often one of the outfits since those colors signify good fortune and happiness. In Asia, the qipao is experiencing something of a revival similar to the Hanfu revival movement as people aim to reclaim their national dress and attempt to ensure the passing on of the traditional qipao tailoring skills as many of the original qipao tailors are now in their 70s and 80s. And there are clubs and schools devoted to wearing and learning how to make them. And the Silk Museum in Hangzhou has been hosting a yearly qipao exhibition where artists are invited to reimagine the qipao for modern times.

Nicole: Okay, should we talk about cultural appropriation? 

Ada: Probably. 

Nicole: So I know we’ve already done a couple of episodes on this, check out episode one and six from season one. But the qipao really does seem to spark some debate when a non-Chinese person appears on one in public. There was the Utahn team who wore one as a prom dress and posted pictures of the stereotyped hands together bowing pose. She was white, I’ll say responses seem to be mixed regarding non Chinese wearing qipao as you know, regular special occasion dress like not as how Halloween costume some native Chinese think of it as a sign of respect or flattery and that their cultural dress is seen as you know beautiful enough for Westerners to wear while other people in the Chinese diaspora vary across the spectrum from one and you know, wearing qipao under any circumstances appropriation to it’s fine if it’s worn respectfully.

Ada: I think it’s a tricky question to whether or not it’s appropriate for a non-Chinese person to wear a qipao like we went over with the history it’s not exactly truly a traditional cultural dress, like Hanfu is for Han Chinese or the hanbok for Koreans, and Western fashion, ideals, styling and sewing practices were purposefully integrated into the garment to bring about the current modern iteration. So it really is kind of a garment with influence from both Asian and Western cultures. 

And like we said the origin is not even really Han Chinese, but Manchurian. And so I think it might be useful to ask yourself by wearing the qipao, are you furthering harmful stereotypes of Asian women, particularly fetishization? Or, have you done your research, understand its history and purchased the dress or pattern from an Asian maker? All that being said, if you are not Asian, and especially if you’re not Chinese, you should probably be prepared to receive pushback from observers who might not know the full context of the garment.

Nicole: Right. And that, to me, is understandable. You know, when we wear items from other people’s culture I think there’s some responsibility to be open to hearing what people of that culture have to say about it. So I think it’s just part of taking that on and if you get offended, then I think you probably shouldn’t be wearing it.

Ada: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one. If you’re getting a little hurt because somebody pointed out what you’re wearing from another culture, maybe don’t wear.

Nicole: Yeah, there’s a light there, you know, the guiding light. So there are more sewists of Asian descent looking to reclaim their heritage and this unfairly sexualized garment by sewing qipao. Unfortunately, there aren’t really great patterns for it. The Big Four pattern companies have all released many qipao inspired patterns, as have some independent designers like Charm Patterns by Gertie or Folkwear Sewing. But all of these are arguably or perhaps inarguably appropriative, as they are not benefiting Asian designers or pattern makers. 

Now, as a reminder, like we said in episodes one and six of season one, we discussed cultural appropriation in the sewing world. We referenced a blog post by Emi Ito, a multicultural educator, in which she identifies the three P’s that are involved when it comes to cultural appropriation: power, profit, and people.

Power that the dominant culture has taken from another historically oppressed culture, profit that the person from the dominant culture is typically making in return, and people so the people of the oppressed culture being erased from the process. And we’ll link to that blog post again in our show notes. If you’re looking for a better option, Singapore-based Asian-owned Porcupine Patterns advertises qipao sewing patterns for both children and adults. But they’re definitely not size inclusive at a max 49 inch hip. So there are also diagrams floating around the internet showing how you could alter your own sloper pattern to make a personalized qipao pattern.

Ada: So Cindy, a member of our team and researcher for this episode actually did make one successfully. But it does require some pattern and fitting experience probably more than some it does require being an intermediate level or above. And she’s actually done a lot of research on this subject. And you can find more details on the qipao in the show notes courtesy of Cindy. And we’ve linked to her Pinterest page of examples in our show notes too. There is a lot to talk about and a lot of nuance on the subject. So we have tried to summarize it all for you in the short episode, but we really do encourage you to read more about it. So again, photos and links and articles in our show notes, definitely check them out.

Nicole: We also want to share some thoughts from the team that put together this episode. Eileen, who produced this episode, says she never felt a huge connection to Chinese culture growing up, but still felt it was really important to wear cheongsam at her wedding. She talks about how the rest of her wedding ceremony was pretty untraditional and fun, but sitting at the Chinese banquet in her red dress and gold jewelry. Having been to countless similar banquets for friends and relatives, she felt so undeniably connected to her heritage at such a big moment in her life. She knows that she also had a kua, which is a two piece wedding dress, traditional in southern China, also red and gold but less form fitting, but you see it less among the diaspora in North America or Europe, you definitely see more people choosing that cheongsam as their way of honoring their own roots. 

Now Cindy, who again researched this episode, shared that she said that a garment that has had such feminist roots both in its being the garment of educated women, and even in its sexier quote unquote 1930s form as an emblem of women who are proud of their bodies shape, and cross cultural origins and how that’s turned it into a garment that represents Western fetishization of women. In particular, she wanted to emphasize that last part about fetishization in the wake of the Atlanta shootings. Cindy says, “I love that people are trying to reclaim the garment, and that it can be used by the Diaspora to acknowledge their heritage, even if only at weddings.” And like Eileen, she also felt strongly about making sure she was at her wedding. And what about you Ada, how do you feel connected or not to qipao?

Ada: Oh that’s a good question. For me, I’m in wedding planning. So I’m not sure to be honest, if I’m going to wear a qipao at my wedding. I have friends who have done their own spins on it like wearing a fitted red dress at the end of the night. And still some other friends who have come out and said specifically that they want to use their wedding as an opportunity or occasion to get one custom made and wear it you know.

Since I’m still planning and trust me outfits are a huge part of that, I don’t know. But to be honest, I never pictured myself getting married and wearing a qipao during any part of the wedding. I think part of that might be because all of the photos that I’ve seen from my parents wedding, and my older cousins’ weddings and even in the family and family friends’ weddings that I attended growing up. All of the brides wore like a white Western style gown for most of the night, and I can’t remember anyone wearing a qipao but other than that I do have distinct memories of wearing like a pink gingham modern kind of qipao style cotton dress that I’m pretty sure we bought from NET in Taiwan, aka the Gap of Asia when I was somewhere in elementary school. 

I loved that dress, like I say qipao style because it wasn’t fitted. We were in elementary school, but it was more of like a straight style like sheath dress with the qipao elements at the top. So we had the neck line, and the buttons and my sister and I had matching ones and at the time, right, so cute. I didn’t think of the significance of it at all or feel like it was allowing me to reclaim anything like I think I was eight or nine, maybe 10. But now that I reflect back on it, some of that affinity I think for the dress might have been cultural pride, right. 

Obviously, I outgrew that dress a long time ago. But I do currently own one qipao in my closet. It is white, sleeveless, and kind of like a light, double gauzey cotton. It was my mom’s and I think I grabbed it from her closet a while ago. I don’t know if she knows I have it. It doesn’t fit her but it barely fits me. So truthfully, I haven’t really worn it out. Because I don’t really want racist comments when I’m walking around in it, or running errands or doing whatever in it. Like I would love to wear it. But I just don’t want to get the comments while I’m about my day. But I do think about it a lot and think about like, when could I wear it. Also, white has a different cultural significance in terms of colors. So there’s like very few occasions, I think where it would be appropriate to bring that garment out. So it’s more of like an everyday kind of dress. And I guess I didn’t realize how many thoughts or feelings I had about this particular garment until we were prepping for this episode. And I think there’s still so much to talk about. 

Nicole: Yeah, well, thanks for sharing your thoughts Ada, and also Cindy and Eileen. I’m always blown away by how much we’re hanging on this podcast leads to this incredible intersection. Like we don’t I don’t know, we thought we’re gonna talk about sewing. But now you know, we talk about our feelings and our connection to our culture, which I guess was going to be part of the podcast all along. But so again, plenty of photos and links to resources and articles in our show notes. We always say go there. I mean, like definitely go there. This time. And if you’d like to share your experience with qipao or cheongsam, we’d love to hear from you on Instagram or via email.

Ada: Thank you so much for joining us on this week’s episode of the Asian Sewist Collective podcast. Next week we will be talking to Ella Clausen of Handmade Millennial about her adventures and making natural dyeing and her own DIY wedding. 

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Nicole: This episode is brought to you by your hosts Ada Chen and Nicole Angeline. This episode was researched by Cindy Chan, produced by Eileen Leung and edited by Henry Wong. Thank you so much to the other members of our Collective who made this week’s episode a reality. This is the Asian Sewist Collective podcast and we’ll see you next week.