The cheongsam, the traditional costume of Chinese and Chinese women worldwide, is known as the national treasure of China and the national costume of women. It is one of the most splendid phenomena and forms of China’s long-standing dress culture. Formed in the 1920s, some scholars believe that the origin of the cheongsam can be traced back to the deep garments of the pre-Qin and Han dynasties, becoming the most common women’s clothing after the 1920s in the Republic of China. The 1930s and 1940s were the golden age of cheongsam development, with many varied styles. In the 1980s, the cheongsam displayed feminine beauty with its versatility and interpreted a distinctive oriental style worldwide, whether on the international fashion stage or in everyday work and life.
In 1984, the State Council designated the cheongsam as the dress for female diplomats. From the 1990 Beijing Asian Games onwards, the cheongsam was chosen as the ceremonial dress for the Olympic Games, Asian Games and international conferences and expositions held in China. In November 2014, the Chinese government decided on the cheongsam as the dress for the wives of the leaders of the participating countries at the 22nd APEC Conference held in Beijing.
The appearance of the cheongsam generally requires all or part of the following features: right overlapping lapels with large or half lapels, standing collar with panelled buttons, slits on the side of the hem, and a single piece of material, flat cutting of the body with sleeves, etc. The traditional cheongsam is a straight line up and down, plus a high stiff collar. Later, the waist of the gown began to shrink over time, revealing the curves of the female figure. The collar, which towered above the ears, gradually became shorter, and there were also collarless cheongsams. In modern times, the cheongsam has entered the era of three-dimensional modelling. With the emergence of a local channel on the piece, a more fitted waist and western-style sleeves, the length of the cheongsam, the sleeve length is greatly shortened, and the core is also more fitted.
The cheongsam’s bodice has various styles, including single, double, diagonal, straight, curved, pipa, medium-length, and Ruyi bodice. The cheongsam collar has a Yuan Bao collar, round collar, square collar, low collar, phoenix collar, etc., and a teardrop collar, V-neck, even stand-up collar and other styles. The hemline of the cheongsam has a wide hem, straight hem, A-line hem, dress hem, fishtail hem, short front and long back, jagged hem, etc. The hemline change is closely related to the shift in the waist of the cheongsam. As the core of the cheongsam becomes narrower, the hemline also becomes flatter.
The cheongsam has evolved over the centuries, and as people’s lifestyles and aesthetic sensibilities have changed, it has taken on a dizzying array of styles. The common large red cheongsam, with its gorgeous, eye-catching colours and chic style, fully demonstrates the long history and culture of the Chinese nation, focusing on the subtle and elegant charm of the Asian woman. A common modern cheongsam is brocade satin with traditional Chinese motifs such as double fish, rich flowers and plum blossom, and hand-painted cheongsams designed with floral motifs depicted in Chinese ink painting techniques. The cheongsam is a traditional fashion for Chinese women that emerged in modern times, rather than a formal conventional national costume. It has a history of change and a new era.