In the 1920s. Shanghai’s women fashion gradually adopted a gorgeous style, mainly featuring the Qi Pao or cheongsam. which can easily display a woman’s figure. The cheongsam is fit for Chinese women with a slim figure, as Shanghai women are especially slim, and the Shanghai-style cheongsam became the leading feature of Shanghai’s fashion culture in the 1930s.
Originally the cheongsam was a kind of broad-sleeved and baggy robe worn by Manchurian women. This style went on for about 300 years without any change. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that the cheongsam began to be popular among people all over the country, due to the influence of Occidental fashion, which changed the cheongsam’s style in ways such as reducing the length and tightening the waistline.
The style of the cheongsam in the 1930s, absorbing the peculiarity of the western dress into the traditional Chinese dress, became a combination of Chinese and Western dresses,
which brought forth new ideas and changed continuously, led by Shanghai.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Chinese modern fashion reached its peak, with the 1930s, in particular, being the gorgeous pinnacle. At that time, the cheongsam became the representative and typical attire. Overnight, the cheongsam, formed in the Shanghai style that is modern in touch and Chinese in feel, came into fashion all over the country and even the world.
Influenced by the Occidental fashion, the cheongsam became more slender, slinky, and skintight so as to match the delicate and lively figure of the Shanghai women in the 1930s. The cheongsam of that time had two traits: combining Chinese with Western-style and varying a lot.
Elegant ladies, including movie stars and noblewomen, had many different ways to wear the cheongsam: a partial Western style with a matching coat. A partial Western-style meant collars and sleeves were tailored according to the western-style fashion’s craft such as the lapel, lotus-leaf-like sleeves, flouncing lap, and so on.
Neatness was a new trend of the cheongsam in the 1940s, reflected most progressively in summer when the cheongsam generally was sleeveless, shorter in both length and collar height, and not over-laden with decorations, which made it lighter and more suitable for the body.
At the same time, the slender cheongsam, with a woman’s marcel silk stockings, high-heeled shoes, necklaces, earrings, and handbags, was the most fashionable attire for women. Later, a kind of improved cheongsam with western tailoring craft developed, which made the cheongsam more fitted and applicable. The cheongsam, then, turned into a Chinese national dress with a unique style.
It can be said that without modern Shanghai’s opening to the world or the combination of the Chinese and Occidental cultures, there would be neither the Western-style cheongsam nor the Shanghai-style cheongsam.