You know you want to wear a modern qipao for your wedding or tea ceremony, but what actually makes a dress a qipao (cheongsam)? These 5 key parts of a qipao will hopefully inspire you to create something new that honors your heritage while also staying true to your style.
Don’t be afraid to pick and choose which elements you want in your own dress! That’s the fun of being Asian-American. :)
1: Material of the qipao
Qipaos can be made of many different materials, but the traditional ones are typically made of silk fabric decorated with embroidery on top. Often, brides will select embroidery that features a phoenix and/or dragon for their wedding qipao. In Chinese culture, the dragon and phoenix together symbolize good luck and a harmonious marriage.
2: Color of the qipao
Chinese wedding dress colors matter. While there is no one color specifically associated with qipaos, for Chinese weddings, red is the way to go.
Red in Chinese culture symbolizes everything you could ever want - good luck, happiness, and joy. That’s why the envelopes you get for Chinese New Year are also red. Brides, therefore, also typically choose red for their Chinese wedding dress for good fortune.
One great way to add some additional color to your modern qipao is to use a different color for the trim around the collar, sleeves, and pankou knots (frog buttons). Here is an example of a red qipao with gold trim.
You can also incorporate a different color accent or florals into your cheongsam pattern fabric. Gold, white, blue, purple, and pink are all popular secondary qipao colors.
3: Mandarin collar
The most iconic part of any qipao. The mandarin collar was popularized after the Manchurians overthrew China’s current ruling dynasty to form the Qing Dynasty in the 17th century. The collar was one of the traditional features of the Manchu gowns.
It is an unfolded, upright collar that goes around the neck and typically is two to five centimeters in height. For comfort, most are around 3-4cm.
4: Pankou Knots
Pankou is the Chinese name for the traditional knotted buttons or frog buttons used on qipaos. They are also often called frog fasteners. Traditionally, they come in various animal and floral designs and are made of silk or satin wrapped around a stiffening material such as copper to help hold its shape.
With pankou knots, you can go as ornate as you want!
The simplest version is the straight pankou knots. They involve a simple knotted button with a loop fastener.
On the other side of the spectrum, you can go with more intricate and complex floral pankou knots for your qipao.
A popular favorite for Chinese wedding qipaos is to go with the phoenix tail pankou knots, as the phoenix traditionally represents the bride and is a popular Chinese wedding symbol.
5: Diagonal Top
The top front part of a qipao traditionally includes a diagonally shaped chest area, enclosed by a series of pankou knots.
The diagonal typically starts from the base of the collar in the center to just underneath the right armpit. There are many variations to this front however; some are straight diagonals, others are double-sided diagonals, and some even go all the way down to the waist.
Nowadays, the qipao has evolved into an iconic piece of fashion that's part of Chinese culture. While there are specific elements of a dress that make it a qipao dress, you now have many options for how you can customize your cheongsam to fit your modern aesthetics.
For more ideas and ways that you can customize your qipao, check out our post here about 30 gorgeous qipao details you can add to your Chinese wedding dress.
Let us know what elements you will be including in your Chinese wedding dress!
Want to consult with an expert stylist?
Take our Style Quiz to get our personal cheongsam recommendations based on your preferences.
In the mood for more?
- See how our bride rocked her white wedding cheongsam.
- Check out 50 Of The Most Beautiful Modern Cheongsams Designs
- Shop our collection of modern wedding qipaos.