The cheongsam (or qipao) originated nearly a century ago in Shanghai as a modern take on the Manchu dress, and remains one of the most iconic pieces of Chinese fashion. If you're getting married and looking to honor your own or fiancé's Chinese heritage, then a cheongsam wedding dress can be the perfect addition to your special day.
Here’s what the modern bride needs to know about wearing a cheongsam on your wedding day and how to choose one that will have all eyes on you as you walk down the aisle:
What’s the difference between qipao and cheongsam?
Before we dive into the different cheongsam wedding styles, it’s helpful to clarify the difference between cheongsam from the qipao. The term “cheongsam” originated in the south while "qipao" is primarily used in the north. It’s largely a linguistic difference, with cheongsam representing the English version of the Cantonese cheuhngsaam, which literally means long dress. Both describe the traditional Chinese one- or two-piece form-fitting dresses made of fine silk and feature a mandarin collar.
Qipao pronunciation: CHEE-Pao
Cheongsam pronunciation: CHI-Eng-Sum
Should you wear a cheongsam at your wedding?
Many modern Chinese brides choose to wear a cheongsam for at least part of their wedding. If you have the flexibility of changing into different outfits throughout your wedding festivities, then wearing a cheongsam is a gorgeous way to add a little Chinese flair to your bridal look. It’s not uncommon to see a modern bride walk down the aisle in a white wedding dress, then appear at the reception in a red cheongsam.
The classic dress also provides practical aspects for the bride. Though form-fitting, it’s comfortable to wear and makes it easy to dance, walk, and kneel (perfect if you’re having a traditional tea ceremony).
Which cheongsam style is right for me?
Like all fashion, the dress has evolved over time, though it retains some of its most precious elements like the mandarin collar, pankou knots (also known as frog closures or Chinese knots), and side slits. Today’s cheongsam offers more variety and fabric options than it did nearly a century ago, giving brides more flexibility to find a style that’s right for them.
Modern Mermaid Styles
Mermaid-style dresses are popular in Western weddings and blend the best of both cultures. Bespoke cheongsams like our Maxine or Emma combines the traditional mandarin collar and form-fitting top with a flowing skirt for a freeing update on the classic silhouette.
Traditional Cheongsam Styles (Sheath Silhouettes)
If you’re a fan of tradition, a sheath dress like the Gemma or Melinda offers the same look and feel you would have seen on the streets of Hong Kong in the 1950s. Its beautiful brocade fabric and classic silhouette are striking and familiar, giving off an elegant vibe. Make it your own by customizing it with your preferred fabric pattern.
If you’re a fan of the details like the Mandarin collar and accentuating fit, but aren’t ready to commit to full tradition, consider a semi-traditional style. The Amelia offers a similar upper structure, but with softer details like lace, no sleeves, and a looser A-line skirt. The Jade cheongsam carries on the collar and pankou knot motif with its jade buttons, but ends in a train befitting the elegant bride.
Some Cheongsam dresses like the Nora cheongsam dress ditch the mandarin collar altogether in favor of strapless, which is a popular option for western bridal dresses. The Vera dress also trades the traditional cap sleeves in favor of a sleeveless style.
It’s not mandatory to choose a cheongsam for your wedding attire, but you might find it a desirable option because of its comfort, practicality, and tradition. It’s a great way to celebrate your or your fiance’s Chinese heritage at your Chinese-American wedding or tea ceremony.
Want more cheongsam recommendations?
Take our Style Quiz to get our personal cheongsam recommendations based on your preferences.
In the mood for more?
- Get inspired by these 50 gorgeous cheongsam designs.
- Learn about the 5 traditional elements of a qipao.
- Check out 30 gorgeous details for a cheongsam for more inspiration.