What is a qipao?

A qipao is a traditional Chinese dress. You may have also heard a qipao called a cheongsam. Both are correct, but I say qipao because I know how to pronounce it. (Say: chee-pow.)

A qipao:

Is Chinese
Is made of brocade
Comes in many colors
Has a Mandarin collar -- a special collar that fits like a band collar, but splits and meets in the middle
Is between shirt length and floor length (longer = fancier)
Have a split at the side

A qipao is NOT:

Japanese (you're thinking of a kimono, which is totally different)
Edged with piping (why, American Girl, why?)
Just red
Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese ... get my point?

Some history: under the Han dynasty, people dressed a certain way referred to as hanfu. You probably remember seeing this style of dress in the movie Mulan. However, after the conquest of the Manchus and the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in the 1600s, all Han people were forced to wear the new style of dress, also known as a qipao.

Originally, the qipao was a very baggy dress. However, around the 1800s, women started figuring out that the qipao looked much better when it was tight fitting! Modern qipao are supposed to hug the body.

After the Cultural Revolution in the mid 20th century, most Chinese people wore what Western people wore -- shirts, pants, skirts, so on. Ivy was born far after the Cultural Revoluiton and she lived in America, so she probably only wore a qipao on super special Chinese holidays. Likely, she only wore hers on her family's Chinese New Year get together, and the Autumn Moon festival (if that, even).

I wear a shirt-length qipao when I go play with my Chinese orchestra. (It's my uniform, we all wear one.) Even if mine is shirt length, it's got some detailing to it that makes it extra fancy. Here are some pictures you can use for reference when you sew your own qipao:

Full length shot. Mine is blue and silver.

Qipaos can have no sleeves, cap sleeves, or longer bell sleeves. My sleeves are 3/4 to make it easier to play my instruments -- otherwise all the sleeve would get in the way!

Here's a shot of the middle of my uniform. My qipao wraps over itself and fastens on the side with frogs, or special silk cord fasteners. Mine fastens on my right, but the maker could have made it fasten on the left if they wanted to.

A close up of a lot of things -- the mandarin collar, the frogs, and the trim. The trim is optional on a qipao, and most don't have the woven ribbon or rick rack. Most of them don't have the pearl beads in the frogs, either. By the way, see the clothing tag? This outfit was made in China. The washing directions are in Chinese, and when I got the outfit, I found my measurements written in Chinese and pinned to the inside!

My qipao unwrapped. It's lined with plain lining. Actually, it's probably one of the most comfortable things I own, and I'd wear it everywhere if I wouldn't look like a culturally insensitive jerk.

Now, just for the fun of it, let's look at a few Chinese costumes American Girl has made. First of all:

It doesn't wrap around, and it doesn't have frogs. Well, it's made of brocade, though, and it's got a Mandarin collar, so it's not the WORST ever. Honestly, I think AG made this dress this way because frogs are hard enough to fasten for adults, much less kids. Whatever, you can sew better.

Actually, this outfit is perfectly accuarate. For a boy. Really! That's a guy's shirt there (see how it fastens in the middle and doesn't wrap?), and a guy's shirt goes with guy's pants. So, uh. Yes, if you just feel like cross dressing, then go for it.

You know, I'd call this the closest. Even if it's fake frogs on a dress that fake wraps around, it's still better than that Ivy ... thing. And hey, it's for a girl!