July 11, 2012 — Cheongsam Dreams

Li Ling-Ai, the Chi­nese Amer­i­can author who lured me into FINDING KUKAN, was known for always wear­ing a tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese dress known as a cheongsam (or qipao in Man­darin).

Photo of Li Ling-Ai in jade green cheongsam circa 1941

Li Ling-Ai in jade green cheongsam cir­ca 1941

I did­n’t always have an appre­ci­a­tion for the style since I asso­ci­at­ed it with my elder­ly grand­moth­er who lived with us when I was a teenag­er in the 70s.  Her old-fash­ioned Chi­nese ways and insis­tence on wear­ing a Chi­nese dress every­where was a cause of angst and embar­rass­ment to me at a time when appear­ing too eth­nic or Asian was just not the cool thing to do.

Photo of Polly Ching

My grand­moth­er Pol­ly Ching in front of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty in the 1960s

But my atti­tude has changed over the years along with the fash­ions.  All the rage in the 20’s and 30’s when Chi­nese women were express­ing new­found free­doms, the cheongsam was banned in main­land Chi­na dur­ing the Mao era and lat­er con­sid­ered too old-fash­ioned by Chi­nese women who were going for more mod­ern West­ern looks in the 70s and 80s. Accord­ing to this excel­lent arti­cle by Babette Rad­clyffe-Thomas, sexy Chi­nese movies like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE have recent­ly inspired a nos­tal­gia for the cheongsam.

movie still from IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE

One of the exquis­ite cheongsams fash­ioned for Mag­gie Che­ung by IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE art direc­tor William Chang

Madon­na, Nicole Kid­man and Kel­ly Pre­ston have all been caught wear­ing the style to glam­orous effect at red car­pet events.

photo of Nicole Kidman in cheongsam

Nicole Kid­man takes on the cheongsam

To hon­or Li LIng-Ai and the revival of the cheongsam (and also divert myself from writ­ing grant appli­ca­tions), I’ve been col­lect­ing cheongsam pho­tos on my Pin­ter­est board.  Here are some of my favorites.
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— Check your ID and board name.

Have a favorite cheongsam of your own?  Post in the com­ments or send me a link to your pin and I’ll put it on my board.

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