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Qipao chic

By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)

09:52, July 18, 2012

Shanghai Cheongsam Salon members show off their qipao on Nanjing Road, Shanghai. Provided to China Daily

There's nothing more elegant or fashionable than a qipao, and while they are not as popular as they used to be they still have their dedicated followers. Tiffany Tan finds out why in Shanghai and Beijing.

Women unwinding on a weekend usually dress in jeans, shorts or a skirt and a T-shirt. Not Zhao Jing. The 27-year-old from Beijing dons a qipao to visit a park, drop by the supermarket or make tea at home. The figure-hugging traditional dress, with its distinctive mandarin collar and slit skirt, puts Zhao in an indulgent state of mind.

"In this kind of city, you work like crazy every day," says the Anhui province native, who is account and venue manager at a Beijing cultural exchange center. "When you're wearing a qipao, you feel like you don't need to hurry back home to cook or do other chores. You just enjoy the moment and relax."

Zhao began to regularly wear the dress - known as "cheongsam" in Cantonese-derived English - back in college, about 10 years ago. She now has six dresses in her collection.

Wang Weiyu, on the other hand, has almost nine times as many.

For the past five years, the traditional dress has become everyday wear for the Shanghai retiree, who conducts etiquette classes in local communities.

Among her 52 qipao, she has one with a slit at the back, instead of at the sides, made especially for cycling. She has cotton and linen qipao for running errands, woolen versions for winter and luxurious silk numbers for formal occasions.

She has the dress in solid colors, plaids, stripes, polka dots, tiny and bold floral patterns, traditional prints, lace, as well as embroidered and hand-painted designs. And of course, there are her denim pieces, which provide some insight into why she has become a major qipao advocate.

"Denim qipao are innovative and can attract the interest of young people," Wang, 63, says one rainy summer afternoon in her home in the southwestern suburbs of Shanghai.

"You are Chinese and have your own heritage. You cannot forget your traditional, ethnic culture Even if you're wearing international brand names from head to toe, your hair has been dyed blond and your eyes are colored blue, you're still Chinese. This cannot be changed."

In 2007, Wang established the Shanghai Cheongsam Salon to promote qipao use. The group's activities include an annual assembly, talks and trips around China and overseas - with all members decked out in their traditional attire, of course.

From an initial 40 women, the group's numbers have since grown tenfold. (The average age of members is 55, only 5 percent of the group is 30 years old and younger.)

Many of the members come from Shanghai and its neighboring cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou. Lately, Wang says, there has also been interest from women in northern cities like Beijing, Harbin and Xi'an, as well as southern cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

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