Ladies wearing traditional Hong Kong qipao dresses. By the end of the Qing dynasty in the early twentieth century, women in Hong Kong signaled their urban modernity by accessorizing traditional clothing with Western makeup, hairstyles, stockings, and high-heeled shoes.

Although traditional Qing dynasty clothing such as the changshan (long gown) is rarely seen outside of ceremonial occasions, the more recent cheung sam (long dress) continues to be worn in Hong Kong. Made of silk, cotton, or, recently, rayon, the cheung sam is still the uniform for many Hong Kong school-girls and is worn on a daily basis by many older women.

In Hong Kong, a remote and unimportant regional province during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) men wore a silk or cotton changshan (long gown), which fastened with buttons and loops on the right side, with a stand collar. Garments for winter were wadded or lined with fur. Women wore the ao, which was a knee-length changshan-like dress, and a full-length, paneled skirt with side pleats or godets (insets of cloth placed in a seam to give fullness) to allow movement. Later the embroidered part of the skirt below the ao was plain black or another dark color. Ku, which were loose, baggy trousers, were worn under the ao and continued to be worn without the skirt by female workers. Middle- and upper-class women’s accessories included an embroidered headband that hid the plucked forehead, bound-foot shoes, and ankle covers. The changshan and women’s qun gua (skirt and jacket) and dajinshan (blouse with large lapels fastened with buttons and loops) became ceremonial dress during the twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s heavily embroidered versions were fashionable when shops sold or rented the changshan magua (long gowns and short jackets) for men and qun gua (gua, red, front-opening jacket; qun, long, black skirt) for women. Red jackets embroidered with longfeng (dragon-and-phoenix motif), flowers, mandarin ducks, and plants later became popular bridal dresses with zisundai (offspring bands), two decorative sashes embroidered at the center of the lapel.

After the Qing Dynasty

After the Qing dynasty the qipao or cheung sam (long dress or Manchu gown) and magua (horse jacket), originally a man’s short jacket, were worn. The slim-fitting jacket had tight-fitting sleeves, side slits, and a high collar. The cheung sam became tailored using bias-cut fabric molded to shape and darts for a closer fit, with a right-front-fastening, glue-stiffened, contrasting satin binding. The cheung sam, signifying urban modernity, was accessorized with Western makeup, hairstyles, stockings, and high-heeled shoes. Girls who wore tight-fitting cheung sam in advertisements and prewar Shanghai linked the cheung sam with fashion, overseas Chinese, and Hong Kong, where it was popular. The cheung sam, a symbol of Chinese decadence after the Communist revolution (1949) and banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), became tighter and shorter, reflecting both Western fashion from the 1940s through the 1960s and Chinese uniformity. The cheung sam was universally worn, its tightness varying depending on the wearer’s position in society, modestly concealing the arms, neck, and legs. Variations included sleeveless cheung sam; shoulder pads; zippers set in the side slits, which were lowered en route to work and raised in a club or bar; full-length for evening wear and shorter for everyday use. Fabrics included rayon brocade, silks, and printed cottons. The cheung sam continues to be worn today as a dress-up item by actresses and some local people at Chinese New Year. A few older women wear the cheung sam on a daily basis, and many wear it on special occasions. A plain, woven-cotton cheung sam is the much-disliked uniform of some girls’ schools in Hong Kong.

The loops and buttons used to close garments were made from bias-cut strips of glue-stiffened satin reinforced with an iron wire: huaniu for women’s wear and luosiniu for men’s wear. They were featured in one, two, or three colors matched to the garment and its trimmings. Patterns included birds, fish, flowers, or insects, symbolizing Chinese characters with auspicious meanings, and reflected the tailor’s taste. Each huaniu comprised the male knotted end (gong) and the female eye (na). The same-sized huaniu are used on women’s gowns, whereas men’s gowns have a larger gong and a smaller na stitched near the shoulder.

Bound-Foot Shoes

Bound-foot shoes were usually made by the wearers: Wealthy bound-foot women were common at one time but are now uncommon in Hong Kong. Having learned to embroider, women learned to make shoes at age eleven or twelve. They embroidered the cutout parts of the shoe before assembly. The sole was made from bamboo culm, washed, straightened, bound with layers of cloth, and stitched together with a thin linen rope. Winter shoes were lined with cotton wool. Heels were made from lychee tree wood or carved pomegranate or wrapped in fabric. These were self-made or bought from vendors of wool and string. Fake bound-foot shoes, designed so that a viewer at first glance would mistake the heel for the ankle, were worn by women who wished to look as though they had bound feet.

Minority Peoples

The Hoklo people of Hokkien or Fujian origin wear traditional clothing for festive occasions: Whereas everyday clothing is dark, festive clothing is bright. Children’s garments and accessories, such as baby carriers, are decorated with beads, bells, decorative trims, and embroidery, and boys’ hats are made in animal shapes to confuse evil spirits. Cotton waist purses are appliquéd with bright thread. The Tanka, Hong Kong fishing people, also make brightly colored items, including baby carriers. Hakka women wove hemp during the early part of the twentieth century, making narrow braids, huadai, on waist looms. These formed straps to keep in place their liangmao—a blue or black cloth, fringed, flat, circular, bamboo brimmed hat. Hemp, handspun on a bamboo pole, was woven to make blouses and dyed by boiling yam and dyer’s weed or in Kowloon’s commercial dyehouses.

Contemporary Revival

Contemporary fashion designers and design students looking for new ways to wear old fashions regularly revive the cheung sam. Occasionally international fashion adopts the cheung sam, most recently in 1997, when the collection of Christian Dior included versions. New York designer Vivienne Tam, who is popular in Hong Kong, has made the most successful use of ethnic dress. Reappropriation via New York seems to be a crucial element in her success.

Decline of Ethnic Clothing

Women still wear a simplified phoenix-and-dragon robe at many weddings, but a strapless version of the Western white wedding dress—with a padded bust, tight waist, and hooped skirt—has replaced the red wedding dress, although a red evening dress (one of five changes of dress) is worn at a reception. Generally among Cantonese and minority peoples in Hong Kong the use of ethnic clothing has declined.

Further Reading

Clark, H. (1999). The cheung sam: Issues of fashion and cultural identity. In V. Steele & J. S. Major (Eds.), China chic: East meets west (pp. 155–166). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press

Clark, H. (2000). The cheongsam. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Garrett, V. M. (1994). Chinese clothing: An illustrated guide. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

Szeto, N. (1996). Of hearts and hands: Hong Kong’s traditional trades and crafts. Hong Kong, China: Urban Council of Hong Kong.

Source: Wilson Trower, Valerie. (2009). Clothing, Traditional—Hong Kong. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 443–446. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Traditional Hong Kong wedding clothes, an important element of the ceremony as well as the reception. According to gossip posted in February 2009 on the Internet forum Asian Fanatics, Hong Kong superstar Gigi Leung will wear the traditional red wedding dress when she gets married.

A traditional wedding crown and collar, worn by Hong Kong brides. Contemporary women still don traditional styles at many weddings, but strapless versions of the Western white wedding dress—with a padded bust, tight waist, and hoop skirt—are becoming more common.

Clothing, Traditional—Hong Kong (Xi?ngg?ng de chuánt?ng fúzhu?ng ???????)|Xi?ngg?ng de chuánt?ng fúzhu?ng ??????? (Clothing, Traditional—Hong Kong)

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