Pull a cheongsam over your head, and you are instantly transported to 1930s’ Shanghai or 1960s’ Hong Kong, à la Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Glamorous.
While shopping for cheongsams may be seen as an activity best left for tourists, rocking a cheongsam can be done tastefully whether you’re a local or not – as long as you go to the right place to outfit you.
First, a lesson in history. While “cheongsam” in Chinese could be used to refer to both female and male traditional attire, “qipao” bears a similar meaning but only refers to the female version. Apart from this, the two words have different linguistic origins as the former was translated from Cantonese, “長衫”, which mean “long robe”, while the latter was originated from Mandarin, “旗袍”, which means “banner dress”.
Originally, the qipao was a loose-fitting dress worn by Manchus in the feudal Qing Dynasty, while cheongsam became common womenswear in Shanghai. It later had a feminist reincarnation as women took to wearing long robes – which was previously a man’s article of clothing – after the Qing government was overthrown.
Despite their differing roots, the terms cheongsam and qipao are now generally interchangeable, both referring to the curve-accenting, body-hugging Chinese one-piece dress with side slits. The modern, tweaked cheongsams have become shorter and tighter, thus accentuating the feminine silhouette while maintaining a touch of mystique.
Though the heyday of the cheongsam may be long past, Hong Kong tailors have kept the tradition and their techniques alive, allowing the contemporary sartorialist to relive the old days’ glam and chic. From cheongsam shops with made-to-measure and even bespoke design services, to off-the-rack budget options, these nine places in Hong Kong are the ones you should visit if you are in the mood for cheongsams.
Yi-ming is an up-and-coming fashion label founded in 2011 by the young model-turned-designer Grace Choi, who is greatly influenced by Western haute couture. With avant-garde designs that have incorporated Western high fashion elements, Yi-ming’s qipaos appeal to the younger generations for its stylish reinterpretation of the traditional garment. Aiming for a global clientele, Yi-ming has built a well-developed online shop doing international shipping, as well as using foreign models along with Asian models in their lookbook. Catalogues for all products with detail and pricing are available in their website. All cheongsams are ready-made, including a line specialized for kids. A reminder for my fellow online shoppers: be prepared that you might have to bring the cheongsam to a tailor and have it altered yourself, in case it doesn’t fit you perfectly.
Changed address from Flat A, 8/F, Kimley Commercial Building, 142 Queen’s Road Central
50A Tung St, Sheung Wan
+852 3111 2268
If you’ve ever wondered who made the beautiful costumes for Maggie Cheung in In the Mood for Love, now you know: Linva Tailor’s founder and master tailor, Leung Ching-wah, was one of them. Having taken up a five-year-apprenticeship at the age of 12, Leung hasn’t once thought of retiring after running the shop for half a century. Unlike some brands, Linva Tailor makes sure its cheongsams remain traditional and authentic without altering them too much to fit the modern aesthetic.
“There’s no point in making a cheongsam if it’s not made in the most traditional way, no point in making it if it’s not beautiful,” Leung said in an interview with the SCMP last year. It takes about two months for a made-to-measure, bespoke cheongsam. Clients have to go to a fitting at least twice, once after deciding on the details such as fabric, collar type, cutting, hem and sleeve length, split length, flower buttons on the placket, and so on; and again for final adjustments before the tailor starts sewing the bindings and buttons. Ready-made cheongsams with alteration services are also provided for customers who don’t have as much time.
G/F, 38 Cochrane Street, Central
+852 2544 2456
Mon-Sat, 9:30am-6pm; closed on Sun and public holidays
With a name referring to the famous Shanghai riverfront promenade which has been the city’s iconic landmark since the 30s, Shanghai Tang is a luxury Chinese label founded in 1994 in Hong Kong. In just over two decades, the brand has grown from one boutique Pedder Street to a network of 48 stores worldwide, including seven in Hong Kong. Greatly influenced by chinoiserie, Shanghai Tang aims to repackage the traditional Chinese garment with a modern touch by East-meets-West designs, and its cheongsams appeal to customers from either hemisphere. Leaning on the pricy side, its qipaos range from ready-to-wear collections to the made-to-measure ones provided by its Imperial Tailoring wing.
Shanghai Tang Mansion, 1 Duddell Street, Central
+852 2525 7333
Shop 105B, Pacific Place 88, Queensway, Admiralty
+852 2918 1505
House 1, 2A Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
+852 2368 2932
Shop 1022, Level 1, Elements, 1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui
+852 2196 8200
1812, Horizon Plaza, 2 Lee Wing Street, Ap Lei Chau
+852 2798 5318
Departures East Hall, 7/F, Shop 7, Hong Kong International Airport, Terminal 1, Chek Lap Kok, Lantau Island
+852 2261 0606
Shop 203, 2/F, Citygate Outlets 20 Tat Tung Road Tung Chung, Lantau
+852 2217 7011
Also marketed as a high-end brand that sells exquisite qipaos with a contemporary Western flair, Blanc de Chine might not be as widely known as Shanghai Tang but it was actually founded one year before, in 1993. The two brands even shared the same address, with Shanghai Tang’s boutique located directly under Blanc de Chine, until the latter moved to the Landmark in 2006. Its cheongsams have been seen on Chinese celebrities including Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh, Loletta Chu and Karen Mok.
A French term referring to the highly coveted Chinese white porcelain, Blanc de Chine was named to remind people that products from China used to stand for good quality and taste and were looked highly upon by foreigners. The label aims to revitalize the authentic skills and craftsmanship used in making traditional cheongsams. With discreet designs mainly using a pared-down color palette, its cheongsams convey a sense of understated elegance, holding itself at the upper echelon of the industry.
Shop 122-123, 1/F, Landmark, Prince’s Building, Central
+852 2104 7934
Mon-Sat, 10:30am-7:30pm; Sun and public holidays, 12pm-6pm
With just a few years shy of a hundred years’ history, Mei Wah Fashion is Hong Kong’s oldest and first-ever cheongsam shop. It was founded in the 20s by the Kan family and has been run by the following two generations. At the age of 65, Kan Hong Wing, the owner of Mei Wah Fashion as well as one of the last qipao tailors in Hong Kong, has been sticking to the principle of making cheongsams using the most traditional and authentic methods. Having helped his father run Mei Wah Fashion since he was 18, Leung claims his passion towards tailoring began when he was just a few years old. Leung believes it is very important to make cheongsams that are customized and personalized for each customer, so that every wearer can show off her best features — and downplay the features she doesn’t want to highlight.
6 Queen’s Road West, Sheung Wan
+852 2543 6889
Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm; closed on Sun and public holidays
Located inside PMQ, Classics Anew was established two years ago by local designer Janko Lam, who was the winner of the 1011 2EcoChic Design Award. In the competition, Lam used almost the least expected fabric in making her cheongsams – leftover rough denim from garment factories. But the novel use of material turned out surprisingly well to judges’ delight, expanding the possibilities of cheongsam-making. After winning the competition, for which she got to intern for top sustainable fashion brand From Somewhere in London, Lam also collaborated with Esprit for the brand’s first collection using recycled textiles. To top her impressive CV off, she’s also had her work included in one of the permanent collections in the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. This promising young designer has even started a regular cheongsam workshop in PMQ to not only promote sustainable fashion, but to pass on traditional tailoring skills to the next generations as well.
H407, PMQ, 35 Aberdeen Street, Central
+852 5630 7235
This hidden gem in Sham Shui Po was opened by dressmaker Henry Tsang in 2016, which is quite fitting given that the area at one time used to be known for its vibrant fabric market. Although he prefers the classic design, his qipaos stand out because they’re normally made of more accessible materials like cotton over silk and nylon, and also feature bold patterns and designs that range from colorful flowers to comic book characters. Seriously — who doesn’t want a Snoopy qipao?
G/F No 177 Ki Lung Street, Sham Shui Po
+852 6011 0162
Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm; Sun and public holidays by appointment only
If the price of a tailor-made or off-the-rack cheongsam is causing you to break into a sweat, there are options to rent. One of these options includes Ming Ming, where you can both rent and buy a qipao. Rental prices range from HK$380 for one day to HK$1,000 for three days, which is perfect for those events where you know you’re only going to wear that dress once. Ming Ming also offers a photography service where you can have a photoshoot around Hong Kong wearing the qipao or cheongsam for those of you who want to up your Instagram game. The range of qipaos on show are similar to what you imagine the women of 1930s Shanghai wearing, and there’s a lot of floral prints, which is perfect for those looking for a more classic and timeless look. If you’re looking for something that’s a bit quirky, bold, and not floral you might find the range here a bit limited. Otherwise, Ming Ming is a good option for those of you who want to look elegant without breaking the bank. Rental dresses are available at their Tsim Sha Tsui store, while dresses for purchase are available in nearby Jordan.
1A, 41-CD, Granville House, Granville Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon and Yue Hwa, 301-303 Nathan Road, Jordan, Kowloon
+852 9561 8397 (TST) or +852 3511 2222 (Jordan)
Mon-Sun, 9:30am-8pm (TST); Mon-Sun, 10am-10pm (Jordan)
Yan Shang Kee allows customers to rent qipaos and cheongsams for the day in the same way people can rent a kimono or hanbok when they go on holiday to Japan or South Korea. This store boasts more than 200 cheongsams and qipaos that can be rented at a daily rate of HK$380, which also includes a pair of earrings, a vintage bag, and a complementary hairstyling service. Like Ming Ming, they also provide professional photography service, and you can do couple photoshoots here as well for those of you who want a bit of added glamor to your pre-wedding photos.
Many of the dresses in the store are unique, and the fabrics come from Japan, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, and are flown to Shanghai to be tailored, and usually come in an array of bold designs.
Flat C , 1/F, 16A Elgin Street, Central
+852 2808 1961
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in July 2016, but the Coconuts crew is bringing it back from the archives since the information it contains remains relevant and useful. We’ve reviewed and updated the content on this page to make sure this oldie but goodie will still serve you well.