What is the difference between the qipao and cheongsam? We get asked this question a lot. Qipao (旗袍) and cheongsam (長衫) both refer to the same Chinese style garment featuring a mandarin collar and both words can be used interchangeably nowadays. The main difference between the two words is their linguistic origin. “Cheongsam” which translates to “long shirt”, initially was used to describe the loose fitting ‘dress shirts’ worn by Chinese men in the 1900’s but is now the Cantonese word used to describe the Chinese national dress worn by females. “Qipao” on the other hand is the Mandarin word, and literally translates to “robes worn by Manchurians”.
No one knows exactly the true origin of the qipao but the main theory is that it is related to the Manchu robe known as ‘changpao’ (長袍) worn by all Han Chinese men and women in the early Qing Dynasty. The Manchu qipao was not body-skimming as we see them today – they were, in fact, baggy to conceal the women figure. Over the years, the qipao has evolved to become what it is today, featuring the Chinese collar, a figure-hugging silhouette and a sexy slit.
Whether you choose to call the dresses qipaos or cheongsams truly doesn’t matter and is down to personal preference. Hope this helps clarify the confusion – as we all know, the Chinese language can be truly confusing.