Ask the Yangxifu: How to Wear A Qipao In Your Western Wedding Ceremony

N asks:

I’m engaged and planning a wedding in the States w/ my Chinese-American fiancee. He suggested incorporating a qipao into the ceremony. But I already have wedding colors for my bridesmaids’ dresses (green) and don’t like wearing red. If I decide to wear a qipao, how should I incorporate it into my ceremony? Must I wear red? Also, I will be going to China later this year, should I consider buying one over there?

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More than one wedding dress? It might sound like a Bridezilla’s dream, but that’s the reality in most wedding ceremonies in China. Yes, you heard me — most brides in China will strut their stuff in more than one gown as they officially tie the knot during a wedding banquet. It’s very normal to have at least two if not three dresses. The why behind it, as I understand it, is that more wedding dresses suggests more wealth/status, which means better face for the couple and their families.

So while Chinese brides usually start out their ceremony wearing the kind of frothy white wedding gown all Western brides know and love, they never end the night dressed the same way. And many will opt to make a qipao at least one of their dresses — which means it’s easy for you to do the same.

Here’s what I’ve observed — Chinese brides usually change out of their wedding whites once the ceremony portion of their wedding is over (which for those of you in China, is usually the portion of the wedding that goes on in front of the banquet hall and/or on a stage), and wear a qipao when they’re going around the room toasting their guests.

In your case, since you’re probably doing a typical church wedding in the US, you could easily do something similar — change out of the wedding white and into a qipao for your reception. Or, if you feel you must wear your wedding white at part of the reception, then change midway through. Just make sure you time it so people are still around and can enjoy your second dress!

I would recommend having some kind of red in your qipao. Red is the traditional color of weddings in Chinese culture, and it would definitely make your fiancee’s relatives proud to see you reflecting that in your wedding!

But the color red is a much more subjective thing in China (as Ember Swift noted in her thoughtful piece, Do Red and Pink Match?). The short of it is that “pink” is considered red, so if you like pink, you could opt for that as your qipao.

But I get the feeling you don’t want an only-pink gown, since you’ve chosen green as your wedding color, right? No problem. There are other ways to respect both your wedding color and the must-have red requirement of Chinese wedding traditions.

For example, check out my red wedding qipao in the photo above, which I commissioned from a tailor in Hangzhou. While it’s basically red, there’s a strip of glittering blue fabric that offsets the red, as well as blue trim on the collar and sleeve openings. While you might you not want a mostly red/pink qipao with green trim or highlights, what about a green qipao with red or pink trim? Or a green brocade with red or pink flowers? When you think about it, the possibilities are endless.

But I will say, you’re more likely to find those endless possibilities if you buy in China, instead of in the US. So yes, buy that qipao in China!

You’ll have two options. One, just find yourself a store that sells qipaos off the rack. Or two, find yourself a tailor and get it made especially for you. (And, note that sometimes the off-the-rack stores are also tailors and vice-versa.) Here, for example, are links to qipao tailors in Shanghai and suggestions for buying in Hong Kong. (If anyone has suggestions for other cities, please add in the comments!) A tailor, if you can find the time, would be ideal, as you can decide on the fabrics and style of the qipao — blending your wedding green and the Chinese wedding red into a perfect dress that will fit you like a glove.

And even better, unlike your white wedding gown, it’ll be a dress you can still enjoy long after you’ve said, “I do!”

Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Send me yours today.

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16 thoughts on “Ask the Yangxifu: How to Wear A Qipao In Your Western Wedding Ceremony

  • March 1, 2013 at 5:18 am
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    My friend wore a navy blue and dark gold qipao on the day of her wedding and for some of the engagement photos. I’ve seen her wear it to other events since, so it seems like a good investment to get it tailor made. She had her hair half up and curled with pearls in it.

    If red doesn’t go with the overall theme, I wouldn’t use it just because it’s traditional. Instead, I would try to include other symbols such as double happiness or Chinese style floral designs.

    Honestly, I think your Chinese-American fiancee and his family would just appreciate the thought and aren’t going to complain because you didn’t wear a colour that 1. doesn’t match and 2. you don’t like wearing. Why spend so much money on something you don’t really love?

    Reply
  • March 1, 2013 at 6:36 am
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    If as a guy, I can post my two-cents on women’s dresses: traditionally, green is not an auspicious color for women to wear, especially at your wedding in front of the inlaws. Though this doesn’t apply to the lady in question here, green can be associated with infidelity. Wikipedia lists many definitions of Chinese colors, including this, though I first heard of this adversion to green from friends from China. Notice in movies and shows how often the seductress wears a jade-colored qipao. Just a thought, but depending on how modern the inlaws are, it might be frowned upon.

    I checked a couple of those recommended Shanghai & Hong Kong sites. I can’t believe they charge that much for qipaos. My wife has a closet full of them, from Guangzhou, Zhuhai & Zhanjiang, and they cost nowhere near that, even for her wedding one. Heck, her white wedding dress that she bought there and brought over was $40-50, and it is amazing, with accessories and everything (shoes, too!) Hopefully, you can get something great without spending a fortune in Hangzhou, a silk capital. 恭喜, 恭喜!

    Reply
  • March 1, 2013 at 8:20 am
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    Qipao is an elegant piece of garment and can really accentuate a woman’s curves, if cut right. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for. The cheap ones can make you look like a waitress in a restaurant (the same way a rental tux does to a man). The best tailors are in Shanghai and HK, where money is.

    If you want to see what a well cut qipao looks like, go see In the Mood for Love. And keep in mind you will need a carefully designed hair style to compliment your face and necklines.

    As to colors, if you are in the US, you have more freedom to choose. If in China, you should go red.

    Don’t forget the shoes. A pair of classy black high heel pumps will finish the qipao look. Don’t wear sandals, peeptoes, or straps — they don’t go with qipao. And if your fiancee or his family insists on you wearing a qipao, maybe this is your only chance to negotiate a pair of Louboutins.

    Reply
  • March 1, 2013 at 8:34 am
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    I always fantasized about wearing blue or either a hanbok or a qipao should I ever get married. I always hated white wedding dresses…but still, its a fantasy and I’m also the type of person who prefers an opal/jade engagement ring instead of a diamond.

    Reply
  • March 1, 2013 at 10:55 am
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    A friend wore a rose colored qipao to her reception after she wore a white western dress at the ceremony. I’ve had good luck with http://www.efushop.com. Not too expensive (much cheaper than a western wedding dress) and high quality from a tailor in Nanjing.

    Reply
  • March 1, 2013 at 11:45 am
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    If you’re not used to wearing red it can feel daunting as it is a bit ‘look at me’ but you will get used to it if you start to introduce it gradually, like by wearing a little flower or something like that.

    I once saw a red and green wedding dress in a shop window in Changsha, it was an emerald green on the top and red on the bottom half. I wasn’t sure about it at the time but when I think back I really love it.

    Reply
  • March 2, 2013 at 5:13 am
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    I have next to no red clothing in my closet, but wore a red qipao to toast the tables at our weddings here in China. I’ve never thought of red as my colour, but I knew it had meaning, and I got a lot of compliments on it. I’m really glad I did now. A lot of Chinese brides around here go for red evening gowns rather than qipaos, but I thought it would be another nice little nod to the culture for me to wear one (and a lot of people didn’t expect it).
    Another option, if you are really set on wearing your wedding dress for the whole wedding day, might be to wear a qipao for the rehearsal dinner or engagement party, if you’re having one of those. Or, as Jocelyn said, changing into one later in the evening might work – my mom had a “going away” outfit she wore near the end of their evening (back in the 70s).

    Reply
  • March 3, 2013 at 8:05 am
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    I would not worry so much about if the colors of your maids match with your wedding dress, I would talk to the photographer and let him or her know that he or she must accentuate the colourful wedding. He needs to find a way to make it more beautiful, good lights and material.
    Usually is a red qipao but is true dark blue is also beautiful.
    By the way, when I tried a qipao I felt that my body was not really suitable for that kind of dress, seems like curves and qipao, in my case, are not good friends…

    Reply
  • March 6, 2013 at 11:47 am
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    I’d like to see more brides in hanfu to be honest!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2013 at 11:37 am
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    Funny coincidence as we will be having some form of green in our wedding too (clover green, emerald green, jade green, seafoam green…I still don’t know)!

    As my fiancé is Chinese, we have a similar issue with red. I don’t mind red by itself but when matched with green, it looks like Christmas to me! My mind can’t let go of the green for our wedding so I had to find a way to bring red into the picture for the double happiness symbol, cake, clothing, decoration, etc.

    The great thing about having a background in graphic design is I will be designing our invitation and all the stationary for our wedding. I am currently undergoing a colour coordination brainstorming session with my beloved Photoshop to see what can I can incorporate.

    Here is an idea board I created for myself that could help you with your colour issue.

    http://mandarinreflections.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/colours_wedding.jpg

    Different hues of pink will definitely work for you as your “red” but you can also incorporate other forms of green and turquoise to your qipao. The best part is these are all pretty traditional Chinese colours and it gives you all kinds of freedom for your qipao!

    Here are some colour examples I found that could help you out:

    http://chinesesilk.en.alibaba.com/productshowimg/388853802-213129902/Cheongsam_Short_satin_Gown_slim_dress_Chinese_traditional_Gown_.html

    http://image.shutterstock.com/display_pic_with_logo/174175/174175,1209671782,12/stock-photo-traditional-chinese-fabric-sample-in-red-and-colors-12122995.jpg

    http://www.china-cart.com/d.asp?a=Chinese+Traditional+Handmade+Seven+Colors+Lucky+Cloud+Cushion+Cover&d=11133

    Good luck!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2013 at 11:42 am
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    Funny coincidence as we will be having some form of green in our wedding too (clover green, emerald green, jade green, seafoam green…I still don’t know)!

    As my fiancé is Chinese, we have a similar issue with red. I don’t mind red by itself but when matched with green, it looks like Christmas to me! My mind can’t let go of the green for our wedding so I had to find a way to bring red into the picture for the double happiness symbol, cake, clothing, decoration, etc.

    The great thing about having a background in graphic design is I will be designing our invitation and all the stationary for our wedding. I am currently undergoing a colour coordination brainstorming session with my beloved Photoshop to see what can I can incorporate.

    Here is an idea board I created for myself that could help you with your colour issue.

    http://mandarinreflections.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/colours_wedding.jpg

    Different hues of pink will definitely work for you as your “red” but you can also incorporate other forms of green and turquoise to your qipao. The best part is these are all pretty traditional Chinese colours!

    You can also find all kinds of inspiration by searching the web with “Chinese colors”. If you search “Chinese wedding colors”, you will mostly find the red/yellow/black combination.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  • March 13, 2013 at 6:17 am
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    By the way, If you worry about how to combine colors you can always try to use a website for weddings and sort the articles by color.
    I´m not saying you buy there but if you filter by color you may get some good ideas and combinations.
    Example for red color:

    http://www.projectwedding.com/photo/browse?tag=red

    Reply
  • June 6, 2013 at 3:40 am
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    My Laopo from Shekou, Shenzhen, Gongdong Province, says in Chinese Soap Operas the wife wears red, but the concubines wear pink, so pink is Not A Good Idea unless your want your Laopo to be your concubine too!

    Reply
  • September 25, 2014 at 11:39 pm
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    I am an international students studying in UK. After I went abroad, I realised that we really need to introduce the beauty of traditional Chinese clothes to the world. So I bought myself a pipao, or say cheongsam, from http://www.kaiizhang.co.uk and wore it to a cultural party. Interestingly, thought this website sells qipao/cheongsam, it mainly targets foreigners. I think they are also trying to introducing oriental beauty to the world too!

    Reply

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