Do You Need to Wear a Cheongsam in Your Chinese Wedding?

When you tie the knot across cultural and even international borders, as I have, the whole idea of “I do” suddenly becomes even more complicated. Now you’ve got another culture to consider, with its own set of expectations for the wedding.

If that culture happens to be Chinese, that means there’s another possibility for your wedding dress – the cheongsam. Which leads to this question:

Do you need to wear a cheongsam in your Chinese wedding?

For those of you who don’t know about the cheongsam, also known as the qipao, it’s a high-necked and form-fitting style of dress with slits down the skirt, often on both sides. The dress first appeared in 1920s Shanghai as a modern take on traditional Manchu garb, and has since evolved into a stylish tradition of its own for women in China.

By C.H.Wong Photo Studio.Shanghai.China.中国上海王开摄影有限公司 –;, Public Domain,

While most women in China don’t wear the dress on a daily basis, it does appear at certain holidays (like Chinese New Year) and special occasions such as weddings. So it’s very common to see brides wearing cheongsam in their pre-wedding photos and at their wedding ceremonies or banquets.

But does that make the dress a must-have in your Chinese wedding?

The short answer is, not necessarily.

I’ve attended a number of Chinese weddings where the brides never even wore a cheongsam. While you’re almost guaranteed to see Chinese brides decked out in a white frothy gown fit for a princess, the cheongsam is generally optional. (Unless, of course, it’s an expectation or wedding tradition of the Chinese side of the family.)

Still, a lot of brides in China will opt to have a cheongsam for a number of reasons. First, you get to wear more than one dress – three is very typical for weddings in China — which means, at least here, you don’t have to choose. And second, the cheongsam is a gorgeous way to add a little Chinese flair to your bridal look.

Many women have rocked the cheongsam in their Chinese weddings, and it’s hard to resist the allure of this sexy dress, which hugs every curve. I ended up wearing two in my own Chinese wedding ceremony (which I’ve shown in the photos I included with this post).

So really, the question shouldn’t be, do you need to wear a cheongsam in your Chinese wedding? Instead, you should ask yourself, do you want one?

P.S.: While you can purchase a cheongsam or qipao online through stores such as Amazon, I highly recommend getting yours tailor-made in Asia. Here’s a list of tailors in Hong Kong, a list of tailors in Shanghai, and a list of tailors and stores in Beijing.

P.P.S.: While the issue of cultural appropriation can come into play whenever non-Asian women are wearing a cheongsam, I like Walking May’s take on this:

I feel the difference between the offensive and non-offensive is crucially ‘how one wears the traditional dress’, so here’s a few ideas to consider:

  • Research that dress! If you would like to wear a Qipao (Cheongsam) respectfully, then do a little research into what looks nice with it and know the name of what it is that you will be wearing. It is probably best not to mix a widely perceived Chinese dress with items from other Asian cultures, to avoid making broad statements about all Asian cultures, or indeed dig out the political through a historical war context that could simmer a stereotypical grudge of some sort. If in doubt, keep it simple.

  • Mere fun-filled costume or true loving appreciation? Your intention matters, and how you choose to wear a traditional garment will allow others to decipher information about you as well as how you feel about the garment. If you love something, then you will simply want to do it justice and appreciated it in the best way that you can.

What do you think?

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4 Replies to “Do You Need to Wear a Cheongsam in Your Chinese Wedding?”

  1. Jocelyn,

    Thank you for the information on qipao tailors. Could you also give us information on qipao tailors in Beijing?!
    Thanks, Meghan

  2. I am sooooo full of regret that I didn’t get a custom made qipao in Shanghai! Just didn’t make time and then bam! Back home.

    I didn’t wear one in my wedding, but it wasn’t for lack on interest! Ours was in the USA and most of the guests were American.

    We did add special touches, such as saying our vows in both English and Chinese 🙂

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