Choosing a Cheongsam

Simply put, I need a cheongsam/qi pao/Chinese dress to wear at both of our receptions.


Unsimply put, I haven’t really started looking for one yet.

Obvious, right? Go to Chinatown and buy one. Well, I sort of tried. But I got lost in the chaos by myself. Plus I’m deathly afraid of the store owners since a) I don’t speak the language b) I kind of, uh, don’t know what the heck I am doing, and c) I read on Yelp that they criticize you if you’re fat. Well, okay, because of letter “a”, I probably wouldn’t know they were criticizing me, but still!

So bring my mom with me, then?

Well, she doesn’t speak Mandarin/Cantonese/etc. either. My plan was to bring my grandmother. Her answer? Ask your aunt. Urgh. Apparently no one else wants to deal with this either.

However, she also advised me to draw out what I wanted in a gown beforehand, so I’d know what to look for. Okay, I can do that!

  1. Must be red. Aside from being one of our wedding colors, it’s also considered lucky. Not that I believe in color-luck, but that’s besides the point.
  2. Must be the floor length 1-piece kind. You know, the kind with the sexy thigh-slit up the side?
  3. Dragon and phoenix print is preferred, ’cause who doesn’t love dragons? Plus, they are traditional wedding symbols.
  4. Must not be super expensive. Nothing more costly than my wedding dress, so that means a less-than-$300 budget.
  5. Must be the sleeveless halter style. The traditional look with the sleeves makes this wide-shouldered-sewing look like a big brocaded box! Not so fun.

I’m looking for something like this, only imagine that there’s a big gold dragon on it somewhere:

So now I turn to you, readers. Help? Where can I find this? Do I *have* to go to the scary-dress-shop-ladies? Does anyone want to go with me and hold my hand? Is it okay to buy online, or is that too risky? Should I just buy a pre-made dress and alter it myself?

Any other half-Chinese girls out there looking for a dress but too afraid that your not-so-petite torso won’t fit in the tight silk? Erm, that’s a little specific. I’ll try again:

Anyone else wearing a traditional cultural dress? How did you and your dress meet?


Mrs. Sewing

San Mateo, CA/Honolulu, HI
Wedding Date:
July 2010
My First Bridal Shower: Fun, Friends, and Family
True to My Name
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  1. hamster Member
    hamster 4047 posts, Honey bee @ 3:23 pm

    Yes, the Chinese cheongsam shop ladies scare me as well! I didn’t wear one for the wedding, but I happened to fit into my mom’s old one so I wore it for the tea ceremony (just for kicks, really). Good luck with yours!

  2. Member
    pinkginger 80 posts, Worker bee @ 3:24 pm

    I ordered mine online. There are a few out there but I ended up going with since you can custom order the dress and have it made to order for your body. The only trouble is I’m not sure if I measured myself correctly. It was a lot cheaper than the quotes I had in the store. I figured with the money I saved, I can always have it altered and still end up ahead.

  3. scissors Member
    scissors 7343 posts, Busy Beekeeper @ 3:25 pm

    I know nothing helpful to tell you re: finding one, but I can’t wait to see what you get! I am a big fan of these.

  4. seashell Member
    seashell 1689 posts, Bumble bee @ 3:34 pm

    I’m with Scissors on the no advice thing, but I can’t wait to see the final product!

  5. Member
    kfowler 44 posts, Newbee @ 3:35 pm

    One of the best known aspects of a Chinese wedding is the red cheongsam or qipao traditionally worn by the bride. The cheongsam is a long fitted dress made of rich silk, which often features embroidered symbols. The phoenix is one of the most auspicious motifs for a bridal cheongsam; another top choices is peonies. Many brides will select cheongsams that are created from lucky red silk with gold embroidery. The traditional accompaniment to the cheongsam or qipao is a crown or tiara created from gilded silver and decorated with feathers and pearls (in honor of the phoenix). In lieu of a tulle veil, a red silk cloth is attached to the headpiece. Due to the large size and considerable weight of the crown, brides these days will usually only wear it long enough for a few photos. It seems like most Chinese-American brides will wear a combination of the traditional cheongsam with crown for one portion of the wedding, and the classic white American wedding gown with pearl or crystal wedding jewelry for another part of their special day.

  6. Member
    alivoo01 2625 posts, Sugar bee @ 3:39 pm

    I have the IDENTICAL vision too, but I firstly need to decide if I will be wearing one or not then find one…

  7. Member
    ChillyBear 194 posts, Blushing bee @ 3:41 pm

    You did so good with your wedding gown…. is making one an option?

  8. Member
    CattyMN608 1603 posts, Bumble bee @ 3:45 pm

    I probably wouldn’t order it online if I were you, unless you’re prepared to do some possibly painstaking alterations. Those dresses seem to hug the body as tightly as an ao dai, so going somewhere so they can measure you exactly might be worth hearing the scary comments. Besides, like you said, you won’t know what they’re saying anyway. :)

    Can your aunt or anyone you know recommend a real place to visit that does good work and isn’t too intimidating?

  9. misspug Member
    misspug 3668 posts, Sugar bee @ 3:48 pm

    oh i wish i could help you with this! i would be intimidated also!

  10. Member
    miztpot 3 posts, Wannabee @ 3:50 pm

    i have one for sale that is brand new if you are interested…

  11. Member
    WhiteChocolate 26 posts, Newbee @ 4:24 pm

    you should check out this place it’s in SF. I’m renting a qua (my mom fell in love with it) so that’s what i’m wearing. But they have qi paos you’re looking for. I think you can custom order or rent. HTH

  12. cardigan Member
    cardigan 8645 posts, Bumble Beekeeper @ 4:36 pm

    I can imagine how they would be extremely intimidating! Can’t wait to see what you choose!

  13. Member
    tofuchic 69 posts, Worker bee @ 4:54 pm

    Did you look into Dragonseed in Chinatown SF?

  14. Member
    ritsi_bitsi 932 posts, Busy bee @ 5:52 pm

    I just had one custom-made a few weeks ago when I was in China. It fits me well when I stand up, but when I tried it on in the store, I forgot to try to sit down in it, and now I found out that it’s too tight to be able to sit in it!! I’m a bit disappointed and mad at myself, but what can I do now…at least it didn’t cost that much (about $30 when I factor in the exchange rate). I’ll do it right when I go to Vietnam this winter!

  15. octopus Member
    octopus 1439 posts, Bumble bee @ 5:56 pm

    I think qi paos are so gorgeous. You’re going to look great, Sewing!

  16. Member
    Ms. Kookie 244 posts, Helper bee @ 6:22 pm

    I love the cheongsam! I will be wearing that as well as the 2 piece kwa for the tea ceremony for my wedding. I had purchased them both on my last trip to HK, but there are a few shops in NY that can custom make them for you. I can’t wait to see the one your will decide on!

  17. Member
    ddw 9008 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 6:35 pm

    oooooh I wish I could take you! I have several, and as a size 8+ white girl, I could help you make sure it’s flattering.

    I’ve always had them made with a local tailor though :(

    I would recommend going to chi-town, seeing what they’ve got and then going from there.

  18. Guest Icon Guest
    squirt, Guest @ 6:46 pm

    i’d go with a phoenix instead of a dragon because the phoenix is representative of the female side, if you’re only going to have one. Usually the qipaos have both, though.

  19. Member
    CheeseCrackers 19 posts, Newbee @ 7:03 pm

    I’d avoid Dragonseed–the owners are really scary and several of my friends have had bad experiences. I’ve heard both Oakland and SJ qi pao stores are far less intimidating.

    I looked into renting wedding dresses, and both Phuong Trinh and Queen Bridals in SJ have qi paos for purchase/made to order and rent, I think. I like Queen Bridals slightly more since it’s more organized and with a better selection. Both places are Vietnamese owned and speak English. Good luck!!

  20. Member
    xoxokristin 541 posts, Busy bee @ 12:41 am

    Miss Sew you are not fat! Asians are harsh but you have nothing to worry about mmmmkay? That is a hot dress! Hope you find it!

  21. Member
    escapekiken 40 posts, Newbee @ 1:21 am

    Aw I need one of these too! I plan just to get on online…if there’s issues you can always contest it with the credit card company.

  22. Member
    MOHmama 404 posts, Helper bee @ 3:54 am

    Those ladies hold nothing back. I went with my mom and just did the nod-and-smile. The place I went to was pretty nice, but it’s not there anymore. I think there are a few other shops on Grant…

  23. sewing Member
    sewing 2649 posts, Sugar bee @ 7:50 pm

    whew! thanks for the advice! I will have to go through all your suggestions, and soon!

    @CheeseCrackers: definitely will need to check these out. the sf stores i’m more familiar with, but this might be a good alternative!
    @squirt: ooh, good point! thanks! haha. i’ll have to look for one with both then.

  24. Member
    winter 1333 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:37 pm

    i love those dresses.

  25. Guest Icon Guest
    A Furisode Episode! | Weddingbee, Guest @ 1:15 pm

    […] I’m still trying to sort out the whole lack-of-cheongsam issue, I thought I’d take a moment to address another reception dress I’ve been dreaming about – the […]

  26. Guest Icon Guest
    kbok, Guest @ 3:22 am

    i ordered my cheongsam from too. it turned out just like i had hoped! the quality of the fabric and sewing was fabulous. i overestimated on one of the measurements so my mom had to take it in just a tiny bit, but otherwise it was exactly as i hoped for- in fact i regret that i didn’t get to wear it more during my wedding weekend. boo.

  27. ramen Member
    ramen 349 posts, Helper bee @ 4:25 am

    my cousin and my sister had their cheongsams made @ dragonseed… crazy expensive and they kept telling my sister she needed more padding. so i guess that means she was too skinny.

    i had mine made down here in LA. but honestly, if you are looking for a custom dress, it will probably cost you $200-300+ (at least from my research). A better bet would be to find one you like online and have it altered/tailored to you. OR you could buy a pre-made dress @ one of the stores in SF chinatown/oakland/sj and have that altered.

  28. Member
    sillykar 133 posts, Blushing bee @ 9:02 pm

    Miss Sewing,

    I’ve gone thru the fears of dealing with Chinese shop ladies. If you’re in the San Francisco area, I don’t mind going with you. I love looking at qipaos and wedding dresses! I’ve also learned much about do’s and don’ts in the Chinese culture (from my own wedding mishaps). One of the wedding bees is right – you aren’t really suppose to have dragons only without a phoenix. Old-fashioned relatives might scoff at us for doing so.

    I’ve served as a fashion consultant to a few of my friends, many of which are males (and that’s a lot less interesting than dresses) but I don’t mind at all. Message me if you need any wedding help. Hope my post isn’t too late to be helpfu.

  29. sewing Member
    sewing 2649 posts, Sugar bee @ 12:37 am

    @sillykar:ahh, thanks for your offer, sillykar! i decided to go the online-custom route.. so we’ll see how it turns out..otherwise I’ll be running to chinatown for sure!

  30. Guest Icon Guest
    jienany, Guest @ 4:36 am

    How about the red cheongsam on Maybe you’ll like it! Have a look!

  31. Guest Icon Guest
    Eleven, Guest @ 3:49 am

    wonderfull dress i’ve ever seen.

  32. Guest Icon Guest
    siew yuen, Guest @ 11:07 am

    lovely dress es I like these too!!

  33. Guest Icon Guest
    siew yuen, Guest @ 11:19 am

    @siew yuen:
    Can you post your cheongsam pics?

  34. Member
    AquaSands 270 posts, Helper bee @ 2:54 pm

    This looks almost like what you’re looking for…

  35. Guest Icon Guest
    Ma xia, Guest @ 2:04 am

    Thanks for your sharing, I have just get my cheongsam dress from, it is just my dream wedding dress.

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