While I wait for my pro pictures, I decided that I needed to finish blogging about my wedding planning, since life had gotten a bit crazy in the past couple of months… so here I go!
Some girls dream of their wedding gowns their whole lives. Most women search until they find THE wedding gown of their dreams and want to wear it as long as they can. I am not one of those girls. OK, I have dreamed about the big white gown, but my style has changed over the years and… to this very day, while I love my dress, I would also have been happy with almost any other dress that fit me well and looked good.
My ideas of wedding colors, theme, style have all changed (even considerably since I’ve been ENGAGED). But there is ONE thing that I’ve always known I was going to wear…
And that would be a Cheongsam/QiPao. This is a traditional Chinese dress that most brides usually wear during the reception, as you walk around and greet each table. Traditionally, it is a mandarin-collared, red and gold (colors that represent happiness and prosperity, and also are classic wedding colors in Chinese culture) form-fitting dress, typically with a Dragon and Phoenix, which symbolize a male and female counterpart that represents the bride and groom. I know there’s a lot more history and symbolism in these dresses, but… that’s what I know off the top of my head.
At any rate, growing up going to tons of Chinese weddings and looking at my parents’ wedding pictures, I always knew I wanted to wear a RED Cheongsam (red is my favorite color!). My grandma actually made my mom and my aunts’ gowns, but as my sweet grandma is now 98, that is no longer feasible. So I set about on an adventure to find a store in California where I could get a custom-made Cheongsam.
Here are some real-life inspiration pictures, for those of you interested in seeing a few different styles/designs.
My cousin JW’s wedding. Her Cheongsam/QiPao was custom made at Dragon Seed in SF Chinatown. The tailor here makes the gowns for all of the Miss Chinatowns, so he’s super famous (so he says) and in high demand. With all of that fame comes a pretty huge price tag.
I couldn’t find a better shot of cousin JL’s dress, but hers was a ready-made Cheongsam that she just had tailored to her body.
My friend J – her dress has that extra gold edging.
One of my dear friends, A, who recently was married. Her QiPao is a little more Westernized, with the cut-in shoulders and a long train. She got her custom QiPao at Chi Pao in Temple City.
Anyways – did you notice one thing in common? It’s how freakin’ skinny all of these girls are!!! And I…. am not (and I’m fully aware I’m not obese or anything… but I’m quite a bit more voluptuous than your typical Asian chick). Anyways, let’s just say that while it can (and is) done, Chinese dresses don’t look all too flattering on people if they aren’t in relatively good shape. Seriously. They are cut to fit you perfectly and the silky shine is totally unforgiving. Sigh. Talk about gym motivation!
Anyways. I visited the few shops in SF’s Chinatown. No dice – I was quoted ~$350 min at Dragon Seed (and likewise at other stores – all via my mother who spoke Chinese to the shop owners). And about that much at a few other smaller shops. According to Mr. Famous Tailor at Dragon Seed, my body type requires a custom-made gown because of all the extra curves. I don’t know if he was referring to my spare tire, but… I was convinced that I needed a custom dress. I considered ordering one online and getting it tailored – but decided that it was too risky, even with a $50 price tag. So I did lots and lots of digging and found a couple shops in SoCal.
First, I found Chi Pao in Temple City (9417 Las Tunas Drive, Temple City, CA). The owner is Helen Zhou, and she speaks very limited English – mostly Mandarin. I somehow was able to communicate with her via my super basic Chinese skills and tried on some dresses. I was quoted about $280 for a custom gown. Due to the fact that I couldn’t communicate well with her and it was a bit of a drive, I decided to not order my gown here; although she is very sweet! She also didn’t want me to take a picture of the store, so there are no pictures to share here!
The store that was super close to me, and the one I ultimately ended up purchasing my dress from was Vinshop USA in Rowland Heights (18192 Colima Road, Suite B, Rowland Heights, CA).
Vinshop is located in the Yes Plaza on the SW corner of Fullerton Road and Colima (they also have a website, here). It’s actually really crazy on the weekends, so if you can avoid going on a Saturday, there will be much more space to walk around and more attention from the really sweet couple that runs the shop. I think they prefer to speak Chinese (definitively Mandarin, not sure about Cantonese), but since I’m bilingual in English and SPANISH, and not Chinese, I used my native English.
Here are a bunch of their sample dresses
The 5th dress from the left is the style that I chose – it was simple AND the cheapest option. Haha. Surprise!
The next two dresses to the right are a little bit pricier – like I said before, the more bling you add to the dress, the more cha-ching goes on the price tag. On a negative side note, my mom was in town with my sister and stopped by this shop. Since my mom speaks Chinese (both Canto and Mandarin fluently), the price that was quoted to her for a QiPao was $60 LESS than what I paid, which the owner had told me was a *special* lower price for me. SIGHHHHHH. So is life.
The coolest part of getting a custom dress is picking out the fabric! Vinshop had the most extensive collection of fabric swatches that I’ve seen. Crazy!
And I picked this one! It had the dragon and phoenix all over it, but subtly, and was the right shade of red, although it looks all garish with my ghetto little camera flash.
And here’s the final product. And I KNOW, you can see my Ramen gut, but keep in mind I was wearing granny panties and no Spanx or anything. This photo was taken when I went to pick up my dress, a day after my fitting. The cute lady in the picture is Anna, the tailor. The entire time during my fitting, she kept exclaiming about how I had lost *too* much weight in such a short time. AND I actually ended up losing even MORE weight the week of the wedding, unintentionally! My QiPao was too loose at our reception (and I still didn’t wear Spanx, woohoo!)! That’s usually a good thing (at least for me), but it was not a good thing in terms of the fit. Oh well, at least I had room to eat! I would recommend Vinshop with some reservations, mostly because of the price quote ordeal. I really liked my dress, and it was definitely the cheapest option out of all the shops I looked at.
But how did it look on the day of our wedding?
I’m not sure if you can tell from these snapshots, but the dress is seriously deflated in the boobage area (and I have a pretty sizeable Asian rack). It was a little disappointing to pay for a custom dress only to not fit in it *perfectly* on the day of the wedding. Sigh. Buuuuut…. Mr. Ramen loved the dress, deflated boob area and all, and I know our grandmas were really pleased that I was paying homage to our heritage. I never thought I would be so excited to get all blinged out, either! Since we didn’t have a tea ceremony, my mom lent me her old Chinese wedding jewelry that my dad’s mom had given to her at her wedding, and I wore a few pieces that my grandmother had gifted to me. When I went to greet Mr. Ramen’s grandmother, I was surprised when she had some jewelry to gift to me, as well! I looooved getting to do something that made me feel more tied to my culture.
How were you able to incorporate your heritage into your wedding?