Last week I came to the bar for a shift as usual. As I made my way to the bar station, I passed a table with three female guests and something immediately caught my eye: one of them, a western girl, was wearing a qipao! For those of you who don’t know what a qipao is, it’s a traditional Chinese dress that is commonly made of silk. The dress has a very characteristic design and it’s often colorful with different motives from nature – kind of like Chinese brush painting art.
The most exclusive qipaos are done by skilled tailors and the motives are hand painted onto the fabric. You might also know this dress as a cheongsam, which is the what the dress is called in the Cantonese dialect of Chinese (qipao is mandarin dialect which is the official dialect and the biggest). The first time I saw a qipao was as a boy playing Street Fighter 2 on my dad’s computer. One of the characters in the popular game; Chun Li, fights wearing a blue qipao dress.
It’s a VERY unusual garment for a western person to be wearing. Come to think of it, it’s probably the first time I’ve EVER seen a western girl in a qipao. Naturally, I just had to ask her where she bought it! The answer surprised me at first: Zara.
I could tell from their dialect that they were visiting from Finland so that’s probably the origin of where she made the purchase. Unfortunately Zara doesn’t have a store here in my city (Umeå), so I haven’t been able to verify it myself. But actually, the answer should have surprised me less than it did. The huge international chain Zara is known for trying daring designs and their clothes are slightly more unique than H&M (their biggest competitor). Where H&M is a bit more generic and bland, Zara is more edgy and that’s what I really like about them. It’s hands down my favorite go to store for budget men’s wear. I’ve found tons of cool stuff there over the years. Come to think of it, I’ve even bought an Asian style blazer and shoes from them a few years ago! At the time I reckoned it would be the perfect outfit for celebrating new years eve in Asia some time in the future – plans which might very possibly happen this year, as I’m planning to apply for an exchange semester at an Asian university.
So now that Zara has starting to promote traditional Chinese clothes to the western market, what’s next? Maybe they’ll also give it a shot at selling a traditional Vietnamese dress: the ao dai. One can only hope! Personally I think ao dai’s and qipao’s are among the most beautiful pieces of clothing for women. I’ve learned that ao dai is also a traditional men’s garment in Vietnam, but perhaps a little more discrete (boring) than the female version. The first thing I’m going next time I go to Asia is to visit a tailor and have some nice Asian style men’s clothing made. Suits, coats and robes, baby!
That’s something that always has bugged me when it comes to fashion. Women are so spoiled by the variety, selection, price and designs. Walk in to an average shared clothing store and I’ll be willing to bet my hard earned cash that the women’s section is 75% of the store, the kids get 15%, and the men? We get what’s left of the space after they build the changing rooms. And they always hide the men’s measly section somewhere in the back or on the most inconvenient level. It continues to baffle me why men in general are so disinterested in fashion and style. It’s gotten better in recent years (probably thanks to Instagram), but still – we’ve got a long way to go before we get to the women’s level.