Frequently Asked Questions About Chinese Wedding Dresses and Attire, Plus Tips for a Modern Take
With most wedding elements there's a traditional way things have always been done and a modern take that draws inspiration from heritage but also imbues personality and contemporary vibes into tradition. That's especially true when it comes to fashion, and Chinese wedding dresses and attire in particular. Historically, couples have worn a red qipao, cheongsam or tang outfit. These days, however, couples, especially in the States, may choose to wear multiple outfits to more fully express themselves or even customize one look so it feels like an authentic representation of them.
Couples should always feel empowered to make their wedding, and wedding fashion, their own. But honoring your roots and the heritage that made you who you are is likely part of that. As such, it's important for modern couples to have an understanding of fashion history that can help inform the modern take they bring to their wedding fashion choices. Let these frequently asked questions and need-to-know tips help you along the wedding planning process.
What do couples often wear to traditional Chinese weddings?
We're taking an in-depth look at what couples have historically worn when tying the knot in a Chinese wedding. While looks may vary slightly, there are a few common ensembles that are historically seen at Chinese weddings.
Cheonsam vs. Qipao vs. Qun Kwa
Historically, in China, the style of ceremony dress has varied from region to region, but typically, the bride's gown is red and features an embroidered phoenix. For a northern Chinese bride, the wedding dress is generally a long, form-fitting, one-piece gown called a qipao or cheongsam. This collared Chinese wedding dress is often red with silver and gold embroidery. "The term cheongsam and qipao both refer to the same style of dress—a traditional form-fitting sheath dress featuring a Mandarin collar," explains Jenn Qiao, co-founder of East Meets Dress, an Asian-American brand for Chinese wedding dresses. "The term cheongsam originated in the south while the term qipao is primarily used in the north."
Meanwhile, a different style of dress that is common in southern China is the qun kwa which is made of two pieces: a decorative jacket over a long, embroidered skirt. This traditional Chinese wedding dress is usually embroidered with both a dragon and a phoenix, giving the attire the modern Chinese name of "dragon phoenix coat" or Long Feng Gua. Along with the dragon and phoenix, you may see five bats embroidered on the coat, too, which symbolize five blessings.
To accessorize their wedding qipao or qun kwa, many brides also historically donned a tiara-like accessory made of gilded silver and decorated with feathers and pearls to represent the phoenix. The headpiece was historically also accompanied by a red silk veil.
"The groom often wears a Tang Suit, which is typically a long sheath paired with a jacket. The groom's jacket traditionally is also red and adorned with dragon symbols, the counterpart to the bride's phoenix," explains Qiao.
Why is red a common color for Chinese wedding attire?
Beyond just wedding attire, red is an auspicious color in Chinese culture. "In Chinese culture, the color red is synonymous with happiness, good fortune, success and fertility. No wonder it's the most popular color for Chinese wedding attire," says Qiao.
What should the wedding party wear to a Chinese wedding?
Historically, Chinese couples didn't typically have wedding parties. However, many modern couples have chosen to adopt the practice of having close loved ones serve as wedding attendants. Since the practice of having bridesmaids and groomsmen isn't steeped in as deep of tradition as to-be-wed attire is, the options for how to dress the wedding party are nearly limitless. You could have bridesmaids each wear a qipao dress that's red or that's a totally different color—the choice is all yours.
What should guests wear to a Chinese wedding?
While red is the most common color for to-be-weds to wear at their own wedding, guests should avoid the hue. "If you are attending a Chinese wedding, wearing red is not recommended in most cases," advises Qiao. "While the color red is auspicious in Chinese culture, it is typically reserved for brides. Don't wear black or white either since those are mourning colors in Chinese culture. Do wear warm-toned colors such as purple or pinks, as these colors represent the new life the couple will embark on."
Guests should also confirm that the outfit they plan to wear fits the requested dress code for the event. Qiao reminds guests that "every couple is different, however, so you can always check in with the couple to learn of their preferences between choosing your outfit." Couples will often put dress code information on their wedding invitations or wedding website so check there before you finalize your attire plans.
Where can you purchase Chinese wedding dresses?
Historically, mothers in southern China would sew their daughter's handmade wedding jacket, starting as soon as the child was born. However, over time to-be-weds have more commonly moved toward purchasing wedding attire. While there are plenty of brands to choose from, to-be-weds may find it difficult to source Chinese wedding attire in the United States. Cinobi is one brand known for their halter-style modern wedding cheongsams, however, the brand is based in Indonesia and to-be-weds hoping to wear an outfit from the brand should make sure to allow ample time to source from them. Another Indonesia-based choice is Adrian Gan, known for their creative colorways. Alternatively, California-based East Meets Dress is a strong option for Stateside couples.
For to-be-weds who may want to wear a Western-style dress but still support an Asian-American designer, brands like Tadashi Shoji, Phuong My, Vera Wang, Miyuki Liem, JINZA, Jenny Yoo, Nordeen and Andrew Kwon are great options to consider.
Purchasing an outfit in person is a great way to ensure that you're happy with the look and it fits seamlessly into your wedding vision. However, if that's not a possibility for you and you're hoping to source a dress from online or overseas, make sure to allow ample time for the shopping and alterations process.
How can couples personalize their Chinese wedding attire?
Personalizing your look is a great way to ensure you feel your best on the wedding day. And the options of what you can do for personalization are limitless. From playing around with darker shades of red to bringing in Chinese dress elements, like a Mandarin collor, to a Western-style dress, there are plenty of ways to ensure the look you for your modern Chinese wedding feels like you and represents the heritage that brought you to where you are.
"Whether or not you decide to wear a traditional qipao or cheongsam, you can still add an element of the cheongsam dress to your wedding attire, whether that's the iconic Mandarin collar or the pankou knots or even the color red," says Qiao. She goes on to explain that "while red is the traditional color worn at a wedding, brides can modernize their look by choosing their own shade of red. Wine red, for example, is often a favorite option for those who want to create a sophisticated evening look. Additionally, Cheongsam capes are increasing in popularity—it's a great way to complement an existing white wedding dress. Removable trains are also becoming more popular as it allows the bride to create a stunning look, while giving them the option to then continue with the festivities in an outfit unencumbered by a long train."
Accessories are another way you can make your wedding look feel like your own. "You can consider incorporating a part of your heritage within your hair and jewelry accessories," says Qiao. "Consider adding a jade hairpin, or a pankou knot hairpin set to complement your look."
Modern Peach Cheongsam
Instead of wearing a red cheongsam, this to-be-wed opted for a modern cheongsam in a peach colorway.
Red Wedding Dress and Veil
This bride selected a ball gown as her wedding gown instead of a traditional Chinese cheongsam. However, the vibrant red colorway was an auspicious way to pay homage to her Chinese heritage.
Black Wedding Qipao
Instead of the standard red colorway, this bride chose black for her modern Chinese qipao.
Dark Red Wedding Qipao
A shade that matches the flag of the People's Republic of China is generally what to-be-weds opt for with Chinese wedding attire. However, this bride instead went with a darker wine-hued red for her Chinese qipao.
White Dress With Cheongsam-Style Cape
The tulle cape with a Mandarin collar on this bridal gown paid homage to traditional cheongsams. Meanwhile, the groom at this Indian-Chinese fusion wedding opted for a traditional white sherwani.
Red Qipao Bridesmaid Dresses
Although this bride wore a white Western wedding dress, she outfit her wedding party in red qipao bridesmaid dresses.
Instead of the traditional sheath silhouette seen in most cheongsams, this bride opted for an A-line look for her bridal dress.
Most qipao designs are all red, but this bride blended Western and Chinese style with her white-and-red design.
White Wedding Dress With Sweetheart Neckline and Mandarin Collar
This to-be-wed blended a high-neck Mandarin collar with a strapless sweetheart neckline and the end result was an absolutely breathtaking lace dress.
Red Cheongsam With Long Train
This bride added a long, dramatic train to her Chinese wedding cheongsam.