Of all the dresses to have been worn in Shanghai, none can come close to matching the iconic status of the qipao (旗袍).
Get yourself a piece of this feminine, figure-hugging symbol of eternal sensuality at one of Shanghai’s best qipao tailors. They don’t claim to be the cheapest, but they do stand by their reputation as the very best.
Here’s where you can find them the next time you travel to Shanghai:
Han Yi (瀚艺)
Hanyi is one of the most famous qipao destinations in Shanghai, in no small part thanks to 93-year-old tailor Chu Hongsheng. Zhu began his qipao-making apprenticeship at 16 and is still sometimes in the store, measuring customers to ensure they get a perfect fit.
If seeing Maggie Cheung’s show-stopping costumes in Wong Kar-Wai’s movie “In the Mood for Love” (also known as the best qipao advertisement in the history of the world) has inspired you to invest in a qipao for yourself, it might interest you to know that Chu actually made those qipaos.
If it’s good enough for Maggie Cheung, it’s good enough for us.
Han Yi (瀚艺), 217-221 Changle Lu, near South Shaanxi Lu 长乐路217-221号, 近陕西南路
Jin Zhi Yu Ye (金枝玉叶旗袍店)
From the moment you enter Jin Zhi Yu Ye, the feeling of old Shanghai is palpable. Though the decor of the store indicates a love of tradition, the qipaos being turned out by Ye Zi, the fashion-school graduate who runs this store, are anything but conservative.
Think bold colors and prints galore, with a particular love of lotus-themed fabrics in evidence. The range of silk, lace and cottons on offer are sourced from China and Japan, and a simple qipao without embroidery can be yours within 10 to 15 days (expect to wait up to one month for more complicated designs).
Jin Zhi Yu Ye (金枝玉叶旗袍店), 72 Maoming Nan Lu, near Huaihai Lu 茂名南路72号, 近淮海中路
Qipao By Jane
Nobody has done more to bring the humble qipao up-to-date for the modern woman than Jane Zhu (朱洁), the founder and designer of Qipao by Jane, and a sure source of some of the best qipao in Shanghai.
A riot of unconventional prints, materials and cuts make Zhu’s qipaos a hot ticket item for women who are looking for a qipao with oodles of personality. The “Celeste” is a perfect example, with its daring cut-out back and detailed handmade lacework on the side slit.
Shanghai Long Feng Qipao (龙凤旗袍)
This store is popular with brides looking for tailor-made qipaos leading up to their big day, and it is also endorsed as one of the best in Shanghai by the city’s very own Qipao Club.
According to Chen Yueqin, Shanghai Long Feng’s manager, the reason for their higher prices is the traditional process they use to make their garments.
The brand’s choice of materials and exquisite workmanship make the dragon and phoenix qipao (“long feng” means dragon and phoenix in Chinese) worth every kuai.
Shanghai Long Feng Qipao (龙凤旗袍), 183 Fengxian Lu, near Taixing Lu 奉贤路183号, 近泰兴路
Xin Ni (辛妮)
This store is named after its charismatic owner, who has worked as a costume designer for the opera and ballet before retirement.
Xin Ni – the store, not the owner – is a decade old and features qipaos that focus on pure colors and artistic embroidery. Its specialty is hand-painted qipao, for which seasoned painters would design and paint symbols or patterns on the qipao according to your order.
One hand-painted customized qipao costs between $250-$275 (RMB 1,680-RMB1,900) and will take around 15 days to make.
Xin Ni (辛妮), 233 Changle Lu, near South Shaanxi Lu 长乐路233号, 近陕西南路
Li Gu Long (丽古龙)
This store is another stickler for the traditional “Shanghai process,” creating dresses entirely by hand, with no zippers (all closures use buttons).
The materials used at Li Gu Long are what really makes their qipaos special, with beautiful brocade, vintage silk and a plethora of colors on offer. Buttons also come in a variety of materials, with traditional stones such as agate and jade proving particularly popular.
Li Gu Long, 205 Changle Lu, near South Shaanxi Lu 长乐路205号, 近陕西南路
La Vie by Shanghai independent designer Jenny Ji offers another take on the qipao – the couture version.
All of Ji’s garments are seriously high-end, with decadent fabrics and elaborate designs sure to make any woman wearing a La Vie qipao feel like a true princess.
Ji’s designs from season to season take their inspiration from slices of life – with anything from food to antique porcelain previously – marking the starting point for a collection. No matter the original inspiration, you can always expect a La Vie design to be heavy on both romance and drama.
La Vie, 306 Changle Lu, near Ruijin Yi Lu 长乐路306号, 近瑞金一路
Shanghai Tang (上海滩)
Possibly the world’s most famous purveyors of qipaos – and definitely among the best in Shanghai – Shanghai Tang is the most common location for international shoppers to discover the beauty of this classic garment, with seven shops around the city mainly in airport, hotels and high-end shopping complexes.
Shanghai Tang, Unit 3, No.15 North Block, Xintiandi, 181 Taicang Lu, near Madang Lu 太仓路181弄新天地北里15号3单元, 近马当路
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2011. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.