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THE FASHION & THE CITY PART 2 1930’s: The baby was born In pre-revolutionary China, Shanghai was known as the Pearl of the Orient. The city was heavily influenced by the many foreign concessions established there. The 1930’s was known to be the best prosperous era of Shanghai but also the beginning of its economical, cultural and fashion turning point. Since Shanghai became one of the most important ports of Asia, the city became a thriving economical center from trading opium, silk and tea. But it was also a growing industry for clothes since the western and Chinese gathered, thus Shanghai could have developed its fashion industry and became a center for women’s fashions in China.

This is capital to understand how Shanghai was developed and lead us to think that the years 1930’s were the most significant period in the development of the city.

I would say that Shanghai was a kind of baby who just was born in the 1930’s which is pretty good because it managed to follow its destiny of legendary city. And if Shanghai has got its reputation of fashion capital today it is not happened by chance, that is why it is compared with Paris, Milan or New York, to be the ultimate place for Fashion designs.

An what about fashion at the same time? The stylishness of the costumes became the essence of Shanghai fashion. Shanghai became a place where a new style was created. Chinese ladies were used to wear traditional Chinese dresses which calls Qipao. Qipao is the most emblematic symbol of the years 1930 in Shanghai since it became a phenomenon in Shanghai and really shows the history of the city as well. The dress perfectly captures the elegance and serenity of Oriental beauty.

Young ladies of note such as Zhou Xuan, Hu Die and Ruan Lingyu (famous Chinese singer and actresses in the years 1930’s) were dressed in Qipao. In particular, the Qipao worn by Miss Hu Die was chased after by those young ladies of note in old Shanghai.

In 1928, it was a traditional long shirt. The first and traditional qipao was introduced to the larger Han population were wide, baggy and rather loose. It

covered most of the women's body. Under the influence of Western culture, women began to show their arms and legs when they wore Qipao which was a revolution in the Chinese society at that time because they were even forbidden to expose their feet. Shanghainese women broke up with Chinese traditions by starting to reduce the length of their dress (about six centimeters below the knees) which is a kind of revolution for women at that time! Since Shanghai women are especially slim, the Shanghai-style qipao became the leading feature of Shanghai's fashion culture in the 1930s.

Qipao at that time had two traits: combining Chinese with Western style and varying a lot. Then, fine ladies had many different ways to wear it: partial western style and matching the surcoat outside. Partial western style meant that collar and sleeves were tailored according to the western-style fashion's craft such as lapel, lotus-leaf-like sleeves etc. The majority of women preferred to wear qipao with western-style costume.

Classical Shanghai style

Modern Shanghai Style

And, it does not seem obvious at first sight, but could you imagine how convenient it is to have the whole lower leg be exposed! Now you seem more glamorous and comfortable to walk with the dress. And believe me, it’s true because I tried it! That would make all the men fall for you. With their stylish hair style, Shanghainese women emphasized on elegance and good quality of clothes.

Personally I think the Qipao embodies Shanghainese fashion and Chinese elegance, and it gives us a glimpse of how stylish and powerful is Shanghainese fashion up to now. You have to know that Qipao is the earliest fashion for women in Shanghai and it was a symbol of the bourgeois lifestyle because the majority of upper-class ladies wore it to socialize and also to attract foreigners. Thus, the qipao became fashionable thanks to them. The qipao is more than a dress it is really part of Shanghai culture and traditions.

During the 1930s, some elderly men of Shanghai began to wear the western costume when they got along with the foreigners. The Zhongshan costume was formed from the change of Japanese student's costume, it was named like this because the Dr. Sun Yat Sen was fond of dressing this style. After the Revolution of 1911, the Zhongshan costume became the typical Chinese modern costume.

Why do you think the metropolis was organized through three divided parts (the International Settlement, the French Concession and Greater Shanghai)? The British and the French knew the interest to have a strategic presence in Shanghai because at that time Shanghai was turning into a prosperous development and into an influential fashion center which competed with European and North American fashion style.

Shanghai is also synonym of pleasure and both Chinese and foreigners knew that since they created nightclubs, movie theaters, and dance halls. Still under the influence of Western culture, Shanghai made as one goes along changes in its fashion design and tried to develop its own fashion style: we passed from high collar to round neck, from central closures to sidelong closures, but the silk is still present.

In fact the 1930’s was the time where people required more elegant clothing and reflected the feminization of fashion and westernization of lifestyle like enjoying luxury, swimming, or dancing.

The Fashion & The City Part 2  

Story of Fashion in Shanghai in the 1930's

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