When east meets west – the colour of red in a beautiful, traditional gown is used to symbolise happiness and celebration and is a beautiful gesture to the family and the wedding couple on the wedding day. Keeping cultural and family traditions going is also a sign of respect and a wonderful way of ensuring that the couple moves forward, with these traditions seeing them into their married life.

As we talk all things red, the colour of love, the colour of luck and at the same time, celebrate Lunar New Year and all the tradition it holds, it seems appropriate to immerse ourselves in the beauty of the traditional red wedding gown – the qipao, or cheongsam.

This traditional gown (and its modern variations) are classically worn during the tea ceremony in eastern cultures, a ritual held before a western ceremony nowadays, where the happy couple serve tea (with a special teapot and cups) to both sets of parents and elders. Symbolically, the tea ceremony is purity, tranquillity, respect and harmony. The tea ceremony signifies the joining of the two families in peace and shows respect and gratitude to those that have raised the soon to be newlyweds.

We’ve included both the qipao and the cheongsam today, but to clarify the difference? The qipao is the term for the gown traditionally used in Northern China, while “cheongsam” is the term used in the south of China.

We’ve asked the delightful Amy of Amy Chan Hair & Makeup Artistry to lend her expertise to this subject and we’ve included all of our favourite online retailers, so if you don’t have the option of shopping in-store, you can do so from the comfort of your couch!

“Although it sounds really cliche, the best way to find cheongsam/qipao is asking your friends who purchased them before,” says Amy. “This is to make sure you stay away from the overpriced ones with bad quality. In Australia, there’s not a lot of stores that sell good quality cheongsam/qipao. So doing your research is very important, and going into the store with an older family member is very important as they usually tend to know what to look for. The difference in price could be of the embroidery work as well as how soft the material is. Also as these dresses look best when they’re fitted, you need to make sure you’re wearing the correct bra.”

Blossom Qi Pao from Chinese Tea Ceremonies

Chanel Bespoke Dress Phoenix & Dragon Cheongsam from East Meets Dress

We’ve managed to source beautiful qipao and cheongsam online from retailers like East Meets Dress (who can custom make pieces to suit your measurements, and also offer up a range of accessories) Qipology, CozyLadyWear and Chinese Tea Ceremonies (located in Melbourne). You can also find beautiful qipao and cheongsam from Etsy sellers like Garden Of Brides, All Things Qipao & Artzoo Studio.

Amy also offered up another option. “With technology being so advanced, you’ll be able to find some on Aliexpress (and my favourite place too), which is an online platform where you’ll find great quality Chinese suppliers that specialises in this type of clothing. Remember with these garments, the prices will definitely reflect the quality. You’ll also be able to find accessories that can go with the whole outfit.”

While traditionally the embellishment was an indicator of the wealth of the family, Amy says that today, the rules are a little more relaxed, and you can choose what suits you. “Traditionally, the more embroidery the outfit has, the richer the family is. So most outfits are full of gold and silver embroidery, usually of dragons and phoenixes. But with today’s world, not everyone looks good in silver and/or gold, so don’t be afraid to look into something a bit more feminine that consist of lots of lace, beading and other materials. The key is to make sure it’s fitted properly, just think of it like a skin-tight dress.”

Amy shares these tips to keep in mind while you’re on the hunt

  • Make sure the material is stretchy or has some give
  • Less is best, don’t overdo it by getting everything and make yourself look like a Christmas tree
  • Some brides want to go full traditional where they put a red scarf to cover their faces (like a veil) and have the groom lift it up when he sees her. Keep in mind the level of tradition you want to honour.

Cap Sleeves Stretch Knit Midi Qipao from Qipology

Contemporary Chinese Qipao via Artzoo Studio

Amy has plenty of experience in styling the couple to ensure their look is modern and of the moment, while keeping with the traditional style. She advises to keep the look traditional when deciding how to style your own qipao or cheongsam. “The best way to style this type of outfit is to go traditional. Don’t mix it with western-style accessories, as this outfit is all about the culture and Chinese history. Red symbolises happiness and celebration, hence this is why the outfit is generally bright red.”

For shoes, Amy says, “Something sparkly will always look beautiful as it’ll match the gold embroidery as well the jewellery that usually goes with the dress. Jewellery wise, the idea is to have none at the start, and each person you kneel down to give tea to (a beautiful tea ceremony to show your appreciation to your parents to say thank you for looking after me all these years) will give you a piece of jewellery as their blessings.

Traditionally, the bride will receive a set from her own parents, earrings, necklace, ring and bangles, all in 24k gold, and again another set from the groom’s family. So be prepared to have security with you when you leave the house!”

For hair accessories, “Most brides will have some kind of gold and/or red hair accessory in their hair to go with the bright red dress. This can be a pin of some sort, or some might go out all out and have a gold crown. There is no limit to how much or little you put in your hair.”

And of course, Amy’s own special niche, hair and makeup! She says, “For makeup, choose brighter lipstick as the whole look is already very colourful, so anything less than that you might look a bit too pale. The classic look is to add false lashes, black eyeliner, a bit of blush and red lips. But in the modern world, most brides will opt for a pinker shade of lipstick rather than red and have subtle smokey eyes.

Traditionally, your hair should be up as it looks more formal and also the hair won’t get caught in the neckline of the dress (this is always a high neck). But as some brides prefer their hair down, it’s becoming very common to have hair up half down or in a classic Hollywood wave.”

Wine Red Lace Long Qipao Cheongsam Wedding Dress from CozyLadyWear

Pleated with bow belt cheongsam from Garden Of Brides

And what about the traditional tea ceremony? For the uninitiated, Amy has these tips for what you’ll need for this classic ritual.

“You’ll need to make sure you have:

  • A bright red tea set with the ‘double happiness’ Chinese symbol on it (generally four teacups)
  • Cushions for the couple to kneel on
  • Tea (any tea will do actually)
  • Red dates, lotus seeds, and lily are added to the tea to symbolise luck, fertility, and marriage longevity
  • A family member to note down which guest gave what gift to the couple
  • A family member to help prepare the tea for the next guests so it runs smoothly
  • An outfit for the groom (if he’s up for it, get him a traditional costume too)!”

A big thank you to Amy of Amy Chan Hair & Makeup Artistry for lending her cheongsam and qipao wisdom today! Be sure to check Amy out if you’re in NSW and need to book your hair and makeup stylist!

Header photo Cheongsam by Ong Shunmugam / Photo by Motta Weddings via Vanessa & Samuel’s Modern Mornington Peninsula Wedding