China's most popular traditional dress is not so traditional, after all. The cheongsam, that figure-hugging dress with a mandarin collar and slit skirt, which has become synonymous with Chinese beauty and elegance, is actually a product of "Western tailoring applied to traditional Chinese robes".
The earliest cheongsams were relatively loose - and then came the '30s, the "golden age" of the dresses.
Due to Western influences, they became tighter at the waist and lace was added as an ornament. Some were made with bell sleeves, double rows of covered buttons on the chest and tie-front knots, an integration of Western elements.
The dresses also started coming out in a variety of fabrics, both local and imported: multicolored satin and brocade, cotton prints, velvet, gauze and hand-embroidered cloths.
From 1932-35, cheongsam hemlines got so low they almost touched the ground. These types were dubbed the "broom cheongsams".
Around this time, upper-class Chinese, such as movie stars, socialites and intellectuals, began pairing the dress with foreign pieces of clothing, like fur coats, double-breasted blazers, shawls and sweaters.
The following decade saw the emergence of the cheongsam's mandarin collar, side overlap, shorter sleeves, as well as fasteners and zippers below the armpit.
In the 1950s, during the early years of the People's Republic of China, the dress slowly disappeared from everyday use as austerity was emphasized in society.
Now, it is again back in the mainstream - but mostly as an outfit for special occasions, like wedding banquets, international events and holiday celebrations.