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The Cheongsam Effect: An expat and her traditional red dress

Cheongsam, cheongsam effect, expat, traditional red dress, Hong kong

In my closet hangs my secret weapon ready at a moment’s notice.

Several years ago I indulged in the purchase of a simple, solid red cotton cheongsam (qi pao) off-the-rack (and on final sale!) at Blanc de Chine. While navigating the various snaps and hooks proved an initial challenge, the dress was very flattering to my rather ripe figure. Deciding to try out my new purchase at a gallery opening off Hollywood Road, I hopped a cab from my home on the south side of the island. Immediately, the driver noticed and complimented my appearance. As a woman of “a certain age”, I was certainly flattered.

The address of the gallery was a bit out of the way and neither the driver nor I had a real sense of where the actual street was. Crawling back and forth on Hollywood Road the driver suggested that if we could not locate the street he would be very happy to take me out for a drink! In time we did locate the street so I graciously passed on his offer.

Another time, while wearing my miracle dress, I stepped into Fanda on Pedder Street and Des Veoux Road. This pharmacy is practically an expatriate hangout since they stock a vast array of western medications and cosmetics (the medications offered at a third of the price of prescriptions filled at doctor’s offices). Since I am rather a regular there, the young men at the counter know me by name. However, I believe it was my appearance in the cheongsam that acted as a kind of parting of the Red Sea – with several offering to wait on me ahead of others in the queue.

This dress, which I have since had altered down a size (hooray!) still attracts attention and compliments from men and women alike. I’m not certain if it is the novelty of a blond, green-eyed American wearing this traditional garment but I certainly feel much more confident and, truth be told, alluring while wearing it!

Most recently, I attended a Lunar New Year function and of course I could not leave the fabled dress to languish in my closet. I hesitated momentarily because I wondered if possibly my Chinese hosts would consider it insulting for me to wear this traditional garment. Quite to the contrary, I received what felt like sincerely rave reviews. So much so that a rather elderly Hong Kong tycoon – whose name courtesy prevents me from revealing – invited me back to his place. Oh my!

Could the cheongsam be the much more appealing Chinese equivalent to the old power suits of the 1980s? With its high collar, slit sides (not too high up!) and figure flattering lines, this dress offers both femininity and dignity to the wearer. Whether or not it really has special powers may be debatable, but the fact that I feel brilliant in my red dress is all the convincing I need.

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