Qipaos Are Underrepresented In The Bridal Market. This Brand Wants To Change That.

East Meets Dress' cheongsam dresses are body-inclusive and full of modern details.

Outside of honoring their heritage, there’s little wonder why Chinese brides in the Western world wear a qipao for at least some portion of their wedding day: It’s hard not to look great in one.

The qipao, which is also known as a cheongsam, packs in a lot of striking, distinctive details: a body-hugging silhouette, a sleek mandarin collar and silk embroidered with everything from gold dragon and phoenix symbols, to delicate peonies and butterflies. (To get a sense of just how striking the sheath dress can be in movement, watch Maggie Cheung moodily walk around in one in Wong Kar Wai’s classic “In The Mood For Love.”)

A photo and an illustration of women in traditional qipao dresses. To the right, Maggie Cheung wears one in Wong Kar Wai’s classic “In The Mood For Love.”
VCG Wilson/Corbis/Keystone/Hulton Archive / Getty Images
A photo and an illustration of women in traditional qipao dresses. To the right, Maggie Cheung wears one in Wong Kar Wai’s classic “In The Mood For Love.”

As part of their wedding celebration, many Chinese American brides don a qipao for their tea ceremony, a tradition where the bride and groom serve tea to their respective families, elders especially, to express gratitude. The dress is almost always a vibrant red. (In Chinese culture, red symbolizes happiness, prosperity and good luck.)

As cherished as this wedding tradition is, it’s not always easy to find a qipao that hits all the right marks for modern brides in the U.S.

When Jenn Qiao’s wedding rolled around in 2017, she experienced firsthand the challenge of finding the right dress.

“While there were countless options when shopping for my white wedding dress, I was shocked at the lack of options for a modern Chinese qipao,” Qiao, who lives in Southern California, told HuffPost.

“I first tried local stores in Chinatown, where the selections were very traditional and limited, and the language barriers made it even more difficult to describe what I was looking for,” she explained. “When I searched online, the only websites that offered wedding qipaos had dubious quality and nonexistent customer service.”

Disappointed by the experience, Qiao and her best friend (and maid of honor) Vivian Chan decided to launch their own brand ― East Meets Dress ― for brides looking for their dream qipao. (They also sell modern Vietnamese wedding dresses ― the áo dài ―and suits for men.)

Their goal is to bring more Asian American representation and inclusion to the traditional wedding industry while also emphasizing quality craftsmanship and some modern design offerings.

East Meets Dress is part of a growing number of Asian American-owned businesses and designers modernizing traditional designs for diaspora communities.

Dawang, a Chinese American streetwear company based in New York that sells qipao-inspired crop tops and mini dresses (among other things), has doubled its sales every year since it launched in 2019, the company told NBC News recently.

Vietnamese American fashion designer Thai Nguyen designs custom-made áo dàis that could work for weddings and red carpets. (“Star Wars” actress Kelly Marie Tran honored her Vietnamese roots by wearing one of Nguyen’s áo dàis to the Oscars in 2022.)

Qiao of East Meets Dress is proud to be part of the trend.

“Growing up in the U.S., we constantly straddled between two cultures and always wanted to create something that helped bridge the gap between these two identities,” Qiao said.

Brides can choose from flowy qipao-inspired jumpsuits:

East Meets Dress

Or extra dramatic qipaos with sheer, romantic lace backs:

East Meets Dress

There are also plenty of qipaos of the traditional sheath variety:

East Meets Dress

The brand’s Bespoke Collection gives clients a chance to custom-make their dresses. Qiao said it was incredibly important to both her and her co-founder that brides of all sizes could get their qipao sizing just right.

“Traditionally, qipaos are very restricting and often made for a specific, petite body type, but when we started East Meets Dress, we felt strongly from the beginning that all brides should have the opportunity to wear and feel comfortable in a qipao dress,” Qiao said.

Qiao and Chan recently partnered with plus-size model Catherine Li on a new collection of dress designs that are even more inclusive, giving the brand a chance to showcase more representation of body types on their website. (Li donned a lace mini at her own Chinese Filipino wedding.)

Plus-size model Catherine Li models an East Meets Dress qipao.
East Meets Dress
Plus-size model Catherine Li models an East Meets Dress qipao.

So far, the small business has sold over 10,000 dresses to brides in and outside the U.S. The next goal is to expand their collection further to include more Asian cultures, a casual cheongsam line, designs for Lunar New Year and kids’ clothing.

Qiao said clients ― including teenagers who proudly wear the dresses to prom ― have written in, sharing how the brand’s missions and designs have meant to them.

“We love how we’ve been able to help not just brides celebrate their culture in their own style but also high school students and adoptees find a qipao to wear for their prom, birthday or special occasion,” she said. “I think it reflects the growing pride the younger generations have when it comes to their identity and heritage.”

Scroll down for more photos of the bridal looks:

East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress
East Meets Dress
Erin Kim Photo
The East Meets Dress team at SF pop-up: Sole Yu (Left), Jenn Qiao (middle), Vivian Chan (right).

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