Book review: In the Mood for Cheongsam
Book title: In the Mood for Cheongsam
Authors: Lee Chor Lin and Chung May Khuen
In this time of smart work dresses and pantsuits, the woman who dons a cheongsam certainly cuts a striking figure.
Yet most women would be surprised by the number of transformations this traditional garment has gone through.
The now ubiquitous form-fitting cheongsam that we all think of when we hear the name wasn’t in vogue until the 1950s. Hemlines during the early 20th century reached to the ankles, and those loose-cut cheongsams had wide sleeves too.
Surprised? Look to the easy-to-read In the Mood for Cheongsam to find out more about the Chinese garment and what it meant to the women who wore it and the women who continue to wear it today.
Co-written by National Museum of Singapore director Lee Chor Lin and its Fashion Gallery curator Chung May Khuen, In the Mood for Cheongsam is a book that’s a suitable read for both fashion design fans and anyone who appreciates the fine garment or Chinese cultural history.
Released in conjunction with the In the Mood for Cheongsam exhibition, this photo-heavy book is packed with hundreds of full-colour archival photos and shots of the cheongsam on display at the National Museum.
Once the garment of choice for the Chinese elite, many saw the elegant cheongsam as a marker of their Chinese identity and social class. For some of these women, the cheongsam became such a part of who they were that they were rarely seen in other types of clothing.
There’s even an entire section dedicated to prominent women who were frequent cheongsam-wearers: these include war heroine Mrs. Elizabeth Choy and Madam Kwa Geok Choo – the late Mrs. Lee Kuan Yew.
In this sense, the cheongsam became more than a garment. Its adaptations over the years track Singapore women’s history too: This “power clothing” of the educated and the rich later became more popular as more women entered the workforce in the fifties and sixties.
Readers will also get to peruse new updates of the cheongsam in the glossary section, which is far from a dull read. From appliqué to the scalloped edge on the cheongsam, all the terms are well-illustrated with close-ups of cheongsam fabrics and cuts.
Of femininity, Chinese culture and more; the beautifully-cut garment continues to inspire contemporary fashion design. It looks like the cheongsam is here to stay. And this is just the book to get you started on the art of cheongsam.
In the Mood for Cheongsam retails from $35 at www.edmbooks.com, $37.45 at Kinokuniya, Times Bookstore.
Find out more about the In the Mood for Cheongsam exhibition here, held from now to June 28 at the National Museum.