A search for cheongsams

For quite some time, I have noticed this lady, in her 50’s with a bob hair cut, who is always in the traditional straight-cut cheongsams, and working in the same office vicinity as me. I have never seen in her any other attires. Though she is no Maggie Cheung, she is well groomed in her fitted cheongsam with make up and heels.

I had always been curious about her; because for the longest time she was the only cheongsam clad lady other than myself. Even now, she is the only person I have seen who wears the dress all the time (even I don’t do that), and always the same design. I had wondered where she gets her dresses made, and thought she would have to spend a lot of money on tailoring them. So I decided to strike up a conversation with her when I had the chance, but for some time I only had fleeting glimpses.

Finally last Friday, I was about to go down the escalator when I spotted her standing along the side while moving down. I grabbed my chance and approached, and she turns out to be a pretty friendly and chatty lady. She takes the same train line as me and so we had quite a long chat on the way home.

In my excitement to get info on her cheongsams, I forgot to ask her for her name, so let’s call her “The Lady”. She revealed that her dresses are tailor-made in Shanghai and she didn’t have to pay for them! Her older sister goes there every month and will have a couple of dresses made for her. The Lady provided her measurements the first time, and since then her sister will pick the fabric, arrange for them made at the same shop and pays for all of them. But The Lady admits that the fittings aren’t that good because there is a high turnover of seamstresses, and she has to alter them every time. And she uses Alter Pro too! So this explains why she wears the same design all the time.

Though The Lady doesn’t pay for her cheongsams, she is aware that they are rather cheap, a less than S$ 50 each (or about US$41). She also recommended a popular cheongsam chain store in China called “Silk King” which makes good quality cheongsam at a higher price of around S$200 (US$166) at fast turnaround time, even within 24 hours with advance notice.

We spoke about the cheongsam scene in Singapore, and she has also noticed an increasing number of women in cheongsams. (Cheongsam clad ladies stand out, and I will actually take a closer look at the dress and have fun guessing where it is from.) She herself feels uncomfortable wearing other attires. Like me, she has no problem with the high collar. “Someone told me she found it uncomfortable to have the collar wraps round the neck and maybe I got used to it. That’s probably true.”

She knows about the cheongsam boutiques at Raffles Place. “I went into Hana once, and asked for the price The owner said (imitating an uppity tone) “these are more than S $1,000.” I was shocked! So expensive!” With that she stuck out her tongue, and continued, “there is this lady in my gym class who once wore a black Hana cheongsam, a simple piece, and she paid S$1,000 for the dress. The rest of us don’t think it is worth it.”

I guess Hana considers itself as providing master tailoring skill for its cheongsams and so is charging international prices. But I must admit some of the fabrics used for their cheongsams can be rather luxurious, such as intricate laces, like these dresses below.

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Then there are those with just the prints.
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The Lady has her recommended cheongsam shops instead, both of which I wasn’t aware of. (I need to find more cheongsam boutiques out there.) One is Mama & Misse. I checked out the website and realized it has been around for a long time and has a few stores, located at International Plaza, Thomson Plaza, and People’s Park Complex. I decided to visit the one at IP to have a closer look at the dresses.

The cheongsams available are mostly in the traditional straight-cut design with open front panel on the right chest and side zip. There are some modern pieces with back zip or pleated bottom, and I even found a couple with the tulip bottom fit. In general, I find the prints rather dated, and no interesting designs. However the workmanship is good, and initial look seems comparable to Hana.

I took pictures of the cheongsams in the window display (surreptitiously as usual), and asked the staff if I could took one of this long elegant piece inside the store, but was declined. Though she said the pictures available online can be used since they are in public domain.

A lace piece on display, similar to what Haha offers except that the lace doesn’t seem as intricate.
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The prices of the off-the-rack cheongsam range from S $250 for one in cotton fabric to more than S $400 for one in lace. The boutique also offers tailoring service, where you can either have the shop sourced the fabric for you or you provide it. For the former, the price will be upward of S $500. For labor cost alone, the price is more than S $200 for cotton fabric and more than S $300 for silk fabric. You are also expected to provide the lining material, otherwise you will be charged S $30 for it. The workmanship also includes piping and buttons, which the customer can provide separate fabrics for them in case the shop may not have the right colors. The costs are definitely cheaper than Hana or Kang’s Boutique, and similar to Lady Xiang. It takes 3 fittings for the cheongsam to be completed and duration is a month.

These cheongsams featured below are taken from the Facebook page of the boutique.

Cheongsam in tweed fabric

Cheongsam in tweed fabric

    

Cheongsam in sari fabric

Cheongsam in sari fabric

Cheongsam in batik fabric

Cheongsam in batik fabric

Cheongsam with chiffon lace fabric

Cheongsam in chiffon lace fabric

Modern piece with tulip bottom cut

Modern piece with pleated bottom cut

A retro-looking piece with short mermaid tail

A retro-looking piece with short mermaid tail

An interesting print of broad colored brush strokes

An interesting print of broad colored brush strokes

 

 

The other boutique recommended by The Lady is Studio 55 at Purvis Street. I checked online and found that it is opened by a local designer, Peter Kor. I haven’t visited the store yet, and will write a post on it once I have done so. Meanwhile I welcome information on other cheongsam boutiques I haven’t covered.

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