This cheongsam is made with silk on the outside, squirrel on the inside.

This cheongsam is made with silk on the outside, squirrel on the inside.

 

Now on view in the China Gallery is a piece of clothing that gets our textiles curator Sara Oka very excited. What we think of as the quintessential Chinese garment—the cheongsam (also known as qipao in Mandarin)—was the Suzie Wong uniform, with a high collar, side slits and body-hugging hourglass shape. The goal is to strike a feminine, elegant silhouette.

However, the qipao was originally wide and loose, concealing the figure of the wearer. It wasn’t until the saucy 1920s that the dress became more fitted and revealing.

What makes this cheongsam remarkable is the squirrel fur lining, which would have remained hidden beneath an outer layer of silk. Secret super furry jacket.

Cheongsam (robe)
China, Mid 20th century
Silk, squirrel fur, damask weave
Gift of Daphne Chu and Youyi Chu in memory of Margaret W.T. and Victor F.H. Chu, 2008 (13851.1)