Tomorrow (9/19) happens to be Moon Festival, an East Asian holiday celebrating the harvest moon. So, I'll talk about Mandarin dresses in this post.
Above on the left are my maternal grandparents in a studio photo, with a burgundy velvet Mandarin dress on Grandma. I'm displaying this photo partially because Moon Festival is Granddad's birthday (Chinese people of his generation celebrate their lunar calendar birthdays), partially because Grandma's Mandarin dress looks absolutely stunning.
I highly recommend long-sleeve or elbow-sleeve, loose-fit Mandarin dresses like my grandma's for elderly ladies of all races, though those as well preserved as Jane Fonda can pull off form-fitting Mandarin dresses as well. Nothing suits a grande dame better than a magnificent and yet modest Mandarin dress. Plus, while other types of long-sleeve, loose-fit dresses are also forgiving, Mandarin dresses (also known as cheongsam or qipao) in the same style uniquely provide neck coverage for elderly ladies with bulging neck veins.
Look at this elegant elderly lady's neck. Don't you agree that she would look older without the Mandarin collar covering most of her neck? The two pieces of the Mandarin collar actually could be sewn closer to cover the middle neck vein visible in the picture.
Even for relatively young women with smooth necks, the Mandarin collar is still a flattering choice, which makes a short neck look longer and a long neck more slender. I always feel more confident about my neck when wearing a Mandarin dress.
Of all my Mandarin dresses, the one shown above is my favorite, but I've only worn it twice because it's floor length, too formal for most occasions. I bought it for a traditional-Chinese-style photo shoot, which is a common practice of Chinese American couples during engagement (though the couples would wear modern cocktail attire at the engagement party). The ethnic-looking photos are meant to be included in the wedding album, besides pictures of the couple in Western wedding attire at the actual ceremony.
By the way, in case you didn't know, couples in China and Taiwan (part of the Greater China) have all adopted Western wedding attire. Traditional Chinese garments are just for photo shoots over there, too.
Some Chinese and Chinese American brides may choose a floor-length Mandarin dress for the wedding reception, but I didn't. My Valentine's wedding reception in 2009 had a fairy-tale theme (playing all Disney movie songs on the dance floor), so the Mandarin style wouldn't have fit in.
The second time I put on my favorite Mandarin dress was for a black-tie Oscars viewing party on Feb 24 this year. That evening happened to coincide with Lantern Festival, the Chinese holiday marking the first full moon of the lunar year, so the white Mandarin dress with embroidered pink peony flowers was perfect for the occasion.
See the off-the-shoulder short sleeves in the photo right above? I had them added to the Mandarin dress because I found its combination of a halter cut and mermaid silhouette too bottom heavy, therefore hip unfriendly. Although the original dress looks fine on me in the professionally produced photos, you've got to take the professional photographer's expertise into account. To look good in real life and in photos taken by amateurs, I must wear the dress with the off-the-shoulder short sleeves to offset the hip width.
If you also have proportionally wide hips but love a dress with a halter top and mermaid skirt, I suggest you do the same. It doesn't matter your dress has a Mandarin collar or not. Actually, a halter and mermaid dress without a Mandarin collar would be even more hip unfriendly because it would have nothing to draw attention upward.
You've probably never seen off-the-shoulder short sleeves on both sides of a halter. This is an innovation, if I'm not mistaken.
The innovative style would show off the boniest parts of your shoulders, conceal the thickest section of your upper arms, and widen your upper bust area to offset your hip width. I'm quite proud of this flattering design. If it appears in ready-made dresses someday, I hope to get credit as the original designer.
Before then, you can always buy a halter Mandarin dress on line and have a tailor use some similar fabric and elastic to add off-the-shoulder short sleeves to it if you need the addition (women with narrow hips don't). While my favorite Mandarin dress is too formal for most events because of its floor length, you can get a halter Mandarin dress in knee length or ankle length, which will work for all of your semi-formal occasions. Its high collar will keep you warm in the cooling fall weather.
The black-lace-over-cherry-satin halter dress shown above is in a column silhouette, not a mermaid, so it's not bottom heavy. Even proportionally wide-hipped women don't need off-the-shoulder short sleeves added to it.
If you like a more modern look, below is a Mandarin dress in a totally modernized style. The black insets along its sides are very slimming. Since green is one of the Christmas colors, it'll be a perfect holiday party dress.
It is available at http://www.elegente.com/silk-chinese-haute-couture-green-stripes.html
While getting a form-fitting and figure-flattering Mandarin dress for yourself, why not also purchase a long-sleeve or elbow-sleeve, loose-fit Mandarin dress on line for your mother or grandmother? Consider the elbow-sleeve Mandarin dress shown right below for Mom and the velvet one displayed beneath it for Grandma, especially if one of them has a big birthday party coming up.
Now no one needs to go to Chinatown to shop for a Mandarin dress any more. They are all over the Internet. One of the best on-line stores selling Mandarin dresses is ELEGENTE.com. By submitting your body measurements, you can even buy a tailor-made cheongsam from them.
Enjoy the ageless beauty of Mandarin dresses!