At significant times in your life, on your wedding day, for instance, you may want to connect to your culture. This often means embracing symbolism and traditions from your heritage in your wedding planning.
For a bride of Chinese ancestry, there are many symbolic things to know about the traditional Chinese wedding dress (or wedding dresses) and the Phoenix Coronet, a decorative bridal headdress.
We say wedding dresses (plural) because there are two different styles in Chinese bridal fashion. Throughout China’s history, the style a bride would wear usually depended on whether she lived in the northern or southern part of China and the specific region or province of her birth.
We’ve investigated some of the important history and timeless beauty of Chinese wedding fashions and traditions, and with respect, we’d love to pass on these fascinating details to you.
The History of a Red Chinese Wedding Dress
Most of us have some basic knowledge of Feng Shui; a practice developed from the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism.
Taoism focuses on balancing energy forces for cosmic and spiritual harmony. The philosophy uses a quintet of colors to represent the five essential elements in the world and universe around us.
One of the colors is red (the element of fire), and it’s been spiritually essential to Taoism throughout Chinese history to today. For this reason, red remains the most popular color in China.
Red symbolizes deep happiness, inner and outer beauty, mental and physical vitality, good luck and fortune, and personal success. That’s why many Chinese brides wear a red dress with specific embellishments.
Let’s quickly define other important colors and symbols in Chinese tradition that appear in wedding fashions and decorations. After that, we’ll show you different Chinese wedding dresses available to brides today and other details regarding headdresses and guest attire.
Gold as a Valuable Embellishment
Another notable color in the five elements of Taoism is yellow—seen as the center of the cosmos and a symbol of Earth. Throughout Chinese History, yellow was strictly reserved for the emperor’s clothes since he physically represented the center of the cosmos.
Interestingly, gold, the color closest to yellow, symbolized nobility or wealth (as it does in Western culture), but anyone with enough money could wear it. Gold (or golden tones) still has an important place in celebration and is also combined with silvery colors for special occasion wear.
Double Happiness Symbol in Red or Gold
The double happiness symbol is highly regarded in Chinese culture.
These little red or gold double happiness stickers make perfect good luck charms for your wedding stationery, tableware, and napkins for your big day!
Importance of Dragon and Phoenix in Chinese Wedding Traditions
In Feng Shui, a successful and balanced marriage is symbolized by two mythical creatures: the phoenix represents “yin,” and the dragon represents “yang.”
The combination of dragon and phoenix brings prosperity and success in love and career to the matriarch and patriarch as they unite.
The mighty dragon and phoenix coupling are featured prominently in Chinese wedding fashions, stationery, table decorations, and another important tradition: the wedding packet!
Dragon and Phoenix Red Wedding Packet Is Everything
This is an elegant red packet/envelope with 囍 and the Dragon and Phoenix.
It is a high-quality red packet with the right amount of elegance.
A Hong Kong-based creator offers these beautiful, high-quality red packets in large or small sizes for a vital part of every Chinese wedding celebration. These packets feature the double happiness symbol and gorgeous renditions of the phoenix and dragon.
The red packet is generally preferred over wrapped wedding gifts in Chinese culture. Of course, that means an envelope with money for you and your new spouse, but there’s something important for your guests to remember, so they don’t accidentally jinx you!
When guests put money in the packet, the amount should be an equal number that hopefully includes the number 8 (think $88 as an example) because that brings prosperity to the couple. Wedding guests shouldn’t give an odd-numbered amount of cash or an amount equalling 4.
Southern Chinese Wedding Dress Traditions
Chinese traditions are different between the northern and southern areas, and there are 23 different provinces throughout the country with many distinct local rules and bridal fashions.
A Chinese wedding dress can look quite different between the southern provinces and the north. However, the similarity with most Chinese wedding dresses is their bright red color, a historical symbol of good fortune worn by brides that also chases evil away.
In southern China, the most common style for brides is a bright red two-piece garment called the Qungua or the more familiar Qun Kwa.
The Qun Kwa bridal ensemble is highly decorative. It includes a skirt and an elaborately embroidered jacket called the Longfeng Gua (dragon phoenix coat) with the creatures stitched in a gold thread or a combination of golden, silver, and pearly accents.
We found some gorgeous Qun Kwa-style styles mixing ultra-traditional with decidedly modern elements. Check this out!
Magnificent Mandarin Collar Qun Kwa Dress
We love the fit and flow of this beautifully embroidered ensemble (reviews suggest you size up if possible to ensure there’s room to move in this slender style).
The attention to detail here is spectacular! We’re especially in awe of the dropped beading on the skirt under the phoenix, the scalloped trim on the jacket and sleeves, and that standout Mandarin collar with gorgeous fasteners down the front.
Desirable Qun Kwa Dress With or Without Drilling
Here’s a beautiful example of the gold and silver embroidery that makes this Qun Kwa appear brighter and multi-colored.
The flattering A-line silhouette is a straightforward and relatively minimalist design. In addition, you get a choice in finishes here with either a drilled appearance (embellishments stitched more tightly into the fabric) or without for a less defined look.
Champagne Gold Qun Kwa Dress as Romantic as Red
While we’ve learned a great deal about the significance of red in Chinese culture and as one of the five color elements in Taoism, we also love presenting different selections. We’ve fallen in love with this stunning Qun Kwa dress in champagne gold!
The embellishments appear more subtle on this lighter-colored dress, but the traditional embroidered phoenix and dragon are there in fine form.
We also appreciate other style details like the champagne buttons underneath the mandarin collar, the wide layered cuff sleeves, and the ribbon trim on the skirt.
This beautiful Qun Kwa is available in a range of American sizes, and we also think this is perfect if you want to go from a civil or church service to a tea ceremony in the same gorgeous gown!
Northern Chinese Wedding Dress Traditions
A Northern Chinese wedding dress is called the Qipao. These dresses are as elaborate as the Qun Kwa ensemble, but they are generally a one-piece design with a mandarin collar and a body-conscious fit.
Qipao with Cocktail-Length Trumpet Skirt for Civil Ceremony
First off, this Qipao is a stunning blend of vintage Audrey Hepburn and a modern Chinese aesthetic!
This style is gorgeous on all body types, from the mandarin collar to the high waist and flared sleeves.
In addition, the designer incorporates a “classical golden embroidery pattern” on a “vivid wine red” material that suits every season.
What a perfect look for a civil wedding service and cocktail reception!
Timeless Red Cheongsam Wedding Dress With Golden Sequins
The Cheongsam dress is a more recent incarnation of the traditional Qipao style that came to be in Shanghai during the early 20th century. Across the ocean, Cheongsam styles influenced film stars in early Hollywood, and the silhouette continues to be popular in Asian and international fashion today.
There are so many figure-flattering details about this particular Cheongsam selection, and it’s worth noting that the variety of sizes will allow almost any bride to look beautiful on her wedding day!
We love the gold sequined accents on the bodice and the short capped sleeves. The detailing continues down the body-conscious length of this mermaid dress, finishing with golden piping along the sweeping scalloped hem.
A Wedding Qipao You Can Wear Again
This ultra-modern and fashionable wedding day look would be equally suitable for red carpet events. The rich red color is on point, with fitted 3/4 sleeves and a flattering mandarin collar paying homage to the Chinese tradition.
It’s unique that the embellishments are kept to one-half of the bodice and sleeve. Still, front to back, the mermaid silhouette here is so breathtaking that further decorative accents are unnecessary.
Wow Them in This Wine-Red Tea Ceremony Dress
While this gorgeous look ticks the boxes with its traditional color and the stunning phoenix embroidery, the midi length and side slits take you to modern fashion infinity and beyond!
The History of the Chinese Phoenix Coronet
An ancient tradition followed by some Chinese women is to wear a very distinctive and beautiful headdress called the Chinese Phoenix Coronet.
Centuries ago, royal brides in the Ming Dynasty were the first to wear Phoenix Coronets to display status and power.
Members of royalty also wore their diamond and pearl-studded Phoenix Coronets during official receptions. In addition, it became fashionable for ordinary women of moderate wealth to wear decorative Phoenix Coronets made of jade as ornaments on their wedding day.
The traditional Phoenix Coronet is more elaborate and culturally significant than most Western-style faux princess tiaras.
If you’re interested in honoring this timeless wedding tradition, we’ve got some gorgeous Phoenix Coronets.
Classic Chinese Bridal Headdress
This electroplated set of specially designed hairpins replicates the traditional Phoenix Coronet with alloys, rhinestones, and pearly accents.
It’s a wedding day look befitting a star of the Peking Opera!
Guests, Choose the Right Colors for a Chinese Wedding
Styles are constantly evolving in Western wedding fashion. For instance, at one time, no one but the bride wore a white dress to her wedding.
While Chinese wedding traditions have evolved too, there’s so much historical significance tied to tradition that we prefer to keep respecting the guidelines below.
When a bride is honoring their Chinese heritage by wearing a red Qun Kwa or Qipao dress for a tea ceremony, guests should respect the bride and refrain from wearing red on her wedding day.
In Chinese culture, people often view darker shades of grey, blue, or the color black as bad luck, and guests may want to avoid wearing those colors. So what’s a wedding guest to do?
Pick any one of many beautiful shades, as it turns out! Warm floral and fruity tones like pink, peach, or lilac are welcomed in Chinese culture because these colors symbolize a new and happy life!
Peach Perfection Midi Length Dress for Wedding Guests
This perfect peach dress scores a lot of Fs in our style book: it’s fun with the flirty keyhole detail on the top, and the flow of the skirt will flatter all body types.
Peach isn’t the only happy color available in this selection. There are other floral and fruity tones like hot pink and brighter orange.
You may even want more than one of these trendy dresses on standby in your wardrobe!