Also called a Hong Kong sheath, or qipao in Mandarin. This is the commonly used name for a Chinese dress that became popular in the 1930s, although it's often erroneously referred to as traditional clothing. Stereotypical clothing would be more accurate, although it is loosely based on traditional ideas. It often shows up in anachronistic pre-20th century settings in film and such. Anyway, it's very pretty, usually having a mandarin collar and a tightly fitted shape. They were loose originally, but today's tight dresses really need to be custom-fitted to look right.

Properly made and fitted, the dress is so tight that you can't sit in a chair, you can only perch on the edge. It's flattering to many body shapes, including both the full bust and the small bust. However, it's definitely built for a woman with a waist and hips.

I'll do my best to describe it in its most basic form: an ankle-length fitted sheath with side slits, darts at the bust, cap sleeves, and a mandarin collar, usually made from silk brocade but often seen in satin today. Common variations include a high thigh slit, short sleeves, long sleeves, side frog fasteners, shorter lengths (up to micromini), various fabrics such as velvet. A more unusual variation is some sort of cut-out decolletage. Postmodern fashion designers have played with the cheongsam idea extensively, much as has been done to the kimono. The cheongsam will probably never go out of style in the West, as it's been a popular party dress since the 1930s.

(update) Cheongsam is the Cantonese pronunciation of "chang shan," which indeed merely means "long robe." Qipao is an unrelated word that is currently used by Chinese-speakers to refer the above kind of dress.
Odd. The Taiwanese Chan Buddhist monks that I know refer to their robes as "cheongsam".

They referred to summer wear three-quarter length jackets worn over loose pants as "duangsam".

Perhaps "cheongsam" simply mean a longish piece of clothing with side vents at the bottom, rather than the dresses referred to above?

Thank you, Fat Tony.

Actually "cheongsam" (Cantonese) is two words: "cheong" meaning long, and "sam" (more correctly "saam") meaning tunic. The term as used by Chinese is not specific to clothing worn by either sex. It refers to any long gown and includes the "ma kwa" which is a male-specific loose robe.

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