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Old Shanghai Fashion: The Glamour of Historic Beauty

Step back in time and immerse yourself in the world of old Shanghai fashion, where style was a mix of East meets West, and glamour was the name of the game! Take a look at the 1929 fashion video by three confident Shanghai women skilled in three languages, and let’s take a trip down memory lane to old Shanghai fashion!

The Golden Age of Old Shanghai Fashion

The 1920s and 1930s were the golden age of old Shanghai fashion. The city was the most economically thriving location in the Republic of China. As a major international trading hub, it attracted people from all over the world. This cultural melting pot led to the unique blend of Western and Chinese fashion styles that defined the era.

Furthermore, Shanghai’s booming entertainment industry, particularly its film and jazz scenes, fueled the city’s fascination with fashion.

Photoshoot of Jin Tai Pan, a Chinese TV show with Old Shanghai Fashion
Photoshoot of Jin Tai Pan, a Chinese TV show with Old Shanghai Fashion

The Four Great Beauties of Old Shanghai

In the early 20th century, while most Chinese cities were just starting to shake off feudal superstitions, Shanghai’s entertainment and film industry had begun to flourish. During this time, four dazzling beauties took center stage as the leading ladies of Shanghai.

Hu Die (Butterfly Hu)

Born in 1908 in Shanghai, Hu Die was one of the earliest Chinese actresses to enter the film industry and was hailed as the “First Beauty of the Republic.” She starred in films like “War Achievements,” “Sister Flowers,” and “Peerless Beauty.” In 1933, she was crowned Film Queen.

After the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, Hu Die moved to Hong Kong and later retired from acting to live with her husband. She passed away in Canada on April 23, 1989, at the age of 81.

Butterfly Hu Photoshoot
Butterfly Hu Street Photoshoot

Ruan Lingyu

Born in 1910 in Shanghai, Ruan Lingyu began her acting career before finishing high school. She starred in films like “Dreams of the Old Capital,” “New Women,” and “Palace of Blood and Tears.” Known as the “Silent Film Queen,” Ruan’s innocent beauty was beloved by many.

However, people during that time didn’t respect actresses. Overwhelmed by public slander and defamation, Ruan chose to end her life through suicide at the age of 25.

Photoshoot of Ruan Lingyu
Photoshoot of Ruan Lingyu

Zhou Xuan

Born in 1920 in Changzhou, Zhou Xuan released her first record at the age of 12 and entered the film industry at 15, starring in “Street Angel.” Her song “Wandering Songstress” became a sensation, widely popular among the global Chinese community. Zhou Xuan was also crowned Film Queen but rejected the honor.

In 1951, she suddenly suffered from a mental breakdown while filming and was admitted to a hospital. She made few public appearances afterward and died at 37 from acute encephalitis.

Zhou Xuan - Wandering Songstress

Photoshoot of Zhou Xuan
Photoshoot of Zhou Xuan

Shangguan Yunzhu

Born in 1920 in Jiangsu Province, Shangguan Yunzhu fled to Shanghai with her family after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. She started learning drama in Shanghai before entering the film industry. Shangguan starred in numerous films, with “The Spring River Flows East” and “Crows and Sparrows” earning her the Ministry of Culture’s first-class individual award.

Sadly, her fate was equally tragic. During the Cultural Revolution, Shangguan was imprisoned and attacked. On November 22, 1968, after being interrogated, she chose to end her life by jumping from a building.

Signed Photo of Shangguan Yunzhu
Signed Photo of Shangguan Yunzhu

Characteristics of Old Shanghai Fashion

Old Shanghai was known as the “Paris of the East,” a renowned fashion capital and the most luxurious metropolis in the Far East. It was a city that never slept. In the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was filled with bright lights, revelry, and flourishing beauty. Its fashion characteristics included two points: East Meets West, and Jazz.

East Meets West

One of the defining characteristics of old Shanghai fashion was its seamless integration of Western and Chinese elements. Ladies rocked chic cheongsams with a modern twist, embracing bold colors and patterns that were all the rage at the time. On the other hand, the fellas were all about dapper suits and fedoras that would make even Don Draper jealous.

Photos of Old Shanghai Beauty 3
#1 Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Sam Sanzetti
Photos of Old Shanghai Beauty 5
#2 Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Sam Sanzetti
Photos of Old Shanghai Beauty 2
#3 Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Sam Sanzetti
Photos of Old Shanghai Beauty 6
#4 Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Sam Sanzetti
Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Zhou Jun
Photo of Old Shanghai Beauty, Photographed by Zhou Jun

All That Jazz

No discussion of old Shanghai fashion would be complete without mentioning its swinging jazz scene. The city’s thriving nightlife boasted swanky clubs and opulent dance halls, where the who’s who of Shanghai gathered to dance the night away. Flappers and dandies donned their best threads, creating an unforgettable atmosphere of glitz and glamour.

Singers and Dancers in Old Shanghai 2
Singers and Dancers in Old Shanghai 1
Singers and Dancers in Old Shanghai 3

Singers and Dancers in Old Shanghai, Photographed by Anonymous

Haipai Style – Modern Lyrics of Shanghai Fashion

“Everyone tries the Shanghai way, but mimic and mimic, it won’t sway. By the time you glimpse its grace, Shanghai’s style has changed its pace.” This catchy rhyme from the 1930s and 1940s vividly reflects the rapidly changing fashion trends in Shanghai.

In 1949, the sound of liberation cannons shattered old Shanghai’s prosperity. In the new era, the Shanghai people composed a new chapter of idealism in their unique Haipai clothing style.

Shanghai Fashion Week

Shanghai Fashion Week is the cat’s pajamas when it comes to runway events, showcasing the best and brightest of the fashion world. Launched in 2003, Shanghai Fashion Week aims to spotlight China’s dynamic fashion scene and boost local designers’ street cred worldwide. During this fab event, designers from all over the globe come together to strut their stuff and schmooze with the who’s who in the industry.

Alongside the main event, there are a ton of offshoots like the Shanghai Fashion Weekend, including Shanghai Fashion Weekend, a public-facing event with pop-up shops, workshops, and panel discussions. They are trying to give the public a taste of the action.

Here is one of the runway shows in Shanghai Fashion Week:


Old Shanghai fashion was all about innovation, jazz, and a unique blend of East and West. The iconic styles of this golden era continue to inspire today’s fashion world, reminding us that true style is timeless. So, whether you’re a vintage aficionado or simply love a good throwback, old Shanghai fashion is a treasure trove of inspiration just waiting to be discovered.

If you want to know more about Chinese culture and styles, welcome to our Chinese dress channel! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or ideas about fashion ~ We are always here to exchange brilliant thoughts!

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