The qipao (or “kei po” in Cantonese) has come a long, long way. While most of the world associates this exquisite Chinese dress with Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s “In the Mood for Love,” the truth is, the qipao looked very different when it was first made. To illustrate its evolution, from functional day dress to stylish party frock, the Museum of History is staging the exhibition, “The Evergreen Classic—The Transformation of the Qipao.” The journey begins in a red, Forbidden City-style corridor that displays some of the oldest qipaos as worn by the Manchu in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). These gowns are clumsy and baggy robes that cover the entire body and look strikingly different from modern versions. In the next section, you’ll see more modern qipao from the early twentieth century. Unlike the framed Manchu qipao, these more slimline gowns from the 1910s and 1920s are displayed on hangers so you can study them without restriction. This also reflects the move out of the dynasty era, which brought great changes for women’s social status. From that point the qipao became popular as a form of school uniform. It also became a symbolic outfit for ladies who were educated. Around that time women were encouraged to celebrate their figures and the dress gained a more flattering design, hugging the waist and chest. The most glamorous era for the qipao was between the 1930s and 1940s when its popularity extended to all levels of society, from movie stars to the average woman on the street. During this era, elements of Western fashion started to blend with the qipao, giving the dress an even more slender design and tight fit. The exhibition showcases qipao of all styles and colors from this golden age on a round stage, revealing the huge popularity of the dress at this time. Another popular section of the exhibition is the display of qipaos worn by former Miss Hong Kong winners, including a stunning blue gown worn by the 1977 Miss Hong Kong Loletta Chu. To this day, the beauty pageant insists on putting contestants in qipaos as a way of accentuating their curves. After the 1950s and 1960s, the qipao lost its popularity because the tight gowns restricted women’s movement at work. However, the qipao continues to be a fashion icon today. It still influences modern fashion designers and is regularly worn for special occasions such as weddings. More importantly, it will always remain an unchangeable cultural symbol of China, no matter how society continues to change. “The Evergreen Classic—The Transformation of the Qipao” runs til September 13 at the Museum of History, 100 Chatham Rd. South, Tsim Sha Tsui, 2724-9042.