Image: Carina & Su Yuan's wedding
While the Western bride has the traditional white gown, the Chinese bride has the heavily embellished red kua (or qun kua, literally meaning skirt and jacket) for her wedding dress.
The modern Chinese bride, though, is now more likely to wear the kua for her tea ceremony. On average, 8 of 10 brides choose it.
“Elegant, and flattering when you choose a ‘skinny’ cut, it’s a no-brainer outfit (but not in a bad way),” says Cheryl Chan who wore a kua she bought in Hong Kong when she married.
A Chinese fairy tale
The beauty of a kua lies in its elaborately embroidered motifs, for which there’s even a hierarchy.
There is a “King” and “Queen” kua with extremely elaborate embroidery done in gold and silver threads; the sheer extent of embroidery also explains why these tend to look golden or silvery rather than red.
The amount of embroidery used to symbolise a family’s wealth; now, brides prefer to choose their kuas based on design.
It’s not clear when exactly the kua began showing up as the Chinese wedding dress. Some records state the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Others claim the Qing (or Manchu) dynasty (1644-1912). But it is clear that the kua first became popular in Guangdong, China.
The red outfit was considered auspicious and suited the amount of yellow gold jewellery a bride had to wear.
Then and now
Image: Nixi & Hwee Sheng's wedding
Today’s kua is still as embellished but looks more modern with a slimmer, curvier cut.
More kuas now also tend to have the jackets end with scalloped hems. This style is popular because when combined with the skinnier cut, the kua looks more feminine.
Kuas are divided into three styles: those bearing embroidered motifs, another with beaded motifs, and the third combines both.
The embroidered kua can have “flat” or three-dimensional embroidery. Flat embroidery has a less raised effect that looks more modern.
Three-dimensional embroidery, though traditional, makes motifs “pop up” more. However, it needs a longer time to produce (sometimes up to six months) and costs more.
The beaded kua was popularised in the ’80s because brides found the embroidered kuas too old-fashioned. A beaded kua has clear beads sewn on its motifs. As such, it tends to look more red than its silvery or golden cousins.
The embroidery-and-bead kua is the happy compromise. Where and whether motifs are beaded or embroidered depends on design.
The dragon, phoenix and flower
Image: Fiona & Nicholas's wedding
Each kua has a unique meaning since it can feature one motif repeatedly, or a few all at once, to symbolise different things for a couple.
The most popular motif is the dragon and phoenix, because they represent perfect harmony and balance between yin (female) and yang (male) forces; and also because this pair, historically, symbolises royalty.
The peony stands for riches, love, beauty and honour, while a bat suggests good fortune (the word for bat in Mandarin sounds the same as that for good fortune). Five bats represent longevity, wealth, health, virtue and love.
A pair of Mandarin ducks is also popular – they mate for life, hence they represent fidelity.
And all that, at the end of the day, is what every couple wishes for their marriage. Now, doesn’t the kua sound perfect for the occasion?
Where to shop:
The Proposal Bridal The luxury multi-label boutique that doesn't just carry modern wedding gowns from international designers but also traditional Kuas and cheongsams/qipaos crafted by established Shanghai designers. #01-67/68 Capitol Piazza, tel:6835-7077.
The Red Wedding Its range is from Hong Kong’s famed Koon Nam Wah, known for its traditional wedding paraphernalia. There’s a full selection available for both rental and for sale, but King kuas need advance notice because they have to be ordered from Hong Kong. You'll also find matching accessories, like phoenix and dragon bangles, to match. Website: www.theredwedding.com, tel: 9843-5577. Call to make an appointment.
House of Etiquette offers kuas elaborately embroidered with gold and silver thread, as well as beads and sequins; King and Queen kuas available. Website: http://www.houseofetiquette.com.sg, tel: 6226-8139. Call to make an appointment.
Lurve Story The store carries China- and Hong Kong-made, beaded and embroidered kuas, along with accessories to complement your outfit. Webisite: www.lurvestory.com, tel: 9366-9931.