Fashion is architecture. It is a matter of proportions.

– Coco Chanel, French fashion designer

My niece, Ah Hong, has made a special pact with two of her best friends for the coming Chinese New Year — to wear cheongsam on the first day of the celebration.

The cheongsam, also known as a qipao, is a close-fitting dress that originated in Shanghai, China, in the 1920s.

The Three Musketeers, in the historical adventure novel written by French author Alexandre Dumas, were heroic, chivalrous swordsmen who fought for justice.

I call Ah Hong and her two friends the Three Musketeers because they like to go everywhere together — window shopping or trying new food at a contemporary eatery. Together since primary school, they have remained steadfast friends even after high school.

Ah Hong bought a cheongsam when we went shopping for the Chinese New Year at a shopping mall in Kuching City recently. She is a very modern young girl so I was a bit surprised by her purchase.

The next day, she told me about the cheongsam pact she made with her best friends. One of them, who bought one last Chinese New Year, has decided to use it again this year. The other one has to shop for one fast and with the celebration due next month, she does not have much time.

I am surprised and happy that the Three Musketeers have decided to promote Chinese culture this year.

During recent shopping trips, I am pleased to note that Chinese women are spoilt for choice when it comes to Chinese New Year cheongsam. Now, they come in different patterns, materials and prices.

In the olden days, it was hard, at least in Kuching and Sibu, to find beautiful cheongsam at affordable prices. Many women had to go to dressmakers to make theirs. Some frequent travellers even shopped for theirs overseas, particularly Hong Kong and Shanghai, where tailors were renowned for their superb workmanship.

If you want to buy a cheongsam, now is perhaps the time to do so. Many shops are selling cheongsam and Chinese New Year clothes that they have specially ordered for the festival. After the Chinese New Year, not that many cheongsam will be hanging on the racks again.

When I was younger, I was not into wearing cheongsam. First and foremost, I thought it was more appropriate for those who looked like models and had perfect proportionate bodies.

Secondly, they were expensive.

Now, I am older and wiser, I urge all Chinese ladies to buy a cheongsam each and at least wear one once in your lifetime. You don’t have to be tall or have the perfect figure. Just choose a cheongsam that looks good on you, meaning it is not too loose, not too long and not too tight. Be proud of your Chinese culture.

The Chinese New Year, I think, is the best time for Chinese ladies to wear cheongsam. After the celebration, you can wear your cheongsam to formal dinners.

Few modern women wear cheongsam frequently because it takes time to wear one compared to contemporary clothes. Besides that, it is hard to move when you wear it.

Do you know that the cheongsam was everyday wear in Hong Kong in the 1950s? Influenced by European fashion, it was usually worn with high heels, a leather clutch and white gloves. Nowadays, women don’t have to follow these fashion rules anymore.

It was pointed out that Hong Kong’s association with cheongsam was cemented by movies such as The World of Susie Wong (1961), starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan, and the rise of the colony’s beauty pageants.

In Sarawak, we used to have our own Miss Cheongsam Sarawak and even the Little Miss Cheongsam contest. Both privately organised contests were not restricted to Chinese participation but open to multicultural participation in recognition of the state’s multicultural diversity. I don’t know what happened to these contests now; it looks like they have been discontinued maybe for the time being.

Well, coming back to my niece and the Chinese New Year pact she made with her friends, I understand the last Musketeer is now busy — and frantically — shopping for her cheongsam. I wish her and the rest of you who are shopping for yours, too, good luck. May you find a cheongsam that looks good on you.

Happy Chinese New Year shopping!