This week we feature a collection of hand-tailored garments of Aileen Pei (1912-2016), the wife of Tsuyee Pei and stepmother of architect I. M. Pei. These garments were donated by her daughter and MOCA’s Board Trustee Patricia Pei. The MOCA team recently processed these clothing articles for permanent storage in the MOCA Collections and prepared a selection of them for exhibition at The Winter Art Show at the Park Avenue Armory.

The collection contains a total of 41 garments, 28 of which are qipaos while the other materials include complimentary trousers, shirts, jackets, and winter accessories. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to state that there is a color for every spectrum of the rainbow in this collection, from beautiful jade green to velvety black. Aileen’s dresses are very much representative of her cosmopolitanism and status as a socialite, as it combines fabric selections drawn from New York, the expert craftsmanship of Hong Kong, and design influences from China’s fashion capital, Shanghai.


Portrait of Aileen Pei, circa 1950s. Courtesy of Patrica Pei.
Short sleeved lavender silk crêpe chiffon, plastic lined collar, violet flowers with green leaves and stems stamped with acrylic fabric paint across chest and throughout, matching lavender silk lining in the interior. Courtesy of Patricia Pei. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Short sleeved qipao with dark shimmery glitter fabric and a black silk lining in the interior & sleeveless pink silk qi pao with pink velvet brocade with pink satin lining in the interior. Courtesy of Patricia Pei. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Short sleeved jade green silk qi pao with a shiny floral and bamboo leaves motif, four Chinese knot (Pankou) closures at neck and right underarm & short sleeved blue-grey crêpe chiffon qi pao with plastic lined collar, large roses and small green leaves stamped with acrylic fabric paint across chest and at the bottom hem, matching blue-grey silk lining in the interior. Courtesy of Patricia Pei. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Family photo of Pei family. Aileen Pei is seated on the far left, and her stepson, I. M. Pei is standing behind her. Her husband Tsuyee Pei is standing, sixth from left. Courtesy of Patricia Pei.

Exhibition at The Park Avenue Armory Winter Show 2023

Select pieces of Aileen’s dress were selected for display at the annual Winter Show at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. The exhibit, entitled How We Dressed in the Beautiful Country: Selections from the Museum of Chinese in America’s Fashion and Costume Collections, is a capsule exhibition where opera costumes from our CMTA (Chinese Musical and Theatrical Association) collection will be displayed alongside Aileen’s qipaos. This exhibit will be on display from January 20-29.

Aileen's qipaos ready for exhibition. Photo courtesy of Harvey Ngai.
MOCA team working to put the final touches to the exhibit. Photo courtesy of Harvey Ngai.
A M Art's Rachael Arenstein measuring the lux levels to ensure the qipaos are displayed in reasonable light levels. Photo courtesy of Harvey Ngai.
Anna Ng and Minna Kim shaping the dress forms in preparation for qipao display. Photo courtesy of Harvey Ngai.