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Modern take on traditional Kebaya

Posted by: Phat Mama, 30-Sep-2008

I spent a lot more time in Kuala Lumpur during this year’s Ramadan. I break fast with the family at home enjoying home-cooked meals and the occasional choices from the many Ramadan stalls in the Klang Valley.

But due to work I had about 10 days stay in Singapore towards the end of the Ramadan month. And, that was when I caught up with the ‘real’ Ramadan scene on the island.

Geylang has been turned into a massive festive ground, almost like Christmas in Orchard Road. On top of the stalls at the Geylang market, there were dozens of others set up especially for the Ramadan month and the coming Hari Raya Puasa.

I went for a walkabout in the area and was so taken by the massive collection of traditional wear, especially women’s, sold at the numerous stalls. Talking to the stallholders revealed that these collections were mostly from Indonesia, famous for their Baju Kebaya in lace with intricate beadwork.

There are all kinds of styles that choosing a favorite piece can be difficult.

There were all types of designs and styles that you almost can’t tell the original pattern of the Baju Kebaya anymore. Collars are much fancier these days and sleeves are no more just the straight and narrow. They flare at the ends like a fan and in some patterns are even shorter than the traditional sleeves. Hemlines have changed too so it is no surprise to see a Baju Kebaya with a slanted hemline instead.

The materials used vary from simple cotton to satin, silk, chiffon, lace and even organza. To cater to customers who still want the feel of celebrating Hari Raya dressed in Baju Kebaya made from songket, there are several made from either Indian or Thai songket or the mass produced Malaysian songket of lower quality.

How much more elaborate can the designs be?

But amidst these new designs one can still find the traditional patterns although they are more body hugging instead of loose like the original.
Complementing the Baju Kebaya top is the Kain Sarong, the bottom half of the complete outfit, which is like a long tight skirt. In the days of my mother and even grandmother, the ‘sarong’ was called Kain Batik Kipas. It was so called because the ‘sarong’ is tailored from a ‘Batik Lepas’, the longer version of a ‘Batik Sarong’. The opening is placed in-front, with a panel folded like a fan. The tightness of this ‘skirt’ depends on the length of the top. The shorter the top the tighter is the ‘skirt’.

But with modernization and the change in fashion trends, women have created new ways of wearing the Baju Kebaya and its ‘sarong’. While traditional-designed batik is preferred for a more classic look the more abstract- and modern-designed batik are favorites among those who want a more upbeat look in their traditional wear.

Well, Hari Raya Puasa is almost here, depending on which part of the world you are in. It might be a little late to rush to Singapore for your traditional clothes but there’s always next year.