Monday, February 15, 2010

Lilies for a Tiger Year

Some time last year, I reported that I had for the first time bought a kebaya at the Babazaar.  The sarong kebaya is not uncommon amongst the Malay community in Singapore and Malaysia but amongst the Chinese, it is typically worn only by the Nonyas in the Peranakan community.  Indeed, Nonyas would have many kebayas for different occasions, or just for every day.  But, not many young Nonyas do so today and maybe would not even have owned one.

So, I thought I would just put down a few pointers on "what to look for when buying a kebaya". At least, my version of it.  Others may disagree (and probably should, considering this was the first time I bought one!). Anyway, let's start off with:

1.  The material.  Traditional kebaya tops are made out of swiss voile, a semi-transluscent material which means that a camisole has to be worn below to protect modesty.  Kebayas can also be made out of cotton, which is what I chose (check out the price differential!).

2.  The embroidery. The back of the embroidered material should look as neat as the front (reversible clothing!). But of course this is at a premium.  For a cheaper kebaya, you can get one with only "one-sided" embroidery.  Note also that there are "machine-embroidered" kebaya as well, which are cheaper but less thickly embroidered and finished compared to hand-embroidered kebaya.

Look out also for the subject.  For my kebaya, the flowers climbing up the front are also slightly less traditional - lilies, rather than roses or peonies. (The lady who sold it to me told me it was her own design.) Of course, it is double-sided too.

3.  The fastenings.  Kebaya tops are supposed to be held together with kerosang rather than buttons. I admit I used press-studs rather than kerosang.  Of course kerosang is more traditional. But, press studes mean that the flowers are in place every time and it's much faster to put on the top. 

4.  The sarong.  The sarong should match the kebaya top - but doesn't need to be the same colour.  Just so long as it is complementary.  My sarong echoes the kebaya top as it has purple lilies on a black background. 

5.  Cut and fit.  The benefit of getting a tailored kebaya is that you know it fits just right.  My tailor (the lady who sold me the kebaya top) also put in a neat row of "kotok" at the seams, which also reminds me of my granny's clothes.

Hope that this list is useful.  Certainly, wearing a kebaya is an experience which made me feel proud to be a Nonya.  So I admit I can't exactly stride about in  it, especially with my high-heeled beaded shoes.  But I wore the whole ensemble for the first time at the Holy Family Peranakan mass on CNY Eve celebrated by Father Alfred Chan,and then at lunch with my family on the first day of CNY.

[The last time I went to the Peranakan mass was some 3 years ago, when it was the year of the Pig. This year, it's Selamat Taon Baru Harimau to all! It was nice to be at the mass and to see all the kebaya-clad ladies in the choir. And this year, of course, I could surreptitiously compare my kebaya to all the others too :-)  As always, the mass is full of warmth, good humour, a very appropriate CNY sermon reminding us that it is God who provides. ]

Here's to a good year ahead.

edited/updated: 26 Mar 2010

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