The Kebaya Story
A Kebaya is a traditional blouse worn by Malaysian and Indonesian women made from sheer material, in Malaysia, Nyonyas usually wear the Kebaya with a Javanese batik sarong. To be properly dressed, a Nyonya will have her hair in a "sanggul" (chignon) with flowers and gold pins. The lapel of the Nyonya Kebaya is held together with a set of three "kerosang" (brooches) while the sarong is folded and secured with a gold or silver chain-link belt. Kebayas are used on various occasions and functions, such as dinners, weddings and formal functions.
Kebayas are believed to originate from China hundreds of years ago. They then spread to Malacca, Java, Bali, Sumatera, and Celebes. After hundred years of acculturation, the garments have become adjusted to local customs and culture. On Java Island before 1600, Kebayas were sacred clothing to be worn only by members of the Javanese monarchy. During the period of Dutch control of that island, European women began wearing Kebayas as formal dress. During this period, Kebayas were transformed from only using mori fabric to using silk with colorful embroidary. The Kebaya began as a long sleeved blouse with lace appliqued around the edges. It is the traditional costume of Straits Chinese ladies and other Peranakan women from Indonesia and Thailand.
A similar garment called the "Nyonya Kebaya" was first created by the Peranakan people of Malacca. Peranakan, Baba-Nyonya and Straits Chinese (named after the Straits of Malacca) are terms used for the descendants of the early Chinese immigrants to the Nusantara region, including both the British Straits settlements of Singapore, Malacca and Penang and the Dutch-controlled island of Java among other places, who have partially adopted Malay customs in an effort to be assimilated into the local communities. Apart from traditional Kebayas, fahion designers are looking into ways of modifying the design and making Kebayas a more fashionable outfit. Modified Kebayas can even be worn with jeans or skirts. For the modern look, the Kebaya can be worn with pants, over a simple sleeveless or spaghetti-strapped dress or even used over a tank top as a jacket.
The Kebaya is part of Malaysia's Peranakan cultural heritage. It is a piece of art that deserves appreciation and recognition equal to Da Vinci or Van Gogh's masterpieces.