In the last few years, the biggest fashion movement to sweep Indonesia might be best called “back to the culture.” The traditional Indonesian blouse called the kebaya is having revival in its popularity. Even though it was first worn in Indonesia during the 15th century, not until the Dutch colonial period the kebaya took on a new role as formal dress for the European and elite women in the country. During the 19th century, the kebaya in white color came to symbolize the emancipation of women in Indonesia, as it was often worn by the Indonesian feminist, Raden Adjeng Kartini.
Kartini was born into an aristocratic Japanese family and was a pioneer of women’s rights and education in Indonesia. In her era, at the end of 1800s, the highest education available for Indonesian girls was primary school. Kartini’s letters Out of Darkness to Light, Women’s Life in the village and Letters of a Javanese Princess were published together as a book in 1911 in the Netherlands, which changed the world’s perspective of the Indonesian woman’s role in society.
The 21st of April is celebrated as National Kartini Day, when women in Indonesia wear Kebaya Kartini. Kebaya Kartini is a long V-neck blouse-dress that covers the thigh area. Traditionally, it is made of white cotton and trimmed with handmade European lace, often worn over the corset-like wrap or kemben. It is used together with a 10 foot long unstitched fabric or kain and is only fastened with the modest safety pins.
The Kebaya has been worn as a wedding gown for generations. Indonesians believe when you wear a kebaya as a bride, you will be the queen for the day; remember, only royal families and high societies were able to afford wedding kebayas back then. The old-fashioned wedding gown in Indonesia came in bright colors. With the Western’s white wedding dress influence, which was made popular by Queen Victoria in 1840, Indonesians also adopted white as a wedding color. The white kebaya is the symbol of poise and beauty, as well as purity. Now the Javanese also link the white color with fertility.
It is not easy to wear a traditional kebaya. Prestigious women used to have maids help them dress every morning. The tight kemben and kain makes it hard for the wearer to walk and breathe; that’s why a modern woman often views wearing a conventional kebaya as a restriction. As a muslim country, Indonesians believe that aside from the woman emancipation, a woman still has to behave in certain ways and manage to be a good wife and mother for the family. Wearing constrained white kebayas for weddings also represents the fact that Indonesian women have to follow these certain boundaries while adapting to global modernization. (MT)
“Kartini.” Wikipedia. Web.
“Kebaya.” Wikipedia. Web.
“Queen Victoria.” Wikipedia. Web.