For one of my classes this semester, I’m required to read certain papers and to listen to the comments and presentations made by the speakers based on the readings. My group chose to do the readings entitled (collectively) Shopping, Gender and Modernity. (Some may say that the choice is obvious because all three members (including yours truly) are women) However, let me just point out that none of us are ‘streotypical’ women. (That’s for another topic)
In any case, the reading I dfid this morning was Chua Beng Huat’s Postcolonial site, Global Flows and Fashion Codes: Power Cheongsam and Other clothes in Singapore. In case you’re wondering, the guy’s from the department of Sociology, attached to the National University of Singapore.
One of the things he pointed out was that clothes form part of the identifier of the society. The clothes are the most easily identified part of a person’s culture, especially if you have not seen them up close yet. Clothes change and varies though, and the cheongsam we know today was not as restrictive as it is now.
What REALLY caught my attention was the statement he made about the Baju Kurung. In South East Asia, the baju kurung is to the Malay what the Cheongsam and the Saree are to the Chinese and the Indians. However, the baju kurung is a modified version of the Baju Kebaya, which was the original.
All three costumes (Kebaya, not Kurung) were meant to show off the women without being overly provocative. The saree bared the midriff, the cheongsam showed off the legs, and the Kebaya flattered the figure. While all three have undergone SOME kind of modification, the kebaya was affected the most.
Being Malay is synonomous with being Islam. And the men are VERY conservative. Need I say more?