NYONYA Kebaya is an elegant yet feminine attire, a dress that matches a translucent, figure-hugging embroidered blouse with a batik sarong.
This traditional costume is treasured like heirloom and past down the generations because it is regarded as a work of art and dates back a century as a creation that is artistic result of the expression of Peranakan history and culture.
Usually worn by Peranakan (Straits Chinese) ladies, nyonya kebaya has become the vogue in today’s fashion and can be seen at family get-together especially during wedding receptions.
The earlier lace kebaya is made from fine white cotton and trimmed with rich intricate gossamer Dutch lace appliqué around the edges. The advent of the sewing machine brought on the kebaya sulam. The material of the feminine blouse is made from robia or fine cotton fabric, and always, lightly starched.
Today, it is replaced by Swiss or French voile, lace, or sheer and translucent gossamer silk. It is originally worn over a cotton camisole trimmed with intricate handmade lace appliqué. The beauty and value of kebaya is in its extensive sulam, open lacework (kerawang) and intricate embroidery.
The clever kebaya embroiderer matches the colours of the thread to enhance the design and choose a material, usually voile, in a complementary colour that will further enhance the wealth of the motif. The intricate embroidery work under the skilled hand of the embroiderer brings to life the popular flower, fruit, fish, insect motifs against a web-like background lacework.
This beautiful picture is stitched with matching colours, graded shades, multihued threads to complement the colours and patterns of the accompanying sarong. This fine handwork runs all around the fringe and edges of the garment in repetitive designs and fans out in a grand display in both front edges.
The lapels are held with a set of three kerosang (brooches) in silver or gold, sparkling with diamonds and other precious stones.
The Nyonya kebaya is traditionally paired with a sarong. The sarong, a fine handpainted or imprinted, is neatly folded and wrapped around the Nyonya’s waist and secured with a silver worked chain-link belt. Nyonya slippers are painstakingly and intricately hand-beaded. These come in closed or open toe options.
The Nyonya hair is lacquered with sweet jasmine or coconut oil or gel, It is then combed and twisted in a twisted in a chignon, encircled with fragrant jasmine and held together with slender bejeweled gold pins.
The Nyonya, complete with a pair of kerabu or phoenix-tail earrings in diamonds, glittering from the earlobes is a picture of elegance and beauty, subtle and demure.