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Indonesia traditional dress | © Phalinn Ooi/Flickr
Indonesia traditional dress | © Phalinn Ooi/Flickr

Regal Elegance: A Look at Indonesia's Traditional Dress

Picture of Edira Putri
Updated: 20 November 2017

Indonesia’s rich culture manifests itself in many aspects of its heritage — performance arts, handicrafts, customs, ceremonies, even traditional costumes. Dating back centuries ago, Indonesians are still proud to wear their traditional attire, especially during special occasions. Take a look at Indonesia’s traditional dress in all its elegance.

The National Dress

Just like its diverse culture, Indonesia also has many different traditional attire. But perhaps the most important of all is batik and kebaya. These costumes originally belong to the cultures in Java and Bali, but the prominence of these regions in the country’s advancements and politics have given them cultural dominance as well. In some cultures, the traditional dress are reserved only to royals and influential families or special occasions, which explains the detailed and extravagant details. Even so, many are now adapted into everyday use.

Batik

Batik is a cloth with intricate patterns made using traditional dyeing techniques. The technique is practiced in different localities with slight variations and yields different results in materials and patterns. Traditionally, men and women use batik by wrapping the cloth around the hips. But nowadays, the traditional fabric assumes a much more modern appearance. Batik cloths are now being sewn into formal shirts for men, dresses, skirts, even accessories like handbags.

Batik is still widely worn until today, especially during formal occasions such as weddings or formal gatherings. Some companies assign one day in a week, usually Friday, where employees are required to wear batik shirts as a dress code.

Kebaya

Kebaya is the traditional costume from the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese culture but has now been recognized as Indonesia’s national costume for women. Again, different localities have a different take on kebaya, but they are generally made from sheer fabric, like silk, thin cotton, or see-through nylon embellished with brocades and embroidery.

Just like batik, kebaya is still a popular attire choice when attending weddings and other important gatherings; it’s also often worn by first ladies and wives of diplomats. Indonesian women make it a tradition to wear kebaya every year on April 21 to commemorate Kartini, the figure for women rights and emancipation.

The Diversity

Home to hundreds of different ethnic groups spreading throughout its 34 provinces, Indonesia’s traditional dress is actually as diverse as its ethnicities. Today, each province is usually represented by one set of traditional attire or regional costumes — for men and women — even though there are actually countless variations to each.

Each traditional dress is influenced by legends, beliefs, symbols, even assimilation with other cultures. Jakarta’s traditional attire, for example, reflects influences from Arab, China and Malay culture.

Balinese traditional attire, on the other hand, reflects the impact of Hinduism through the ornaments and symbols.

Contemporary Takes on Traditional Dress

Nowadays, batik is often worn casually and can be matched even with a pair of jeans and sneakers. Women enjoy wider variations, from maxi-skirts to wear with hijab to chic mini-dresses.

Indonesian fashion designers are still inspired by the beauty and intricacy of traditional attires that they often beget contemporary collections based on the centuries-old techniques and philosophies. The celebrated Oscar Lawalata, for example, brought his contemporary batik collection to a fashion show in Los Angeles in 2016.

Presenting our exclusive #ZALORAxIKAT collection for #JFW2018. 📷 by @andrarmd . . #IKAT #IKAT_Ind #ZaloraID #Zalora

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