A modern kebaya by Wignyo Rahadi. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Modern-Style Kebayas for Today's Kartinis


APRIL 21, 2017

Jakarta. In commemoration of the birth of national heroine Kartini on Friday (21/04), women in government offices and schools wear kebayas or other traditional costumes to celebrate this special day.

"I think it's more than a mere ceremonial or symbolical gesture," Taruna K. Kusmayadi, adviser at the Indonesia Fashion Chamber (IFC), said during a talk show at AlunAlun in the Grand Indonesia shopping center in Central Jakarta on Thursday.

"By wearing traditional costumes on Kartini Day, we adopt Kartini's spirit for women's independence and betterment and perpetuate that spirit in today's generation," Taruna said.

Kartini, who was born and raised in an aristocratic family in Central Java, fought against restrictions on young aristocratic Javanese women of her era by educating herself with books and communicating her ideas through letters to her Dutch friends.

Kartini's letters were later compiled into a book "Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang" ("Out of Dark Comes Light").

The book has since become a source of inspiration and prompted many improvements in the lives of Indonesian women.

"Until this day, Kartini remains an inspiration for us all," Taruna said. "We should be proud of her and also be proud to wear traditional costumes, not only on Kartini Day, but also in our daily lives."

However, wearing a tight-fitting kebaya and kain (pareo) may not be very practical for today's fast-paced lifestyle.

Therefore, IFC designers have developed a series of modern kebayas that would be suitable for modern women.

"The way to perpetuate traditional costumes is by adjusting them to today's women's needs," IFC national deputy chairman Wignyo Rahadi said. "The traditional costumes should maintain our cultural identity, without losing their modern functionality."

In a fashion show following Thursday's talk show, Wignyo showcased a series of simple kebayas, made from handwoven fabrics produced in his workshop in Sukabumi, West Java.

"These fabrics are made by women in my neighborhood that used to work in the backbreaking brick industry," Wignyo said. "I train them to weave so that they can make a better living for themselves and their families."

The simple silhouette and relaxed fit of Wignyo's kebayas allow wearers more room for movement. The soft pastel hues of his kebayas also complimented the models' fair complexions.

Inge Chu, fashion designer of the IFC's Semarang chapter, also showcased her mini-kebaya collection during the fashion show.

Inge Chu's kebaya. (JG Photo/Sylviana Hamdani)

Inge's kebayas, made of lace, tulle, duchess silk and organdy silk, also have a relaxed fit, as well as pretty bell sleeves. The bodice and hemlines are adorned with arabesque-pattern embroideries.

The kebayas were paired with pareos and long pants made of natural-dyed batiks from her hometown, Semarang, Central Java.

The exquisite colors of the natural-dyed batiks complimented Inge's semi-transparent kebayas.

Hannie Hananto chairwoman of the IFC's Jakarta chapter, also presented a series of kebaya-inspired Muslim clothing for women during the event.

"I truly appreciate today's event and fashion show," National Handicraft Council (Dekranas) chairwoman Erni Tjahjo Kumolo said after the show. "The kebayas are all very beautiful and elegant, as well as modern and wearable."

"I hope that this event would inspire today's Indonesian women to be proud of their cultural roots and wear kebaya much more often," Erni added.