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Too cool for traditional ethnic costumes

Wear are your roots?

Aisyah Lyana
Aisyah Lyana

Published: 25 February 2016, 2:55 AM

No cheongsam to wear over Chinese New Year (CNY)? This is a problem so widespread in Singapore that it is not seen like a big deal anymore. In fact, it seems like traditional costumes have become a thing of the past.

In the past, these “costumes” were worn on a daily basis. Even on an ordinary day, ladies would proudly parade the streets in their ethnic floral dress with lace details. When a festive event like CNY or Hari Raya drew near, the night markets would be packed with crowds trying to get hold of a new costume to celebrate the joyous occasion.

However, it has disappointingly become a norm today to tell others that we no longer wear, or even own, traditional clothes on festive occasions. People pass retail stores without even a second glance at the costumes that our ancestors were once proud of.

CAN WE JUST WEAR OUR CONVERSE SHOES WITH A SAREE?

So, why do we not wear traditional costumes? Here are four possible reasons.

1. Convenience

Our busy lifestyles have affected the way we dress – it is much more convenient to wear culottes instead of the sarong when travelling from place to place, and less time-consuming to put on a skater dress than to button the Chinese knots on our qipao.

With our chaotic schedules, we adjust our fashion sense to accommodate our needs. Ironically, we can still spend hours donning modern outfits in front of the mirror without complaining about the time spent.

IMAGINE THE AMOUNT OF HOURS YOU NEED TO SPEND
TO WEAR A FULL SET OF BRUNEIAN BAJU KURUNG.

2. Not fashionable

Being trendy and aesthetically pleasing is important to teenagers. As some youths have bluntly put it, they do not want to look too “niang“, “cheena” or “traditional” when going out with friends.

Teenagers feel peer pressure to conform to their social circle. It is thus no wonder that these costumes are kept untouched in their wardrobes.

3. Being ridiculed

The fear of being judged by the public hinders us from wearing our ethnic costumes. Wearing an ethnic costume on an ordinary day makes us seem a little overdressed and will earn us absurd stares from strangers. Think of it as the bizarre equivalent of wearing a sparkling gold maxi dress on a casual day at work.

WE WILL PROBABLY NOT GET A CAB
IF WE WEAR A VIETNAMESE AODAI AT NIGHT.

4. Costly

These painstakingly handwoven and personally customised costumes are expensive, so it does seem wasteful if only worn minimally. As for whether the cost is justifiable, people still spend hundreds on modern dresses for a one-time event like proms and wedding occasions.

MY FAMILY WEARING THE CAMBODIAN SONGKET ON HARI RAYA.

As an enthusiast who collects different ethnic costumes, I feel that it has become a significant issue to preserve them. It is depressing that youths these days are mildly interested in their culture and forgoing the apparently outdated tradition of putting on festive clothes.

IS IT A PITY TO LOSE OUR BEAUTIFUL ETHNIC COSTUMES,
LIKE THIS KEBAYA LABUH.

As Singapore progresses onward to boast a thousand “World’s Best” and “Number One” titles, I hope we will not be prideful to the point of simply ditching our so-called outdated cultures and let our ancestors’ traditional haute couture turn dusty like an ancient relic.


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