Author Topic: Bali Traditional Dress  (Read 819 times)


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Bali Traditional Dress
| May 17, 2016, 04:25:53 PM
By: Megan Jennaway

For women, traditional Balinese dress consists of four main items: a kind of sarong known as a kamen, a blouse (kebaya) and two cummerbands, a sabuk and a selendang. The kamen is a long strip of woven or batik cloth wound around the waist, hanging almost to the ground. It is secured at the waist with the sabuk, a wide sash several metres in length. The sabuk is repeatedly wound around the torso between the top of the hips and the solar plexus. The resulting ‘bandaged’ effect is covered by the blouse or kebaya, worn loose over the top of the kamen. Usually made of synthetic material such as polyester, nylon, or rayon, the kebaya is shaped, tapering in at the waist and flaring out over the hips. Frequently, a decorative outer cummerbund, the selendang, is also worn, to draw the kebaya in at the waist.

Custom dictates the proper way to wear traditional dress. There are rules about the appropriate length for the kamen (longer for women than for men) and on how to tie it tightly around the tops of the thighs so that the bottom is neatly encased. The sleeve length of the kebaya is also important — it must come right down past the wrist bone to be considered fashionable. An overly short sleeve indicates that the wearer has no dress sense. The style of the kebaya worn, too, betrays a woman’s level of chic. One style in particular has sides which do not meet at the front, leaving a 6-8 inch gap. The breasts are covered by a short connecting ‘bridge’ made of the same fabric which serves as a kind of narrow bodice. Depending on how the blouse is worn, and how wide the bodice is, a glimpse of the wearer’s midriff may be visible above the selendang. This style is popular among middle-aged and older women. Young girls, on the other hand, would never be seen dead in such a blouse. They consider it immodest. Instead, they usually opt for a kebaya which closes at the front, from the ‘V’ of the collar all the way down. Typically, this is fastened with press-studs rather then buttons. Girls who want to look trendy favour a more daring lace kebaya. Girls who wear lace kebaya often intend it as a deliberate ploy to attract male attention.

The kebaya is a relatively recent introduction to Balinese dress styles. It came with the Dutch colonial conquest of Bali. Before this, as can be seen from nineteenth and early twentieth-century Balinese paintings and photographs by Europeans, Balinese women typically left their arms and shoulders uncovered. The sabuk sufficed to hold up their kamen. Without the kebaya there was no need for the double-sash, which was only used in formal or ceremonial contexts. In everyday settings, such as working around the house, planting padi, or selling grain at the markets, the sabuk was firmly secured halfway up the rib-cage, leaving the breasts exposed. But on formal occasions, such as temple ceremonies and dances, more modesty was called for. A more decorative, second sabuk was wound up over the first and covered the breasts. It was wound so tightly that the breasts were pinned into a generalised mound. This practice is preserved in the standard dress of female Balinese dancers today. Legong dancers still wear a special gold-thread sabuk, wound so tightly that it restricts their freedom of movement. This is the only way to stop it falling down halfway through a lively dance performance. For dancers, the rigidity is worth the discomfort. It is better than toning down their dance steps, they say, for the highest form of compliment one can pay a joged dancer is to say that she is agile.

But the practice of winding the sabuk as tightly as possible around the female body is widespread among all women, not just dancers. The tautness of the sash is considered essential to achieving the desired look of slim, slender containment that goes with formal traditional dress. In this sense the sabuk is the equivalent of the Western corset. It binds and flattens unsightly flesh. More importantly, it is also an index of respectability. In formal settings, only loose women wear loose clothing.

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