The kebaya is the national costume of Indonesia, although it is more accurately endemic to the Javanese people, Malay Indonesian, Sundanese people and Balinese people peoples.Jill Forshee, Culture and customs of Indonesia, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2006. ISBN 0-313-33339-4, 237 pages
The name of Kebaya as a particular clothing type was noted by the Portuguese when they landed in Indonesia. Kebaya is associated with a type of blouse worn by Indonesian women in 15th or 16th century. Prior to 1600, kebaya on Java island were considered as a reserved clothing to be worn only by royal family, aristocrats ( bangsawan) and priyayi, in an era when peasant men and many women walked publicly bare-chested.
Slowly it naturally spread to neighbouring areas through trade, diplomacy and social interactions to Malacca, Bali, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and the Sultanate of Sulu and Mindanao S. A. Niessen, Ann Marie Leshkowich, Carla Jones: Re-orienting Fashion: the globalization of Asian dress Berg Publishers: 2003: ISBN 978-1-85973-539-8, pp. 206-207Cattoni Reading The Kebaya; paper was presented to the 15th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Canberra 29 June-2 July 2004.Michael Hitchcock Indonesian Textiles: HarperCollins, 1991 Javanese kebaya as known today were noted by Stamford Raffles in 1817, as being of silk, brocade and velvet, with the central opening of the blouse fastened by brooches, rather than button and button-holes over the torso wrap kemben, the kain (an unstitched wrap fabric several metres long erroneously termed sarong in English (a sarung, Malaysian accent: sarong) is stitched to form a tube.)
After hundreds of years of regional acculturation, the garments have become highly localised expressions of ethnic culture, artistry and tailoring traditions.
The blouse is commonly semi-transparent and worn over the torso wrap or kemben. The skirt or kain is an unstitched fabric wrap around three metres long. The term sarong in English is erroneous, the sarung (Malaysian accent: sarong) is actually stitched together to form a tube, kain is unstitched, requires a helper to dress (literally wrap) the wearer and is held in place with a string ( tali), then folded this string at the waist, then held with a belt ( sabuk or ikat pinggang), which may hold a decorative pocket.
In Java, Bali and Sunda, the kain is commonly batik which may be from plain stamped cotton to elaborately hand-painted batik tulis embroidered silk with gold thread. In Lampung, the kain is the traditional tapis, an elaborate gold-thread embroidered ikat with small mica discs.Inger McCabe Elliott Batik: Fabled Cloth of Java, Hong Kong: Periplus, 2004 Sumatra, Flores, Lemata Timor, and other islands commonly use kain of ikat or songket. Sumba is famous for kain decorated with lau hada: shells and beads.Mattiebelle Gittinger, To Speak with Cloth: studies in Indonesian textiles University of California, 1989
In Malacca, Malaysia, a different variety of kebaya is called "nyonya kebaya" and worn by those of Chinese ancestry: the Peranakan people. The Nyonya kebaya is different in its famously intricately hand-beaded shoes ( kasut manek) and use of kain with Chinese motive batik or imported printed or hand-painted Chinese silks. Other than Malacca, the nyonya kebaya is also popular in other straits settlements; Penang and Singapore.
In Java, the kebaya worn by ladies of Chinese ancestry is called kebaya encim, derived from the name encim or enci to refer to a married Chinese woman. It was commonly worn by Chinese ladies in Javan coastal cities with significant Chinese settlements, such as Semarang, Lasem, Tuban, Surabaya, Pekalongan and Cirebon. It marked differently from Javanese kebaya with its smaller and finer embroidery, lighter fabrics and more vibrant colors, made from imported materials such as silk and other fine fabrics. The encim kebaya fit well with vibrant-colored kain batik pesisiran (Javan coastal batik).
During the Dutch East Indies era of Indonesia, European women of high status adopted the kebaya, which provided less restrictive and cooler clothing, as a formal or social dress. European women wore shorter sleeves and total length cotton in prints.
The day kebaya of the Indo people was of white cotton trimmed with oriental motif handmade lace, either locally made in Indonesia, from Bruges, Netherlands, or Brazil while black silk is used for evening wear.
The 21st of April is celebrated in Indonesia as National Kartini Day where Kartini, the female suffragist and education advocate, is remembered by schoolgirls wearing traditional dress according to their region. In Java, Bali and Sunda it is the kebaya.
Kebayas as the national costume of Indonesian women were often featured by Indonesian first ladies. The wives of Sukarno, Indonesian first president; Fatmawati Sukarno and Dewi Sukarno were known to wear kebaya daily.
The Suharto-era bureaucrat wives' social organisation Dharma Wanita wears a uniform of gold kebaya, with a red sash ( selendang) and stamped batik pattern on the kain unique to Dharma Wanita. The late Indonesian first lady and also a minor aristocrat Tien Suharto was a prominent advocate of the kebaya.
Former President Megawati Sukarnoputri is a public champion of kebaya and wears fine red kebaya whenever possible in public forums and 2009 Presidential election debates.
Cultural rivalry between Malaysia and Indonesia has given rise to media-based spats over the true ownership of the kebaya.
Apart from traditional kebaya, fashion designers are looking into ways of modifying the design and making kebaya a more fashionable outfit. Casual designed kebaya can even be worn with jeans or skirts. For weddings or formal events, many designers are exploring other types of fine fabrics like laces to create a bridal kebaya.
Modern-day kebaya now incorporate modern tailoring innovations such as clasps, zippers and buttons zippers being a much appreciated addition for ladies' requiring the bathroom, without requiring being literally unwrapped by a helper- to the extent the true kain is near unanimously rejected. Other modern innovations have included the blouse baju kebaya worn without the restrictive kemben, and eve the kebaya blouse worn with slacks or made of the fabric usually for the kain panjang. The female flight attendants of Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines also feature batik kebaya as their uniforms.
The female uniform of Garuda Indonesia flight attendants is a more authentic modern interpretation. The kebaya is designed in simple yet classic Kartini style kebaya derived from 19th century kebaya of Javanese noblewomen. The kebaya made from fire-proof cotton-polyester fabrics, with batik sarongs in parang or lereng gondosuli motif, which also incorporate garuda's wing motif and small dots represent jasmine. Kompas Female Terbang Bersama Kebaya