Thursday, 17 November 2005

In Praise of the Kaftan

To friends and relatives who visited me during raya and found me not in any Raya clothes, please forgive me. I did buy some baju kurungs to get in the raya mood but trying them on in the air conditioned changing rooms just isn't the same as wearing them in the sweltering temperature of Mak's kitchen. So, whenever I had the chance, I’d slipped into those wonderful, cooling and comfortable batik kaftans, ignoring Mak’s repetitive (for she is so repetitive now) questions – “Laaaa, tak mandi lagi?”

What is it about kaftans that makes people think you have not had a bath or ready for bed? I sincerely believe that the Malaysian kaftans is so undervalued and under rated, but of course we are not talking about those mass produced ones. I have quite a few of those, with arm holes that allowed people to see more than the armpits...gross! For some mothers, they find it easy to breastfeed their babies thru the armholes– hahaha! (sorry)

Anyway, I am so delighted to discover some very beautiful new designs of the kaftans that really ought to be seen out in coffee bars or garden parties. So, of course, I bought a few and wore them everywhere. Such an easy concept. Just a big piece of cloth sewn on both sides and a hole for the neck. In fact, if you can get a few of your Mak’s old lacy selendangs, just sew on both sides and you get one fashionable one without having to pay hundreds of RM, for that is what they cost at the shops.

The good thing about kaftans is that they come in one size and can hide a multitude of sins. Of course the danger is that you tend to forget the bulges that you are hiding and become comfortable with that.

Anyway, back in cold gloomy London, I attended a fashion show at the Four Seasons Hotel two days ago and caught up with an old friend, a batik designer Khalid Shamsuddin. I am in awe of Khalid and his designs. Of course, Khalid’s designs and collections are not new in London. His designs made an appearance at this year’s London Fashion Week in the Eric Way Collection and also for Lewre’s shoes. He designed for Jendela Batik when they had a show at The Dorchester.

Khalid’s soft colours and unique designs were such a hit – and I set my eyes on one particular black number with a big butterfly in front. It looked so good on the model. And kidding myself that I’d look good in it too, I parted with whatever RM I had left in my purse and bought it.

Now I will have to wait for a warm summer evening and an invite!
PS I 've had loads of problem putting pictures here. Anyway, the above pictures are just some of Khalid's creations. The black and white kaftan with the big butterfly is now MINEEEEEEE!!
PPS - Thank you for all your comments - very,very interesting read. I have bought some Batik Kaftans for English friends and they were disgusted when I suggested that they wear them to sleep. Bergen, pls blog abt your aunt's business. Ummi, thanks..the softness? Must be my extra tyres. Thinktankgirl - u saw & heard?
I once threatened to wear a beautiful and colourful silk kaftan toa friend's BBQ but my children did a counter threat and refused to come along. One even said, Mama, if you stand in the middle of the road, motorists might mistake you as the traffic light!
For your info, Khalid is known as the Pareo Boy after introducing the Malaysian Pareos to Club Med. He also created the Baju Laut popular among tourists.


Jane Sunshine said...

Nice! What was previously a mere 'housecoat' has come a long way, eh. I think that the 'dressy' kaftans have been really popular for sometime now. And because so many hanker for it, I find that it can cost an arm and a leg for 'Just a big piece of cloth sewn on both sides and a hole for the neck'!

Jane Sunshine said...

Is there a link to Khalid's creation? Dont seem to get it. aalborg said...

I think it all has to do with economics, precisely speaking, the law of demand versus price. Batik designers should hike up the prices of batik kaftans, thereby making kaftans more sparse, thus reducing the ubiquity of it. Then, maybe ladies would use it for more fashionable ocassions rather than sleep and breastfeeding. After all, who said kaftans need to be made out of batik design. Guna cadar pun boleh what?

My mom gave me a kaftan after I gave birth, but rather than feeding my son through my armpit sleeve, I sent it to the tailor and told her to put a zip in the front.

swinger said...

A lady in a kaftan
Breasts dangling thru her arms
Every time her arms do sway
She leaves a trail in the milky way

A lady in batik
Kaftannya banyak cantik
Bila tangan diangkat naik
Nampaklah dia punya tet*k

Kakteh, Anedra, Ood and all
You're all having a swinging ball
Your kaftans swirling so merrily
In mammary and in memory

dz said...

i wear kaftans all the time :)

sorry did not meet you back in kl. was too deep in work - what to do lah.

see you soon!

dr in the house said...

Frankly I think,Kaftan only look nice on slim ladies. For people like me who is battling the bulge, I would reserve Kaftan as homewear not outside lest I'd be dubbed a walking cabinet!

OOD said...

betoi, i have many of the baju kelawar. partly because my babies can crawl into my baju for a swig or two of milk. But then i also have a stange affinity towards kluang and kelawar..

next time your friend wants to do fashion show, invite me. If i am not too busy, maybe i can model for him.

OOD said...


swinging milky way,
and 'mammary' you say?
when babies shout horrey,
hubbies are in dismay..

*gulp* kak teh! sape swinger ni?

ummi said...

That day we met Kak Teh…you look GORGEOUS in that red kaftan. Or was it maroon?? No…was it brown?? Excuse my colour blindness…& watching you through my sepet eyes did not help either.

Can still feel the softness of the cloth (or was it you) when we hugged. Miss it (you) terribly.

meandbaby said...

I remember when I was small my mom used to wear her kaftan to dinner and functions as at those time kaftans are exclusive. in the 90s yg org start pakai kaftan kt umah je...

the kimster said...

Ahh... the beauty of "baju kelawar" :)

bergen said...

I beg to differ, not that I wear one (heavens forbid.) Ha ha.

Aunt knew her business was in trouble way back in the 70s when women took to kaftan in a big way. Overnight, the demand for batik sarung reduced to 4 pieces a week if we were lucky, and quite frankly the demand never recovered. The situation was made worse by the ruling that we can't bring in nice pieces from traditional sources like Pekalongan. Unfortunately local designers then, came up with what Aunt called 'lazy desings' i.e plain, artless background superimposed with large leaves, flowers as if drawn hastily by a child in kindergarten. Aunt detested this and she was a lone voice in the industry. Since this is a comment box and I don't want to take up too much space, Aunt lost the battle and we left the industry disillusioned, until Allahyarham Endon revived it.

Kaftan is very very Hawaiian, just like pareos, and lately during Raya shows, artistes wear their batik sarong pareo style with their baju kebaya. (I won't comment, maybe I'm old-fashioned when it comes to things traditional.) Somehow when it comes to being elegant, Indonesian women know what it takes to look elegant i.e kebaya with nice traditional motif batik sarong, the motif their designers considered national heirloom and they'd die rather than sell it to the highgest bidder. We don't have one and we keep desinging new ones which in the end, look no better that those designs from Korea, Japan, Thailand and lately, Vietnam.

Your mak is right, Kak Teh. Kaftan gives you the impression that you 'masih belum mandi' because it is difficult to look elegant in kaftan. The same way it is difficult for non Afghan men to look good in Afghan national dress. You can be Brad Pitt but I doubt if he will look good in a Mongolian warrior dress. Unless you are Sean Connery, the man can look good in anything, although I doubt if he looks good in kain pelikat pulling a goat or a kerbau.

I have no quarrel with kakftan, but a batik designer knows how difficult it is to come up with a motif that can best capture the spirit of kaftan. So far we've got Abang Sofi's bulat-bulat motif to play with but until we can come up with another Eliza Van Zuylen signature motif, we are going to be forever lost in batik desert looking for our identity.

My 2cent. Make it half a cent.

teek said...

recently there was this picture of a minister wearing kaftan to a very dasyat birthday party. i pointed it out to Mak and said "tengok mak, dia pakai baju tido je pi party" :)

ummi said...

tumpang lalu kak teh.

hi BERGEN...been reading your blog lately. I like you a lot bergen, enough to leave everything i have & marry you if there's an offer.

but i have to disagree with your comment.Kak Teh was elegant in her Kaftan...(with combination of the tudung and accesories she wore, she was stylish and chic)

I'm going with dr in the suited kak teh cos of her petiteness...Me??? I'll keep my kaftan for homewear & for my eyes only.

thinktankgal said...

KakTeh...I saw your report (and heard your lovely voice during the reporting) on the national news few days ago on this and saw the designs..pretty impressive...I love Kaftans...I go to sleep in Kaftans...they are just comfy...But I must say we should come up or if there are, preserve a unique batik design uniquely Malaysia...Have a good weekend KakTeh!

DEWA said...

cantik model tak, kaftan tuh.nice rama rama tu raba raba..hehe

anedra said...

oh dear..this kaftan "business" can cause rumahtangga to pecah belah! I love kaftan's's like aircond-like feel it gives. but hubby, wd not see me dead in it! how??how??

Nurelhuda said...

KAftan blouses have actually made a comeback !
During my childhood days a glamourous aunt of mine used to wear beautiful batek kaftans that she added arms to..looked something like a kimono with no front opening.
And for shape try sewing a getah seluar from the inside just below the bustline

AuntyN said...

Being a kampung makcik I wear baju kelawar for tidor as well. Like Anedra's, my hubby's dislikes them too. He prefers me with baju kedah and batik sarung. But I have bought a few the ones sewn like a maxi dress, with "arms". To me it much more presentable even if you want to use it as pajamas.

Atok said...

Coming from the land of batik, I've been carrying my big dream of propelling our unique hand drawn batik to a higher status in the fashion world.... but it has only been a dream to this very second.

Mmmm...may be I should start with 'free' advert by using my own princess...mmmm.

may said...

they are making a comeback somewhat, albeit a more modern cut... I spied some hangin' on the racks of a popular department store last few mths when it was still so-called "summer" fashion here in KL, hehe!

fidah said...

oooooooohhhhhhhhhhhh... baju butterfly nie nama english dia kaftan ehhhhhhhhh..
i learn something new everyday. i hv TWO yg dah lusuh lagi berlobang di pakai buat tido. punya lah comfy. a fren caught me wearing that once and asked, hey.. what's that gown ur wearing? i said.. err.. butterfly gown? kekekke..

Ely said...

hmmm, i have retired all my kaftans as the husband keeps saying that it is the malay moo moo. so i still have a bout one more hanging in the closet.

i like the one with the tie on the hips! mahal tak kak teh? can kirim that one?

izyz said...

I pun anti Kaftan juga Kak Teh. Now I know why I dislike them though. You're right. Bila tengok orang pakai Kaftan, I akan ingat dia orang tak mandi lagi.

atiza said...

kak teh..i'm one of those guilty mothers who BFeed their babies via the kaftan arm holes...hahaha...

2wenty3hree said...

thanks for stopping by kak teh. and a link on sentral is most welcomed. :)

regarding kaftans, i doubt i would have the courage to wear one in public, but theyre decent enough for me to go out and fetch my sister from school (in the car lah).

but they are oh-so-pleasant for bedtime.

nadya said...

kak teh,
kaftan rules my mom's n aunties household..oops.. they lived in kaftan except time pi keje jer..hheehheehe

BTW, gambar kak teh nad dah upload kt my blog. feel free to visit.nnt hari isnin nad email sket2 dr opis naa..

d'arkampo said...



Honeytar said...

Kak Teh !!! Dah balik London rupanyer!!! iskkk....

kaezrin said...

kaftan...sungguh selesa yg amat..makin lusuh makin best..yg lagi koyak rabak..lagi kelas..kekekek..

Ms.B said...

What a mixed reaction!! Somehow, I always associate kaftans with my mother, and how she'd be swishing around the house in it, belah depan habis basah after washing plates, cooking and (God forbid!) siang ikan!! But all those horrid little smells and dampness of fabric is absurdly, one of my fond memories of my mother. Hehehe!!

Oh God, I dunno if hubs will let me turn into a kaftan queen at home either!! But they look SOOOOO comfy!!

Lydia Teh said...

KT, Kaftans make good pyjamas. So cooling and comfy!

Anonymous said...

kaftan is my home uniform though I hv diffrent one for solat, for cooking and for sleeping

the one for sleeping is the single thing I wear to sleep (and nothing else)..heheheh

mak hariz

MamiJarum said...

My mum love kaftans! Siang malam pagi petang that's all she will wear! She says it's comfortable! Nice one Kak Teh! For sure it will look good on you!

Fashionasia said...

the kaftans, or the butterfly style... Its pretty popular amongs Malaysians these 2 years. I totally love them especially if its chifon. oh so comfy!
Relating to what bergen said, well i do agree somewhat that the kebaya can be more elegant than the kaftans but i think ppl like camilia is totally able to make the kaftan look elegant as well, if coupled with the right accessories of course. Cheers!!

dyanna said...

Hi, nice blog.can I borrow you picture?

julie said...

I love kaftans, so comfy to wear around the house, and there are some dressy ones I would consider wearing out, such as the short kaftans which are becoming more and more popular, I buy mine from for anyone whos interested..

dewangga sakti said...

Salam kak Teh,
Saya baru baca entri ni.Sekali tengok nama yg familiar.Abg Khalid batik designer.
Ingatkan siapa.Rupanya-rupanya Abg Khalid CM.Saya pernah terlibat dengan promosi pelancongan di Chengdu dgn Abg Khalid.Baru telefon dia tadi.Kalau ada contact Kak Teh dan suami,dia minta saya berikan.
Kedai dia masih ada di CM ,tingkat satu dkt dgn bridge.Tapi dia jarang ada di situ.
Memang design batik dia menarik.