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It was a soft pink top with lace scalloped edges and embroidered white flowers, which I would pair with a gold-maroon batik sarong skirt. It was my favourite kebaya and it fitted me like a glove!

Of course, that was nearly 40 years ago, before I had children and was blessed with the kind of hourglass figure that were the envy of women at the time.

If you ask me, a kebaya should be form fitting and celebrates a woman’s curves, not hide them.

What made that kebaya all the more special to me was that the sarong was a gift from a friend who hails from Kelantan and she had gotten it when she went home for a visit. As we all know, the east coast states produce some of the most gorgeous, intricate batik and my hand-painted piece was no exception.

I was a primary school teacher at the time and would usually be clad in a boxy shift dress – this was the roaring ’60s after all.

A fellow teacher and I made a pact to wear kebaya on Fridays.

We always drew compliments from our colleagues, especially the Malay ladies who would recommend tailors and fabric shops to us.

They also told us they liked to see us, two Chinese ladies, wearing one of their traditional outfits so well. From my standpoint, wearing the kebaya was my way of appreciating and respecting a culture that’s different from my own and I felt honoured to have the opportunities to do that.”

When was the last time you wore a traditional outfit from another culture, what was the occasion and what did it mean to you? Share your story by leaving a comment below.

The image above by Haifeez from flickr (Creative Commons License)

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