The ‘kebaya’ and sarongs of Jl. Sulawesi, Denpasar
There is always an interesting mixture of people meandering in and out of the packed shops on the short but bustling Jl. Sulawesi in Denpasar, Bali, many of which offer the tantalizingly beautiful traditional attire known as kebaya and sarong.
I have seen foreign fashion designers, local brides and a few disoriented tourists on that road.
This is because the road, which leads straight to Denpasar’s central market, is home to dozens of shops selling traditional fabric, as well as an array of local and imported fabric.
Inside most of the shops, fabric of every hue and type is stacked from floor to ceiling, which can be overwhelming for even for the most competent of shoppers.
There is no apparent order, but the friendly staff seems to know where everything is as long as you have a concept of what you are looking for. If not, just immerse yourself in the flamboyant flashes of fabric being pulled out all around and offered to you.
Like everywhere else in Bali, be prepared to instigate a little haggling for the pieces you like, as although the prices appear to be set, there is always room for maneuver.
One thing you will notice when in Bali is that local men and women wear particular clothes at traditional ceremonies, which are mostly influenced by Hindu teachings.
The women usually wear a traditional blouse called a kebaya paired with a sarong to create an elegant silhouette. These outfits can differ greatly from simple white for funerals to the ornately decorated in vivid colors for weddings.
The fabric used to make kebaya is lace, cotton, silk or a light fabric with a pattern.
Older women on Bali and the surrounding islands still wear the outfit on a daily basis, but as fashions change, the majority of younger people now only wear it at ceremonies or for important events.
Yet, the kebaya is still a part of every Balinese women’s wardrobe and she will often possess two or three for the major events in her life – birth, marriage and death.
In many parts across Indonesia, the kebaya is seen as a strong nationalistic symbol and has been supported as an identity for Indonesian women by prominent figures throughout the nation's history.
Recently, this traditional dress has become recognized internationally as it is used as the uniform for stewardesses on Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and Garuda Indonesia.
The styles and the materials of kebaya have evolved over the decades. Now it is common to see kebaya paired with jeans or modernized with evolving styles.
This is evident in the thousands of options available in the shops on Jl. Sulawesi. Shop owners will eagerly show you a dozen new ways to wear a kebaya and all the latest fabric with beading, embroidery, even sequins and the odd bit of glitter.
Finding a tailor in Bali is relatively easy and it is much better to choose the fabric yourself, while most of the shops on Jl. Sulawesi can also recommend a nearby tailor or will have one on the premises.