Peranakan Straits Chinese

By Eve Wee-Ang 2021-05-06 12:40:57

Celebrating the sarong kebaya heritage.

In the hit lcoal TV series adapted from Singapore, “The Little Nyonya”, Chinese actress Xiao Yan looked resplendent in her Sarong Kebaya. The story is about the Peranakans also known as Straits Chinese, who are of mixed Chinese and Malay-Indonesian heritage. Their ancestors were Chinese migrant traders who married local women in the British controlled Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca.

In a typical matriarchal Peranakan household, women known as Nyonyas were famous for their culinary skills and feminine sarong kebaya – ornately embroidered sheer blouse (kebaya) paired with a batik skirt (sarong). If you have been onboard Singapore Airlines, the iconic uniform worn by the Singapore Girls over the last 53 years is a sarong kebaya.

As one half Peranakan from my dad’s side, I grew up watching my granny hand beaded her kasut manek, dainty slippers to pair with her sarong kebaya. A lost art, the Peranakan culture which is uniquely Southeast Asian has diluted over the generations. I admit the first time I donned a sarong kebaya was my work uniform as SQ cabin crew. Thankfully, with the revival of shows like “The Little Nyonya”, there has been a fascination in China for Peranakan from tingkat (tiffin carriers) to Nyonya kueh (bite-sized snacks).

Today, sarong kebaya is mainly worn at cultural events. Here’s some modern spinoff ideas of how you can wear them in spring.


How to wear it

Pool lounging: The wispy sheer kebaya blouse in a roomier size makes it a perfect and pretty cover-up over your swimsuit.

Ladies’ Lunch: Start with a plain camisole and your favorite jeans. Wear the kebaya blouse as you would a cardigan.

Formal Events: Attire the full sarong traditionally like the Peranakans and secure the front opening of your kebaya with kerosang – a three brooch chain. Have fun color matching and finish the ensemble with beaded slippers and a fun Nyonya attitude!

  1. Kebaya 200-500 RMB

  2. Beaded Slippers 100-200 RMB

  3. Sarong 200-500 RMB All items from AINUO Taobao


Mum in focus:

As one half of Peranakan from her mother’s side, Singaporean mum of two teens, Lina Tay has resided in Shanghai for 16 years and will be repatriating this June. She keeps her heritage alive by replicating Peranakan dishes and sharing stories passed down from the women in her family.