Monday, January 4, 2016

CNY clothes shopping: Traditional Peranakan costumes in Singapore.

In modern Singapore, ehtnic costumes are not easy to find if you don't know the right places.
Afterall, they are not readily sold at shopping centres.
For Chinese New Year in 2016, I have decided to put aside my usual cheongsams and don the Nyonya kebaya instead.

I know it is only January and seems early days yet, but trust me, sometimes you may have to go a few places before settling on something you fancy, and also give and take some alteration etc, you need to give yourself some lead time.
Besides, I like to do my shopping sporadically to avoid the festive crowd and out-of-stock/ out-of-sizes situations.

A little history about Peranakan people: 
Peranakan Chinese are the Chinese descendants who came to the Malay archipelago between the 15th and 17th centuries and settled around Asia, largely in the Straits of Malacca and Eastern part of Singapore.
They were usually the traders and businessmen, who throughout the years became more Malay than Chinese.
My father-in-law is one such Peranakan.
An here's a little more about my family background which I have never talked about:

I am born to a set of Cantonese parents, whose own parents came from Guangdong in China to settle down in Singapore, with some Hong Kong and some still in China.
Back in the day, it was common for same dialect marriages, although now pure dialect Chinese have become "diluted" due to mixed marriages and so on.
I am one such example.
Being a pure Cantonese, I married a half-Peranakan and half-Indonesian Chinese man.
My father-in-law and his family are Nyonya-Babas, my mother-in-law is an Indonesian Chinese.
My FIL is a true Peranakan, in the sense that he still only speaks Malay Bahasa, English, and Hokkien. Ask him to speak Mandarin and he's like a fish out of water.
So come with me as I visit my husband's roots and learn more about the Peranakan culture :)
First stop:
We went to Rumah Bebe, at 113 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428803, just opposite I12 Katong Shopping Mall.
Tel: 62478781
Love the setup and colours of the shop. So colourful!
Did I forget to mention that one of the beauties of Peranakan culture is their love for vibrant colours. There is simply no mismatch to worry about because anything goes, literally!

Check out the fine porcelain vases and tiffins on display. Very exquisite.

Step inside and you will immediately be greeted by very friendly sales staff wearing the nyonya kebaya and a display of their ready-to-wear collection.

Prices for ready-to-wear start from $80 for the kebeya blouse, and $65 for the sarong batik.
They are considered cheap because there are some at the $300-$400 range.

I was very lucky that the lady boss, Mdm Bebe Seet herself, attended to me.
She was very friendly and did not look down on the fact that I have zero knowledge about her culture!

In fact, her interest piqued when Andy explained that he is half-Peranakan that is why his (crazy) wife decided to wear nyonya kebaya for CNY 2016, and she asked about Andy's grandma's culinary skills. LOL... 

There were signages in the shop which said "No photography" but Mdm Bebe was very kind and allowed us since she said I was buying the kebaya for myself.
Andy asked Mdm Bebe to give me a size up so that I have allowance for food........ >_<

Handmade beaded sandals (kasut manek) start from $150 onwards.

Rumah Bebe also sells some Peranakan kuehs.

Thanks Rumah Bebe for the positive experience as a first-time kebaya buyer.
You ladies were so patient with me.
I like that the prices are on the lower side (starting from $80 for blouse and $65 for sarong) because there are many people like me who only wear their traditional costumes once or twice during CNY and times like D&D or Racial Harmony Day, so really no point to spend $300-$400 on a blouse no matter how intricately hand-sewn they are.

Another advantage of setting more affordable prices is that there will be more people willing to part with their money to buy these traditional costumes/ collectors' items and pique their interest in learning the dwindling Peranakan culture.

Next on, I hopped over next door to Rumah Kim Choo, which is the more famous one, according to Trip Advisor.
Address: 109 - 111 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428801 (opposite I12 Katong Mall)
Tel: 67412125

Rumah Kim Choo (Kim Choo House) has a shop front selling Peranakan kueh chang, or delicacies.
But come upstairs and you will be surprised that it is actually a museum of sorts, with some displays of their traditional porcelain and metal tiffin tingkats.

Those of you who like vintage stuff will love this place.

Look at those delicate hand work on the bed linen! How does one sleep on them and not damage them?

Rumah Kim Choo also has made-to-measure as well as ready-to-wear collections.
Prices start from $138 onwards, and are a bit on the pricey side.

They also sell children's Baju lokchuan (for males), and mini nyonya kebayas for your little nyonyas.

The beadwork sandals, aka kasut manek, are all handmade. I cannot imagine how their eyesight must be like! #Iwillcockeye

On a separate day, I went to Toko Aljunied after ending work.
91 Arab Street Singapore 199791.
Tel: 62946897

At Toko Aljunied, the tailor on site will help you alter your kebaya FOC to make it more body-hugging and flattering.
They sell a wider variety of sarongs too.
Prices for kebayas start from $90, and a complete sarong + kebaya set starts from $135.

Tip for caring for your nyonya kebaya:
- Only handwash, and soak the kebaya and sarong separately, because sometimes the batik colours can transfer.

- Never hang the kebaya top when storing as due to the Laws of Gravity, the lacy parts will droop and become longer. Instead, fold them up nicely when keeping in your wardrobe.
- Always try on the clothings and never assume that size S for one sarong is also same measurement for another Sarong in S. Because they are hand sewn and there may be discrepancies in measurements by the different seamstresses.

- Start pinning your kebaya from bottom up after you align the hems. Use the smallest safety pins to pin the hems in place before using the kerosang if you are a newbie like me.


  1. Thank you for doing this review! It was really helpful! :)

  2. These are beautiful. I have many vintage Kebaya as well as sarongs that i wish to find a future for.If these are of interest to you please make contact on FB.

  3. These are beautiful. I have many vintage Kebaya as well as sarongs that i wish to find a future for.If these are of interest to you please make contact on FB.


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