Fashion and Textiles
This gallery explores Asian histories, cultures, and identities through fashion and textiles. In their choice of what to wear, people reveal their ideas about religion, class, status, gender – and personal taste. Going beyond national dress, it shows how styles commonly associated with one region often incorporate styles from another.
In Asian port cities, the movements of people, exchanges of goods, spread of ideologies, impact of colonialism, and changing technologies have left lasting legacies in fashion. Techniques, designs, materials, tailoring, and silhouettes were borrowed and adapted across cultures.
Broadly, this gallery addresses three questions: What textiles do people wear and use in different parts of Asia? How have fashion and textiles in Asia responded to world changes? How have styles and materials from Asia impacted the world?
Cutting across Asia from Chinese painted silks and Indian printed cottons to Javanese batiks, the latest display at the Fashion and Textiles gallery opened on 5 April 2021 displaying wonders of Asian fashion from the 18th to 20th century. Titled Fashionable in Asia, this latest showcase in the Fashion and Textiles Gallery celebrates innovation in the space of tradition, with more than 20 exquisite masterpieces recently acquired by ACM, most of which have never before been seen by the public.
‣ Navigating trade and power through Asian fashion from the 18th to 20th century
The display comprises three main sections – Competing Threads, Batik Resistance, and Creativity on the Pesisir – that reflect the way Asian identities and cross-cultural exchanges are revealed through dress.
In Competing Threads, the display traces the history of fashion designs and textiles production in Asia, in particular, the kind of seismic shifts in fashion trends caused by the popularity of Indian cottons and silks. On display are also lavish outfits worn by royalty and wealthy people of Thailand, Japan, and Indonesia. Not only are these garments designed with adornments of symbolic elements that define hierarchy within culture, but they also highlight purposeful and exuberant design that makes use of local motifs to aesthetically differentiate the wearer.
‣ Creativity in hyperlocal Southeast Asian fashion identities
Everyone was wearing Javanese batik by the 19th century. Charting the rise and evolution of batik, the sections Batik Resistance and Creativity on the Pesisir compare the traditional motifs once reserved for the central Javanese courts with the reimaginations by Go Tik Swan’s contemporary “Batik Indonesia” and the expressive batiks made on the pesisir, the north coast of Java. The section enchants with the innovative spirit seen on the pesisir, fuelled by the creativity of Indo-European, Peranakan Chinese, and Javanese batik makers in the city of Pekalongan.
Missed our first display at the Fashion and Textiles gallery?
View Fashion Revolution: Chinese dress from late Qing to 1976 via our virtual galleries here.