Category Archives: apparel

My Jeanophobia Blues

Per my reckoning, blue denim jeans came onto the local fashion scene some time in the late 1960s. Soon it became the universal below-waist cover-up for every Ah Beng, Arun and Ali. The supposedly casual wear began turning up at every occasion, location and function.

The ladies were not spared this viral apparel infection too.  

At my workplaces, even the managers and the managing directors wore denim jeans.  Yes, everyone, with one notable exception – ie., this writer himself.  

I have NEVER worn a pair of denim jeans in my entire life!  “Don’t ask me why…how come I did not try…”

Perhaps, the thought of putting on some thick, canvas-like fabric, with a rugged weather-beaten appearance did not jive well with my personal grooming habits.  More correctly, the thought never entered my mind.

What’s The Shape Of Your Bottom ?

Does it matter ?  Yes, I mean in the old days, the shape of the bottom of your shirt (called “hem”, right?) determined whether or not your shirt should be tucked in.

If the shirt was a long-sleeved one, it came with a nice rounded hem, which must be tucked into the pants.  For courtesy, modesty or formality, or all three, having an exposed rounded bottom was a frowned-upon “No-No”.   But it was OK, if the shirt, especially a short-sleeve “hawaiian” type which always came with a straight bottom.

But times have changed.  These days, we see our young men strutting smugly around town in shirts with exposed, untucked rounded hem (worse still, with a half-done tie, and shorts) going arm-in-arm with  girlfriends dressed to the nines.  

Tastes have changed too. Ironically, anything goes, just tuck it in.

Start Pinking and Stop Fraying

It was a strange-looking pair of scissors that my late mum and other senior female relatives used frequently to impart a zig-zag boundary around the pieces of cloth they used to make their dresses.

I later found out that it was called “Pinking Shears”.  Apparently it was invented by one Samuel Briskman in 1931 (there are other claims), to help minimise fraying of textile along cut edges.  Doubtful initially, I was later convinced that this gadget could let the dressmakers Stop Worrying & Start Living (happily, I think) as they turned fabric into garments.

But I suspect in these days and times, many youngsters would be confounded by an encounter with this vintage but ingenious tool.

By the way, in Penang we called it 马齿剪刀 (horse-teeth scissors)

Hot Button Issues

Ok, granted, these are not the type of issues that will drive the citizenry to protest on the streets (though the photo here does show yellow as well as red ones)…lolx.

But I remember that decades ago, these were high fashion. My long-departed Granny and other senior female relatives were experts in making buttons out of cloth material to adorn their blouses. In fact Granny’s upper garments always had these types only, no others.  The knotted buttons required some dexterous handwork to fabricate.

I almost never see any woman wearing dresses with these now.   I think these buttons are no longer ‘hot’ and have completely gone out of vogue, or perhaps these days women’s fingers can only swipe and tap touchscreens.   Hope I don’t start a riot here.

They Kept Me in Suspense – Y ?

Remember Y-suspenders ?   These accessories for men seemed to be fashionable in most of the Westerns – the menfolk appeared to be wearing these all the time.

When I was a kid, I used to wear these too.  But it was less of being a hipster of the day and more of upholding a down-to-earth need.   I was growing quickly in size, and being relatively poor, we could not afford to buy new clothes frequently.

So my mum found a solution – she bought pants for me that were 2 sizes larger.   When new, those were really loose and thus the Y-suspenders came in handy.  By the second year, I probably did not need those anymore.  (But by the third year,  the pants were rather tight)

The Long And Short Of It

Kebaya Peranakan – high fashion of the Nonyas of old.

The upper half was usually a translucent – I would say nearly transparent – long sleeve blouse, with intricate embroidered patterns on the front.  The variety of embroidery patterns and colors was only limited by the imagination.  However, the distinguishing feature of the blouse was that the front hem tapered down to a pointed triangular end, which could be as much as 8 inches lower than the straight back hem.    Hence, the Penang Hokkien people called it “The Half-Long-Short” (半长短)

The two flanks of the front were usually held together with several pieces of brooch linked with a fine gold chain – something called “kerongsang“.  Actually, these were intricate pieces of jewelry “masquerading” unabashedly as buttons or safety pins.

The lower half was usually a matching sarong kebaya – more or less conventional.