Dress: Modesty and Fluidity {Post A}

Walking through the streets and marketplaces of Indonesia today you’ll see women clad in layers of clothing no matter what the weather. All but heads, hands and feet are covered and in respect to Muslim women, even heads are concealed.

But looking back at historical artefacts such as Prambanan Temple, and Hindi temple whose construction began in 850 AD and Borobudur Temple, a Buddhist Temple whose construction began in 750 AD (Borobudur Park 2015), we see, preserved in the walls images on bas-relief (Lee 2010), an Indonesia with very distinctive differences to todays societal interpretation of modesty in dress.

Bas-relief  – Prambanan Temple (Barnes 1995)

The courts of central Java conserved many aspects of ancient culture, garb being one of them (Lee 2010). In the relief pictured above, we see bare breasted women with decorative body chains and jewellery adorning their chests. Heads are covered in ornamental headdresses and their lower half is covered by only a sheer ankle length skirt and opaque fabrics belted around the pelvis. Outside the courts however, common dress changed dramatically. From the 8th – 14th centuries, during the Hindu-Buddhist era, women’s dress was largely influenced by the Indian sojourners:


“their shoulders were bare, their chests were wrapped in a continuous piece of narrow fabric, and from the waist down they wore a sarong fashioned from unsewn cloth” (Lee 2010).


However, in the 14th and 15th centuries following the introduction of Islam and in turn in the 16th century, the arrival of Christians in Indonesia, it was encouraged for women to cover the upper cover the upper half of their body, manifesting in the adoption of jackets and sleeved blouses (Lee 2010).

Indo woman 2
Jogjakartan woman preparing local desserts

Coming to the 20th century in the 1970s, in Islam, we see the rise of conservatism. Although waves of conservatism have been seen before, this is the first time this religious shift brings about a new way of dressing for women whether in strict religious communities or not (Lee 2010). As this measure gained force, even a large population of Javanese women have assumed modest Arabic dress conventions, covering their hair and the majority of their bodies (Lee 2010).

Indo girls
Local girls in Salatiga, Central Java, Indonesia, wearing the Hijab

In Indonesia in the 1990s, the first Anti-Pornography and Porno-Action Bill was drawn up (Pausacker 2008). This Bill not only criminalises pornography, but also makes illegal:


“many kinds of theatre and dance performances, art, forms of dress (such as baring the shoulders and legs) and behaviour of individuals (such as kissing on the lips in public), displaying ‘sensual parts’ of the body or ‘erotic dancing’” (Pausacker 2008).


Apprehension was conveyed by critics about the bill as there was concern that it would “impede everyday life, their regional cultural practices and their freedom of artistic expression. (Pausacker 2008)”

Since the time of the Prambanan and Borobudur Temples, there has been a complete turn around in views on modesty. From bare breasts to barely exposed hands and faces Indonesia has seen the modesty of dress from one extreme to the next.


Barnes, R. 1995, The Yale Indo-Pacific collection 002116 Reliefs at Candi Lara Jonggrang at Prambanan, ArtStor, viewed 10th April, http://library.artstor.org.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/library/#3|search|6|All20Collections3A20prambanan|Filtered20Search|||type3D3626kw3Dprambanan26geoIds3D26clsIds3D26collTypes3D26id3Dall26bDate3D26eDate3D26dExact3D26prGeoId3D26origKW3D||9|

Borobudur Park 2015, Fact Sheet: Prambanan, viewed 9 April 2016, http://borobudurpark.com/fact-sheet/

Borobudur Park 2015, Fact Sheet: Borobudur, viewed 9 April 2016, http://borobudurpark.com/fact-sheet/

Lee, C. 2010 The Sarong Kebaya of Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Volume 4 – South Asia and Southeast Asia, viewed 25th March  2016, http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bewdf/BEWDF-v4/EDch4056.xml

Pausacker, H. 2008, Hot Debates, weblog, Inside Indonesia, viewed 30th March 2016, http://www.insideindonesia.org/hot-debates

*All images, unless otherwise stated were taken by the author.

Post A: Muslim “Feysen” in Indonesia

Fashion design in Indonesia over the last 20 to 30 years has been shaped by political, religious and social pressures as well as modern design influence. Since the early 1990s the increased visibility of Islamic fashion in Indonesia has influenced the market to feature more modest Muslim trends alongside Western styles of dress.

The cultivation of an indigenous Indonesian fashion industry in which both neo-traditional and Western style clothing is celebrated, has played a key role in national development strategy in Indonesia. This development is not only economic but also cultural. (Jones, 2007)

Fashion or “feysen” in Indonesia is considered to be a strong component of national cultural growth. Scholars who agree the veil can have multiple political, social and personal meanings suggest the commodification of Islamic dress can dilute the political potential of Islamic identities when forms of dress become fashionable and trendy. (Ismail 2004).

The proliferation of Islamic forms of dress in Indonesia can be associated with a rise in Islamic Piety and consumerism as a result of an intersection of political, economical and cultural changes. This often causes dress and fashion to be the subject of debate over morality and nationalism (Jones, 2007). Some women who belong to religious minorities feel religion has become a tool for social pressure as they must cover and dress modestly in public places or the workplace even though this does not align with their religious beliefs.

A variety of Islamic dress styles are worn in Indonesia but over the last ten years the mosleum has become an increasingly popular form of Islamic dress.

As one of the leading muslim fashion designers in Indonesia Itang Yunasz believes in the essence of modern fashion design while keeping with modest cultural forms of dress.

15 years ago Itang Yunasz decided to dedicate his career as a fashion designer to exclusively focus on the Muslim market. (Jakarta Fashion Week 2014, para. 2)

(Yunasz, 2014)
Itang Yunasz showing at Jakarta Fashion Week 2014 (Yunasz, 2014)

“I wanted to prove that Muslim fashion, which based on Syari’ah, could also be fashionable and stylish,” – Itang Yunasz (Yunasz, 2014)

Itang Yunasz showing at Jakarta Fashion Week 2014 (Yunasz, 2014)

Itang Yunasz’s latest collection featured textiles of various weaving techniques such as Balinese and Sumba Ikat weaves from central and eastern Indonesia. He brought together traditional Indonesian techniques of embroidery and weaving with the modern process of digital printing, creating an range influenced by both Indonesian culture and contemporary fashion design.

To appeal to an international market, Indonesian fashion designers must face the challenge of combining Indonesian traditional fashion and cultural textiles with contemporary design. It is important for local designers to feature traditional textiles such as woven and dyed batik as well as embroidery to be able to keep originality and identity of Indonesian fashion in contemporary design. (Abdullah 2014, para. 8)

The fashion design industry in Indonesia has brought great economic and cultural development. With the success of local designers who are committed to maintaining local heritage while showcasing contemporary designs, Indonesia it is well on the way to becoming the next Islamic fashion capital.


Abdullah, Najwa 2014, A Bright Future for Indonesia’s Fashion Scene, Aquila Style, Singapore, viewed 23 April 2015, <http://www.aquila-style.com/lifestyle/ifw-2014/>

Ismail, S. 2004, ‘Being Muslim: Islam, Islamism and Identity Politics’, Government and Opposition, 4 edn, vol. 39, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, pp. 614-31.

Jakarta Fashion Week 2014, A Long Journey of Itang Yunasz, Indonesia, viewed 24 April 2015, <http://www.jakartafashionweek.co.id/en/content/news/the.long.journey.of.itang.yunasz/001/002/687>

Jones, C. 2007, ‘Fashion and Faith in Urban Indonesia’, in Tarlo, E.: Moors, A. (ed.), Fashion Theory, 2/3 edn, vol. 11, Berg Publishers, England, pp. 211-232.

Yunasz, I. 2014, Itang Yunasz’s Great Dedication, Jakarta Fashion Week, viewed 24 April 2015, <http://www.jakartafashionweek.co.id/en/content/news/itang.yunazs.great.dedication/001/002/286>

Yunasz, I. 2014, Jakarta Fashion Week, Tom and Lorenzo, viewed 24 April 2015, <http://tomandlorenzo.com/2014/11/jakarta-fashion-week-2015/>