Rare Pair of Superb Straits Chinese Wedding Shoes
Singapore or Malacca, Malaysia
late 19th-early 20th century
This pair of embroidered shoes are without doubt, the best preserved such pair we have seen. They are in pristine, museum-quality condition. Unusually, they also retain their original wadded shoe trees, of pink and cream woven cotton stuffed with kapok fibre, used so that the shoes will keep their shape. It is likely that these shoes were worn only once – one the actual wedding days hence their almost perfect condition.
Ho (1987, p. 120) comments that such shoes were worn on the actual wedding day, when the marrying couple, put on their voluminous Qing-style wedding gowns. They are not to be confused with the more common wedding slippers that were worn on other days surrounding the actual wedding day.
With their relatively large size and without a significant heel, probably the pair was made for a Straits Chinese man or
baba. The uppers comprise red, green and pink velvet embroidered in high relief entirely with gold and silver metallic thread, and metal sequins. This work was known as sulam benang mas (Cheah, 2017, p. 16). The motifs used are peony sprays and phoenixes – the emblems most associated with Straits Chinese weddings and the desire for conjugal happiness.
The soles are lined with thick brown leather and the interiors are lined with fine red leather.
Overall, this is an exceptional and exceptionally well-preserved museum-quality pair of Straits Chinese wedding shoes.
Cheah, H.F., Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements, NUS Press, Singapore, 2010.
Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2017.
Straits Chinese Beadwork & Embroidery: A Collector’s Guide, Times Books International, 1987.
The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press, 1996.
London art market
Inventory no.: 4581