This silk upper garment or short robe would have been worn by a Straits Chinese bride (and possibly a bride’s maid) on the first day of the wedding ritual (Straits Chinese weddings lasted up to twelve days and involved numerous costume changes.) It would have been worn with a skirt and various other elements. Such garments predominantly were worn by Straits Chinese or Nonya brides in Malacca and Singapore.
It comprises pink damask silk with trimmings in blue, cream and other colours. It is heavily and finely embroidered and brocaded in multiple colours with peonies, phoenixes and other auspicious symbols meant to convey luck, prosperity and marital harmony appropriate for a wedding celebration. Borders of brocaded gold thread outline most of the patterns.
The pink colour is a localised approximation for red (ang), which was considered by Chinese in China as a ‘lucky’ colour for weddings.
The garment retains all its original gilded buttons, each of which is in the form of a peony bloom.
Such garments were based on Ming Dynasty court costume. The Straits Chinese, like many emigre populations, remained caught in time and persisted with some of the accoutrements of their former homelands that were fashionable at the time when their ancestors left, despite becoming increasingly estranged from China. These costumes either were commissioned in China specifically for the Straits market, or were commissioned from local makers. (There were local makers in Penang at least and possibly elsewhere in the Straits Settlements.)
A very similar example in a museum collection in Singapore is illustrated in Chong (2013, p. 164).
The example here is in near-perfect condition with only minor age-related fraying about the colour.
Cheah, H.F., Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements, NUS Press, Singapore, 2010.
Cheah, H.F, Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2017.
Cheo, K.B., A Baba Wedding, Marshall Cavendish, 2009.
Chong, A., et al, Devotions in Desire: Cross Cultural Art in Asia – New Acquisitions, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2013.
Ee, R., et al, Peranakan Museum A-Z Guide, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2008.
Ho, W.M., Straits Chinese Beadwork & Embroidery: A Collector’s Guide, Times Books International, 1987.
Khoo, J.E., The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press, 1996.
Liu, G., From the Family Album: Portraits from the Lee Brothers Studio, Singapore 1910-1925, National Heritage Board/Landmark Books, 1995.