Busana Para Saudagar dan Pedagang

In the balmy heat of the equator, a cool breeze is something we’re looking forward to everyday. When the breeze comes oozing, there’s serenity, calmness, and peace in the air. We don’t need to be mad all the time. We don’t need to shout to each other. We just need a break. Don’t we all?

This time for our journal, we are highlighting the workwear in Indonesia. Material wise, cutting, and style, related to the type of the job and the tropical heat. Focusing on the late 19th century to early 20th century before a massive import of fast-fashion and denim (the OG of American workwear). How did we see clothes back then? What did people wear?

Looking back through archives of old photos and prints, like Lithograph and Chromolithograph, the working class of Java and Sumatra were depicted by Abraham Salm, Rappard, and Junghuhn. In the 19th century, men who worked outdoors; either in the plantation, rice field, or streets, did not wear any top. Bare-chested and barefoot, they wore a pair of cotton pants, cut loosely to allow them to roll them up to the knees. On the hip, they had a piece of fabric in the form of a sarong that they could wear to wipe the sweat and carry important things;

goods from the field like bananas, some lunch, and grains. Unlike the sarongs worn by the upper class, their sarongs were either plain, dipped in indigo or brown sogan, or plaids. The working class sarong motifs have always been simple and hearty, symbolizing their background as workers. The fishermen and fish sellers (sometimes women) who lived near the coast would decorate their sarongs with images of shells and ocean creatures, while farmers and those who live inland would decorate their sarongs with motifs of rice grains and slices of jackfruit (Batik Tuban motifs).

While the men went bare-chested, the women were either bare-chested or wearing a kebaya made of woven cotton. Cotton for peasant clothes are usually from the local areas, while the cotton for Priyayi, Nonik, and Nonyas (the Dutch, Chinese-Indonesian, and Javanese) are imported from India. These women work in the rice field, kitchens, markets, by the street with their tenong (a basket full of traditional

snacks and Nasi Campur), or in their little stalls (Warung). These women who worked wore sarongs just above the ankle. They did not wrap their sarongs tightly as they needed to make space to move. Whether it’s in the humid kitchen, cooking for their Dutch or Priyayi Nyonyas, or behind their stall serving coffee and tea for the customers, they need to have enough freedom to do their jobs.

Just like the men, the women also wore a piece of fabric wrapped asymmetrically around their shoulder and torso. This piece, Selendang Gendong, is woven from cotton, making it durable and strong enough to carry anything that they sell. If you’re lucky enough, you will still find Mbok Jamu carrying Tengok (bamboo basket) filled with bottles of Jamu, strapped by her Selendang Gendong. Selendang Gendong is usually woven with a striped motif known as Lurik . Later, woven cotton with a Lurik motif is sewn as a daily shirt for men in Central Java.

From Mbok Jamu with her Gendongan, farmers, fishermen, and shop owners, clothes are meant to be worn with comfort. Despite having less celebrated decoration and motifs, workwear and daily wear clothes are durable and functional.

Through this appreciation of workwear and everyday clothes, we are inspired to create a shirt that you can wear on a daily basis. Semilir; an appreciation of daily wear. Light breathable fabric with illustrations inspired by 18th – 20th century workers on litographs.