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In this chapter:

  • Most Indonesians wear light clothes in the hot and humid climate
  • Women are not required to wear traditional Muslim clothes but they tend to dress conservatively because there is such a large Muslim population
  • Most men wear shirts and ties to work but will dress more casually outside of working hours
  • Men in the country may wear sarongs as part of their everyday clothing
  • Young people tend to wear casual clothes like jeans and T-shirts
  • Ikat and batik are handmade types of cloth used to make special shirts and sarongs

Daily wear

Indonesia is home to some of the most elaborate and impressive styles of clothing in the world. The costumes for special ceremonies are detailed and intricate. Like in Australia, however, most Indonesians don't wear their best clothes every day.

In the larger cities like Jakarta, people tend to dress in western styles. There are different styles of clothing for men and women. All Indonesians tend to wear light clothes because of the hot and humid climate.

As most Indonesians are Muslim, women tend to dress conservatively. Women who work in offices may wear business suits made of light material. They may also wear skirts with blouses. Skirts are expected to reach at least to the knees and blouses or shirts should cover their upper arms.

Even though it has a large Muslim population, women in Indonesia are not required to wear traditional Muslim veils or scarves. Some women do choose to wear these items as a sign of their own beliefs.

Outside of work, women often wear a light cotton shirt with a batik sarong. A sarong is a long piece of cloth that is wrapped around the waist and tied and most are about two metres long (see image 1). Women in rural areas wear sarongs more frequently.

Men who work in offices often wear trousers with a shirt and tie. Some businesses may be less formal and do not require men to wear ties. For important meetings they are expected to wear suits.

Batik shirts are considered formal clothing in Indonesia and it is acceptable for men to wear them with trousers while working.

Men often dress more casually once they have finished work for the day, sometimes wearing a sarong and a casual shirt.

Men living in the country may wear sarongs as part of their everyday clothes. Sometimes they wear a special, shorter type of sarong that allows them to move more freely.

Many Muslim men often wear a velvet hat known as a peci. This hat is a sign of their belief that all people are equal in the eyes of Allah. Men who have completed the holy journey to Mecca will wear a white peci.

Younger people in the cities are even more casual and it's not unusual to see them wearing jeans and t-shirts. Tourist areas are perhaps the most casual of all, where people wear shorts and T-shirts as they visit sights and go shopping.

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Indonesia is famous for some of the special fabrics that it makes. Two of the most famous are ikat and batik. These are traditional cloths made by hand in Indonesia.

Ikat cloth is made by weavers who create patterns in the cloth by weaving different-coloured threads into it. It usually uses a dark colour as the main part of the cloth and a pattern is made from lighter-coloured threads (see image 3).

Batik cloth is made through a complicated dyeing process. Batik artists start with a length of white cloth and carefully work a pattern over it using a special wax, this pattern needs to be done on both sides of the cloth. Once the wax is set, the whole cloth is dyed except for the pattern that the wax covers (see image 4).

Artists will then remove the wax and create another pattern of wax and dye the cloth again with a different colour. This can be done many times over until the complete pattern is finished.

Ikat and batik cloths can be worth a lot of money. Today there are some factories that use modern technology to make similar cloth without using the traditional methods that take a lot of time. This results in cheaper cloth but many people feel that it is an inferior product when it is not made by hand.

Festivals and special occasions

As in Australia, Indonesians like to get dressed up for festivals and special occasions, like weddings. Women's clothing for special occasions is particularly fine.

Sometimes these clothes will be very detailed batik or ikat sarongs that have gold and silk threads woven into them. Batik cloth with the same pattern may be used to make a top and sometimes a long cloth will then be hung over one shoulder. This cloth is sometimes used as a shawl. It can also be used to help carry things.

Dancers also wear some very detailed costumes. Again, these are made from rich cloths that have gold threads woven into them. Scarves and jewellery are sometimes used as accessories (see image 5).

Styles of clothing vary in different parts of Indonesia, especially when it comes to traditional and ceremonial clothing. The Minangkabau women from Sumatra, for example, are famous for their costumes with hats that are made to look like buffalo horns.



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