Asia’s 48 countries cover one-third of Earth’s total land surface. This equates to scores of diverse cultures, each with a rich and unique heritage reflected in a kaleidoscope of wonderful fashions. These eastern trends have been impacting worldwide fashion for decades, and if you have ever connected with the interesting women on an Asian dating site you’ll be well aware of their vibrant fashion sense.
One strong influence has been the sarong, the long skirt-like garment which forms the national costume of Malaysia. This has been featuring in trendy boutiques as far afield as the USA and England since the 1950s – round about the time Malaysia gained independence from the British Empire. The baju kurung is a traditional outfit (in Malay, ‘enclosed dress’) which is worn throughout Malaysia, as well as Singapore and Thailand. It consists of a maxi-length skirt worn with a long-sleeved blouse.
When these garments first made their way beyond the South China Sea in the 1950s, the skirt would be made from exquisitely handwoven fabric, threaded with gold and silver ornamentation. At this time it was mainly worn for formal occasions, but as its popularity spread it became daily attire. Favored by women and men, there are two styles differentiated by separate collars.
A variation is the kebaya, which arose in the 1960s as a spirit of cultural revolution was spreading elsewhere on the globe. This was tailored to females, producing a flattering, figure-hugging dress. When you consider Malaysian films from this era, almost every leading actress was sporting a kebaya. By the 1970s this had evolved into thicker fabrics, complemented with a range of scarves and chokers, while the 1980s introduced shoulder pads to the baju kurung. The 1990s added sequins and beads, while the 2000s saw silk and French lace being added to Malaysia’s national costumes.
West meets East
Over on the Asian mainland, Vietnam has emerged as a vibrant tourist destination of choice after the turmoil of struggle for independence from France, then war with the USA. Historically, Vietnamese women wore long cotton dresses, tied with silk belts. Hair was often wrapped in turbans, although less ornate flat hats were sported, fashioned from palm leaves or bamboo.
When the French arrived in the 1930s they brought a strong European influence, including large collars and puffed shoulders. The dresses were often paired with white silk trousers. One big trend during the colonial era was the velvet áo dài, which had two panels front and back, a high neck and was also worn with white trousers. Such has been the enduring popularity of this ensemble it is still worn on the streets of Hanoi to this day and has traveled with expat Vietnamese communities across the world.
If you visit Vietnam in present times you will see a mishmash of ethnic fashion and European styles, everything from designer jeans to denim jackets.
The Indian sub-continent is home to a vast array of cultural styles and fashion influences. Beautifully colored sarees can be seen across Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as kurtis (long over-garments.) The bright, vivacious saree has influenced designers right across Europe and the Americas, while kurtis have also found their way into fashion houses way beyond Asia.
Far East design
Straddling eastern and western sensibilities, the former British colony adjoining China enjoys the best of both worlds. Traditional Chinese styles rub shoulders with ubiquitous jeans or plaid shirts tied at the waist.
Japan’s blend of historic art and brash contemporary styles can be seen in the work of many Japanese designers, such as Issey Miyake and Kenzō Takada.
These were the most popular trends that came from Asia and that have already became part of the western cultures.