Fashion that goes beyond the surface — issue #24

Fashion that goes beyond the surface — issue #24


Fashion isn't exactly my strong suit. Almost everything  in my closet is Uniqlo—yes, it's the same boring t-shirts and shorts hanging in yours, let's be real my friends. It's cheap, simple, and good enough.

But this also means I know precious little about clothing's nuances, least of all the traditional clothing people wear in Singapore and in the region. For one, I only found out this year (gasp) that batik is actually a wax technique, and that some patterns are forbidden outside of royalty. For shame.

Now, I'll also be the first to admit that this is a problem—because clothing has always been about way more than looking good. 

Entire conversations happen in a swish of fabric. Sometimes that's sussing out someone's social class in fabric patterns or the way a sarong is knotted. Other times, it's stringing lines of htamein (the Burmese sarong) above streets to tell soldiers they aren't welcome.

In Singapore, our prime minister often wears pink when bringing good news, most recently about relaxing COVID-19 restrictions in mid-June. Right around then, many Singaporeans also wore pink to mark Pink Dot, an annual event for the LBGTQ+ movement here.

Same colour; different stories.

What we put on our backs matters, and it's easy to forget this in an era of high fashion and seasonal trends. Let's pay more attention to our clothing—and what it means to the people who make and wear it here in Asia.

Speaking of new garb, we've rebranded and given our website a brand new makeover. Curious what that means for you?
Check it out!

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illustration of women wearing different types of sarong
Interwoven in the ethnic clothing of sarong is a rich tapestry of reclamation, colonial exoticisation, and resistance. Read about how the women of Southeast Asia have wielded this humble garment throughout history in this stunning visual story by Zafirah and Munirah.
image of batik getting made by hand
How do Indonesians inscribe their history and cultural influences with clothes? They put a stamp on it, literally, by stamping on or drawing freehand patterns with symbolism and motifs onto fabric to create batik.
image of lee kuan yew in different coloured shirts
Singapore has an unlikely style icon—Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Known for donning pink hues, his appearance in blue during the COVID-19 national address raised some eyebrows. What did it all mean??? Our writer-turned-fashion-detective probes.
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image saying craft, rebranding notes from the equator
We talked about how we rebranded notes from the equator from three perspectives: editorial, marketing, and design. Now you know how it was cobbled together!
Our latest community interviews brought us to Harim Jung and Ri Liu. Harim is a Korean data engineer who hopes to change misconceptions people have of nuclear power using Tableau. Ri is a designer-developer from Australia who is inspired by experimental and weird data projects.

If you'd like to be considered for future Medium community interviews, drop an email! We want to hear from you.

an illustration of singer, actress, and fashion icon, Salmah binti Ismail, or Saloma
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Illustrating the variations of unstitched cloth in "A Sarong's Story":

As both the viz researcher and illustrator for Zafirah's story, I figured out how to visually present the data as I collated it. The true challenge was condensing the write up for each sarong variation; each type of clothing holds heavy historical significance, aside from its function. The different types of unstitched cloth were classified by countries' geographic boundaries, gender, and their common uses.
illustration of 12 types of sarong
For our first viz, my illustration closely follows the description of each cloth type.

The sarong's variations mean that each representation should be distinct. Instead of reusing a model and not adding any visual context, I paired the cloth with a secondary apparel commonly seen today.

An example is the Patadyong and the Samping:
illustration of samping and patadyong sarongs
As its wearer, the sarong is a cultural and even geopolitical signifier. More than simply representing a people, the sarong is about honouring diversity and highlighting the cultural power of Asia all at once. These are the focal points which guided my key visuals for the sarong story. 
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↘︎ Data visualizer Sana Ahmed Wilder looks at how Punjabi women's practice of phulkari embroidery—"flower work"—is a visual encoding of data. She asks, "What data exists there that we've been passing off as relics of domestic work, instead of paying attention to their deeper meaning?"

↘︎ Schools can be formative places where people figure out who they are. That's why dress codes that encode sexist and racist messages can indirectly warp students' self-image.

↘︎ When data, art, and fashion collide, the results are fantastically nerdy. See Giorgia Lupi's data-driven clothing collection, which honours three trailblazing women, and Emma Margarita Erenst's wearable art, designed based on movement mapping.

↘︎ Speaking of women breaking boundaries, check out this unusual fashion show by Anifa Mvuemba, founder of the brand Hanifa. Each garment was transformed into a 3D image sashaying and posing down the runway...sans model.

↘︎ Geographers Poorthuis, Power, and Zook mapped out where fashion keywords are drumming up a buzz in this interactive map

↘︎ Dressing to impress? Why not combine both and wow others with your knowledge through podcasts about fashion history and deep dives into everyday clothing?