Must-sees at a fashion exhibition on the modern woman in Singapore
Fashion, and the art of dressing, is more than just about superficial beauty. The exhibition Modern Women Of The Republic: Fashion And Change In China And Singapore, which is situated at Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, traces the fascinating rise of the modern woman through the way they dressed.
Some 100 artefacts such as old magazines and archival photographs from China and Singapore are featured in the exhibition, and they show how women’s social status, domestic roles and lifestyles changed from the late 1800s to the 1970s.
Here are five highlights from the exhibition, which is on until 12 Dec:
Publicity poster for Gold Bar Hatamen cigarettes
Manufactured by British American Tobacco, Hatamen was a popular cigarette brand in China during the 1920s and 1930s. Its advertisement poster depicted a female model who embodied the modern bourgeois lifestyle of that time in the way she was dressed. Her fitted floral cheongsam and fashionably permed hair were common signifiers of women belonging to higher social classes from that time.
Smelling like a mix of bitter lime or citrus with a hint of musk, the 4711 cologne is a perfume that originated from Germany in the 18th century and became a popular choice of scent among women in Singapore since the 19th century. Many women adored the fragrance not just because of its pleasant notes, but also because it reminded them of days gone by. The cologne, now over two centuries old, is still being sold everywhere in Singapore today. This shows that over the years, women became more conscious of how they groom and present themselves in public.
Green sleeveless cheongsam with matching lace jacket
The green cheongsam and lace jacket ensemble from the 1950s to 1960s belonged to Datin Aw Cheng Hu, daughter of Mr Aw Boon Par, the cofounder of the topical medication brand, Tiger Balm. The outfit is a combination of a Malay kebaya blouse and a Chinese cheongsam, and the fusion of designs reflects Singapore’s multiculturalism.
Nanyang Radio Weekly magazine
The Nanyang Radio Weekly used to be a popular magazine published by the now-defunct Nanyang Siang Pau Press in Singapore. The magazine listed the timings for radio programmes and broadcasts in some parts of Malaya and Singapore, and it often featured local stars and radio personalities on its cover. This issue from 1952, which featured getai star Huang Xia in a one-piece swimsuit, is particularly noteworthy as swimsuits were previously considered scandalous because of their skin-tight and revealing nature, and only become more widely accepted in Singapore from the mid-20th century, as they were featured more regularly in the print media and beauty pageants.
The Young Companion Pictorial
This widely distributed monthly pictorial in China was highly influential in popularising female fashion and dictating the look of the modern woman all over the world in the 19th century. This issue from 1967 features a cover model wearing false eyelashes with heavy eye make-up – a look that was trendy in the 1960s.