The Chinese frog fastenings, the high mandarin collars, the side-slit skirt – the cheongsam is a dress that wills its wearer to hold their head high, to sit and strand straight. It demands a way of wearing the hair, a sway to the hips. Fashionable, feminine and form-fitting, the classic cheongsam not only carries cultural, ethnic and heritage significance – it also represents liberation of sorts: a symbol of feminism, a storytelling tool.
The late Mrs Yoon of Kampar, as Clarice Wong – co-founder of Her Closet and custodian of Mrs Yoon’s collection of cheongsam – remembers her, was an elegant, well-dressed woman who would smile at her on the streets, clad in a cheongsam, samfu or blouse and trousers, accessorised with a slick of lipstick. When she passed on in her nineties, her daughter Mrs Chye – married to the late Chye Kooi Loong, honoured historian and, at one point, Clarice’s tuition teacher – was left with 50 years’ worth of fashion that seemed destined for the dumpster: boxes and boxes of her mother’s bags, shoes and clothes, tailored to a tee with imported material from her travels to Hong Kong, Thailand and the UK.
Clarice, who works in arts, events and production, is Kampar-raised and KL-based. She decided to take on Mrs Yoon’s closet with friend and documentary producer, Effa Desa. Together, Clarice and Effa founded Her Closet to give the clothes a new lease of life. A collection of ’50s to ’90s cheongsams, samfus and vintage wear, the clothes aren’t just clothes: they’re artefacts of the life Mrs Yoon lived, painting a picture of the historical fashion of the time.
Note: Her Closet is now closed.
This green and gold embroidered cheongsam is the sort you’d bust out of your closet for a special event or occasion – family dinners, to the theatre, a party.
Let this black cheongsam be your little black dress; it’s minimalist but modern, simple and safe for all occasions. There’s also something faintly Indian about this piece; maybe it’s the peacock feather-like needlework.
A bright, bold English summer dress – a style popularised in the ’50s and ’60s – made for brunch mornings on the weekends, or a playful movie date.
The blue patterned samfu is the ideal lounging uniform – loose-fit, relaxed and soft. Otherwise, mix and match: The top could easily be paired with jeans or a skirt, and the bottom looks like something you’d find on the racks at Monki.
A more traditional take on the cheongsam: The olive green one-piece is ankle-grazing and long-sleeved, patterned with flowers and finished with white threading.
Prices range from RM25 to RM50. All pieces are one-of-a-kind. Her Closet organises sales from time to time; otherwise, make an appointment with Clarice and Effa to view the clothes. For more information, search ‘Her Closet’ on Facebook.