Indonesia Expat
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The ballad of a work-from-home’s fashion must-have: the Daster

Pasar Beringharjo
Dasters sold in Pasar Beringharjo

Daster is perfect for everyday use, making it a fashion must-have. I reckon daster should be a fashion staple in the tropics!

But who am I? I’m no fashion expert. I’m merely one of the many women who live in a daster – whenever and wherever I can get away with it.

Daster (negligee is the direct English translation) is a lightweight dress designed in lovely, intricate patterns and colours hitting the knee, calves, or ankles, either sleeveless or not. According to the Indonesian Dictionary (KBBI), daster is defined as a noun, meaning a dress that’s intentionally made loose to be worn at home.

You’ve probably spotted your neighbour donning a daster coming out to get their food delivery; a friendly lady giving you change at a local warung; or whilst you’re testing your bargaining skills at a traditional market. It’s fascinating – I notice, regardless of the age, societal status, and location, much confidence radiates the faces of those wearing it, despite them usually being barefaced.

I love daster. I’ve built up my own collection. It’s comfortable, airy, cute, uncomplicated, and timeless. The way my friend Ajeng describes it: easy, breezy, beautiful. I can see my daster collection expanding soon – but I’d have to find more space.

Kumparan reported that the word “daster” was adapted from duster, a long robe made with light material with a loose cut found in American fashion. The cloak, which has been known since the 1800s, is usually made of linen, designed with several models, and was worn by cowboys as an outer to protect their clothes from dust, dirt, and even rain.

Over the centuries, the duster’s name attracted adoration and was widely used by the American public. The designs got simpler, too. The duster was designed to resemble a cardigan in the 70s. Several European and American fashion labels presented dusters on the runway, paired with knee-length boots or as outerwear of jeans and t-shirts.

It’s hard to truly pinpoint the origin of the daster in Indonesia, however. No research has identified the exact moment that the daster gained prominence amongst Indonesians. Looking back at vintage photographs of pre-democracy days, it seems women were still rocking batik sarongs as dresses. Perhaps it got adapted to silhouettes of 70s’ dresses too; loose, expressive, yet longer.

My mother rocked a daster back in the 90s – carrying baby-me – shown through a family photograph. This got me thinking: dasters are generally passed down from generation to generation, designed in different styles and catering to many preferences.

Pasar Beringharjo

They’re truly a cultural fashion item, like a batik garment. “Yogyakarta has the potential to develop batik with the support of reliable craftsmen, availability of raw materials, and marketing distribution,” said Sri Sultan Hamengku Buwono X, reported by Tempo. “Many batik craftsmen are scattered in this cultural city by carrying their own characteristics and patterns so that Yogya also becomes the main stop for tourists who love batik.”

daster

I won’t try to deny that I’ve been wearing some dasters as my pyjamas and WFH attire throughout the pandemic. I’m not the only one. Merdeka reported, “Cooperatives and Small and Medium Enterprises Minister (UKM) Teten Masduki revealed the high number of negligee and sarong sales is caused by more activities carried out by people from home. As a result, the demand for these two products will continue to soar because they are more comfortable to wear.”

However, fashion psychologist and author of Dress Your Best Life, Dawnn Karen, suggests avoiding “clothes that make the mood less suitable for work.” She explained clothes can affect the mood and stop you from focussing on your work.

Yet, it’s hard not to change back into one after “getting ready” for the day. I could always throw a blazer over it when a Zoom meeting is scheduled. See how versatile it is?

Daster is undeniably practical to throw on and take off. Most are equipped with buttons or zippers on the front section; nursing mothers can choose these designs to make mealtimes easier for their babies. Aside from that, the daster is suitable for all-weather in Indonesia. It can protect the skin from heat during the dry season, as well as maintain body temperature to stay warm during the monsoon season.

According to Klikdokter of the Health Ministry, dasters bring several health benefits, as explained by Dr. Astrid.

Indonesia has a tropical climate that can irritate the skin due to the hot temperature. So, when you are at home, you need clothes that are loose and cool like a daster.

She continued to say that the body is more relaxed when sleeping in a daster because the skin can breathe and body movement during sleep isn’t restricted. Plus, blood circulation is regulated since the daster isn’t tight, which can block blood flow from one part of the body to another, thus giving the wearer good quality sleep.

Various materials are used and are light and cool when wornmoreover, they’re easy to wash as the lightweight material speeds up the drying process. There are those made of rayon fabrics that have a high sweat absorption capacity, cotton fabrics that don’t cause allergic reactions or irritation, and batik materials. This garment is usually made to follow the development of trends such as floral motifs, stripes, tie-dye, and ethnic batiks coming in bright and dark colours.

You can spot several types of daster models, such as:

  1. A modern, loose-fitting type that has wider sleeves than a regular dress.
  2. The vintage model, usually decorated with ruffled accents on the sleeves.
  3. Modern, sleeveless models.
  4. Contemporary, shirtdress models that are equipped with a collar and are usually made of light material.
  5. The Arabic model has smouldering lace.
  6. The Balinese model, typically using rayon fabric, which is cool, smooth, soft, and easy to care for.

I’ve never seen identic Indonesian-style dasters sold elsewhere in the world. Go travel shopping in any traditional and modern markets in the country and racks and folded dasters are on display with quite affordable prices written in black-marker-on-cardboard. For example, Beringharjo Market in Yogyakarta normally sells a daster for Rp35,000 to locals. Expats, on the other hand, can get a “seratus ribu rupiah” (Rp100,000) or even higher, tiga ratus ribu rupiah” (Rp300,000) offer for one piece. I say, bargain to your heart’s content!

Travel host Diana finds the daster’s practicality and low-key sexuality to be lovable traits of this fashion item. The Brighton-native now living in Yogyakarta, Harri, claims a daster with no undergarment as the ultimate comfort. Aside from the feminine embodiment, a daster brings out, how significant is it to wear one in honour of the local culture? A gen-Z like Anastasia reveals it’s indeed significant as it’s already in our blood. “Even if we live overseas, we still bring it.”

My mother has this one daster – batik, a squared motif in black and rich dark brown – I remember from my childhood that she still keeps somewhere in her massive closet. It’s not in its best shape anymore, so she modified it into a headband and small rag. “I’ll never let this go,” she told me years ago. Will I end up like her with my own collection?

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