Red letter day: More couples choosing traditional Chinese kua for their weddings

Mr Zehn Kuah and Ms Najat Hamsa in hand embroidered kuas they rented from The Red Wedding.
Mr Zehn Kuah and Ms Najat Hamsa in hand embroidered kuas they rented from The Red Wedding.PHOTO: COURTESY OF NAJAT HAMSA

SINGAPORE - A Malay wedding with Chinese traditional wedding outfits? That was what Ms Najat Hamsa and her husband opted for when they got married last year - in a bid to blend their two cultures together.

Ms Najat, 29, who is self-employed, tied the knot in December last year with marine technician Zehn Kuah, 29. Mr Kuah had converted to Islam and the couple were married under Muslim law in Singapore.

Ms Najat says: "Because I married a man of Chinese descent, I wanted to wear a traditional Chinese outfit as something different for our Malay wedding.

"I got to know about the kua (a form of traditional Chinese wedding outfit) through social media and I really liked the design and the embroidery looked intricate."

Eschewing the baju kebaya and the baju kurung usually worn at Malay weddings, Ms Najat and her husband donned kua for their solemnisation and tea ceremony.

They rented their outfits at wedding kua studio The Red Wedding for a total of about $450.

"My relatives told me it looked very nice and that the cutting resembles the kebaya," she says.

The kua is a form of traditional Chinese two-piece wedding outfit, believed to have originated during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). The bright red outfit features heavy embroidery of auspicious motifs like dragons, phoenixes, mandarin ducks and flowers.

The outfit, called a qun kua for women and a ma kua for men, has been gaining popularity in Singapore in recent years as couples, especially brides, look to impart an Oriental touch to their big day.

The Red Wedding's founder Janet Ng, who is in her early 40s, says: "The trend has surged in the past five or six years, perhaps because of celebrities with a large social media following like Chinese actresses Angelababy and Liu Shishi, who wore the kua for their weddings."

Mrs Ng has a stock of about 60 hand-embroidered pieces which she rents to 15 to 20 couples a month on average. This is up from eight to 10 a month five to six years ago.


Ms Wee Yuzhen, 29, who works in wealth management, married finance manager Wong Yong Xian in 2018, she wore a qun kua for the tea ceremony while he wore a suit. PHOTO: COURTESY OF WEE YUZHEN

Bridal wear studio House Of Etiquette's director Carol Cho, 50, agrees that social media has played a part in hyping up the kua as a trend. House Of Etiquette primarily rents out traditional Chinese outfits.

She says: "Previously, brides came because their parents wished for them to wear the traditional gown. Now, they come because they like the look of the kua.

"There are also more interracial marriages these days. For them, their wedding is a showcase of their customs and cultures to the other family members."

Ms Cho says the rental rate ranges from below $100 for up to five days for machine-embroidered kua to more than $298 for hand embroidered pieces .

While brides The Straits Times spoke to loved the kua for its heritage, most jazzed it up with modern elements.

Ms Jessica Lau, a 28-year-old auditor, chose a kua from The Red Wedding with a scallop hemmed top - a modern modification compared to the traditional straight hem - and paired it with nude high heels instead of traditional embroidered heels.

"I could have rented the heels from The Red Wedding too, but it looked a tad too traditional," she says.

Ms Lau's mother and mother-in-law also both wore kua for the wedding, held last November.

Kua for mothers are maroon or burgundy instead of the bright red reserved for the newlyweds.

While many women are ready to embrace kua, some men still stick to their suits and ties.

When Ms Wee Yuzhen, 29, who works in wealth management, married finance manager Wong Yong Xian in 2018, she wore a qun kua for the tea ceremony while he wore a suit.

"A men's kua wasn't included in our bridal package. He's also quite big and tall so I'm not sure a kua will fit him well," says Ms Wee.

The rise of Internet shopping has also made kua much more a affordable. Aside from renting kua from wedding studios, budget-conscious couples can take a leaf out of Ms Brenda Shee's book.

Ms Shee, 29, co-founder of wedding start-up HitchPlanner, bought kua for herself and her husband from Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao for about $80.

The couple wore these for their pre-wedding photo shoot as they wanted something modern with an "old Shanghai twist" - Ms Shee's grandfather is from Shanghai - but wanted to keep costs low.

"Honestly, we were worried because we didn't know if it would look the way it was promised, so we made sure to buy from a seller with many reviews.

"I also spoke to the seller and gave her my measurements and she recommended that I go one size up from the size I was looking at. It turned out to be a good choice," she says.

On the other end of the budget spectrum are brides who splurge on a bespoke kua.


Mr Yap Zhi Wei and Ms Brenda Shee got their pre-wedding photoshoot kuas from Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao. PHOTO: COURTESY OF BRENDA SHEE

Mrs Janice Lim, 38, who works in a charity organisation, got local veteran bridal gown designer Ted Wu to custom-make kua for her and her husband, Mr Adam Lim, a 29-year-old sales engineer, when they married in March last year.

The couple, who met volunteering at the Thekchen Choling (Singapore), a Tibetan Buddhist temple, had a good reason.

"We intend to wear it every year during Chinese New Year to visit our religious teacher at the temple and pay our greetings to him," says Mrs Lim, whose sister also had a kua made by Ted Wu for the same reasons.

While her sister opted for a unique kua in champagne gold, Mrs Lim says she wanted something traditional-looking.

She and her husband got bright red kua with motifs of a dragon and a phoenix and flowers, shelling out about $5,500 in total for the outfits. She did not wear a white bridal gown - the kua was a her main outfit.

She says: "A wedding is a very meaningful event and it should reflect some of our culture. I feel very proud when I wear it."

NEVER OUT OF STYLE

While traditional Chinese wedding outfits have been gaining popularity, traditional outfits for Malay and Indian weddings have never gone out of style.

It is common for Malay couples to wear traditional outfits at their weddings.

Brides usually wear an elaborate baju kurung, a loose-fitting outfit with a long blouse and a skirt, or a baju kebaya, which is more formfitting.

Men usually wear the baju melayu, a loose fitting shirt with long pants. For both bride and groom, the outfits can come in a variety of colours and prints.

When Johor Princess Tunku Tun Aminah Sultan Ibrahim married her Dutch-born husband in 2017, she wore a plain white baju kurung with a lace veil dotted with small crystals.

Indian brides also commonly wear traditional wedding outfits.

Brides usually opt for the sari, characterised by a long piece of unstitched fabric wrapped around the waist and draped over the shoulder with a cropped top.

More commonly in North Indian weddings, brides wear the lehenga - which consists of a long skirt, a top and a scarf that can be draped around the body in different ways.

Men usually wear the sherwani, a coat-like garment with embroidery.

Bollywood A-list actress Sonam Kapoor went traditional for her wedding in 2018 to Indian businessman Anand Ahuja.

One of her big day's outfits was an elaborate bespoke red and gold lehenga, her preferred colour choices, by Indian fashion designer Anuradha Vakil. She paired it with a set of vintage jewellery.

Vakil told Vogue India that the actress and her had a similar vision in mind.

She said: "We wanted to create something understated, worthy of becoming an heirloom treasure."