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Rare Pair of Superb Straits Chinese Wedding Shoes
Singapore or Malacca, Malaysia
late 19th-early 20th century

length: 24.5cm

This pair of embroidered shoes are without doubt, the best preserved such pair we have seen. They are in pristine, museum-quality condition. Unusually, they
also retain their original wadded shoe trees, of pink and cream woven cotton stuffed with
kapok fibre, used so that the shoes will keep their shape. It is likely
that these shoes were worn only once - one the actual wedding days hence their almost perfect condition.

Ho (1987, p. 120) comments that such shoes were worn on the actual wedding day, when the marrying couple, put on their voluminous Qing-style wedding
gowns. They are not to be confused with the more common wedding slippers that were worn on other days surrounding the actual wedding day.

With their relatively large size and without a significant heel, probably the pair was made for a Straits Chinese man or
baba. The uppers comprise red, green
and pink velvet embroidered in high relief entirely with gold and silver metallic thread, and metal sequins. This work was known as
sulam benang mas (Cheah,
2017, p. 16).  The motifs used are peony sprays and phoenixes - the emblems most associated with Straits Chinese weddings and the desire for conjugal
happiness.

The soles are lined with thick brown leather and the interiors are lined with fine red leather.

Overall, this is an exceptional and exceptionally well-preserved museum-quality pair of Straits Chinese wedding shoes.

References:
Cheah, H.F., Phoenix Rising: Narratives in Nyonya Beadwork from the Straits Settlements, NUS Press, Singapore, 2010.
Cheah, H.F,
Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World, Asian Civilisations Museum, 2017.
Ho, W.M.,
Straits Chinese Beadwork & Embroidery: A Collector's Guide, Times Books International, 1987.
Khoo, J.E.,
The Straits Chinese: A Cultural History, The Pepin Press, 1996.

Provenance: London art market

Inventory no.: 4581 SOLD

Click here to see other items of Straits Chinese interest, and here to see more antique Asian textiles.