The baju kurung
is a traditional Malay costume which loosely translated as "Enclosed Dress". This type of costume is the national dress of Brunei
Brunei , officially the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace , is a sovereign state located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia...
, and can also be found in Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...
It is said that costumes of the ordinary Malays in the olden days are simple dresses, but as time progresses, the attire evolved and became more sophisticated, while the wearers became more discerning in their fashion tastes. For instance, Chinese chronicles described the attire of the Malays in the 13th century for both male and female as covering only the bottom part of the body, with no cloth to cover the upper body. Later, tunics, which are simple cover-alls that are either short-sleeve or sleeveless, were said to be the main attire of the Malays. And the pants or trousers worn were mostly in the "gunting Aceh" (Aceh cut) fashion, ending just below the knee. The women folks, on the other hand, normally wear sarongs in the "berkemban" style, that is, by wrapping a piece of sarong around the body covering the chest.
However, with the growth of trade, and the importance of the Silk Route in China, traders crossed the Malay Archipelago from the Arabian archipelago and India to China by ships to sell their products. And these ships stopped at the ports and villages along the coasts of the Malay Archipelago, that later bloomed into trading posts in south-east Asia. Goods from China, India, Middle East (Arab) and European countries were traded here. And the foreign traders not only brought with them goods for sale and barter, but also their unique dressing and fashion styles.
The Malays were therefore influenced and exposed to various fashions and costumes from various countries early in their civilized state, and these foreigners have influenced greatly the evolution of the traditional Malay costumes and dress. And when the Malacca Empire was at its height in the 15th century, with Islam as the main religion, the Malay traditional costume, the Baju Melayu, was born, as clearly described in the "Sejarah Melayu" or "Malay Annals". When they became more civilized with the adoption of Islam as their religion, the Malays slowly covered their bodies according to the tenets and teachings of Islam.
The early baju kurung was longer and looser, unsuited to the figure of Malay women. It was popularised in the late 19th century by Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor
It has been reported that the baju kurung has "not only survived, but prospered" in modern Malaysia, pointing to its popularity during the Islamisation of Malaysia in the 1970s and 1980s.
Although "Baju Kurung" is the name for the attire for both male and female, in Malaysia, the female dress is referred to as "Baju Kurung", while the male dress is referred to as "Baju Melayu".
Two versions of the costumes are popular. One is the Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga
and the other is the Baju Kurung Cekak Musang
. The main difference between this two fashion styles is the cutting style at the neck, where the Teluk Belanga style has no collar and the neckline is stitched in the style known as "tulang belut" ("eel's spines or bones"). The Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga originated, as its name implies, from Teluk Belanga, in the island of Singapore, which was previously the capital of the state of Johor. On the other hand the Cekak Musang style has a standing collar with holes for five buttons including two buttons for the collar.
Baju Kurung for Men
The Cekak Musang shirt also normally has three pockets – two at the bottom, and one at the upper left breast. The Teluk Belanga shirt normally has only two pockets both at the bottom.The Baju Melayu is a loosely fitting shirt with long sleeves, worn with long pants with a "samping" which is wrapped around the middle of the body from the stomach to the knee and sometimes lower. This sampin is usually a three-quarter length or full sarong-style cloth made of kain songket, tenun Pahang Diraja or other woven materials with traditional patterns.
Baju Kurung for Women
A baju kurung is a loose-fitting full length dress, consisting of a skirt and a blouse. The skirt is made from a long cloth with foldings on one side; the blouse is collarless, has long sleeves, and extends to between the hips and knees. It is usually made of silk, imported from Japan, South Korea, Turkey or India, or from the Malaysian States of Terengganu
Terengganu is a sultanate and constitutive state of federal Malaysia. The state is also known by its Arabic honorific, Darul Iman...
Kelantan is a state of Malaysia. The capital and royal seat is Kota Bharu. The Arabic honorific of the state is Darul Naim, ....
. The modern baju kurung commonly expresses lively colors and geometric patterns.
Traditionalists prefer fabric from peninsular Malaysia's eastern states of Terengganu and Kelantan, where the culture of batik and other hand-designed fabrics is still strong.
A woman will often wear a baju kurung with a headscarf
Headscarves or head scarves are scarves covering most or all of the top of a woman's hair and her head. Headscarves may be worn for a variety of purposes, such as for warmth, for sanitation, for fashion or social distinction; with religious significance, to hide baldness, out of modesty, or other...
) in the more conservative states in northern Malaysia
The baju kurung is also worn by non-Muslims (including Malaysia's ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities). However, its peak sales occur in the month of Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which lasts 29 or 30 days. It is the Islamic month of fasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours and is intended to teach Muslims about patience, spirituality, humility and...
on the Muslim calendar.