Baju kurong



The baju kurong (or kurung) is a distinctive Malay dress worn by both men and women. Generally, men wear the baju kurong as a shirt top with pants while women pair it with a sarong.1 The baju kurong is believed to have originated in Indonesia, where the outfit is popular in the regions of West Sumatra, South Sulawesi, Maluku and Sangir Island.2

Description
The baju kurong is the official attire of the Malay community and is believed to have connections with the djallabiyah (or jallabiyah), a loose shirt originating from Egypt. It is unclear when the Malay community started wearing the baju kurong, but its history dates back at least 200 years to the Johor Sultanate.3 It remains a distinctive Malay dress form.

The term baju kurong is loosely translated to mean “concealing dress” in Malay. It is a loose-fitting outfit that covers the wearer’s body without showing its form. A typical baju kurong consists of a loose shirt with a rounded neckline, although there are variants that come with a collar. The outfit is usually worn as a top over a sarong (for women) or a pair of pants (for men). Occasionally, men also wear the baju kurong over a sarong.4


Baju kurong outfits meant for formal occasions are made from silk or brocade, while generally everyday wear baju kurongs are made from cotton.5 For formal occasions, the baju kurong is paired with a sarong made from similar materials so as to ensure matching colours and patterns. Such matching aesthetics are usually not required when wearing the outfit for informal occasions.6

For Malay women, the baju kurong is usually paired with a wide sarong that reaches the ankles, while the top itself features long sleeves that reveal only the wearer’s hands. This is in line with the Islamic code of dressing, which requires Muslim women to cover their aurat, or parts of the body that should not be seen in public. Under this code, only a woman’s face and hands can be exposed.7

Historical development
The baju kurong telok belanga was one of the earlier versions of the baju kurong. Traditionally worn by Malay men, this version drew its name from the Telok Belanga (or Telok Blangah) area in Singapore, which used to be the centre of the Johor Sultanate. It is believed the baju kurong telok belanga was designed by Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor in 1866.8 The top was said to have reached below the knees and was paired with a sarong.9


This style of baju kurong was later modified and became known as the baju kurong cekak musang, which is a shorter top that features a standing collar and pockets.10 Malay men usually pair this version of the baju kurong with a handwoven, short sarong known as kain samping, which is folded over the kurong top to form a hemline ending at the knees.11 While the baju kurong cekak musang was traditionally reserved for royalty, it has now become the most common traditional attire for Malay men and women in Singapore and Johor.12

Varieties
There are several varieties of baju kurong in Malaysia, each with its own distinctive features. The styles of baju kurong are often named after the state they originated from or are most popular in, such as baju kurong Kedah and baju kurong Pahang.13


The baju Melayu, meaning “Malay dress”, is a popular baju kurong variety worn by men. The top usually has a round neckline and slit, with loose sleeves and three pockets. The shirt may or may not have a collar.14 The baju Melayu is usually worn over a pair of loose trousers, although the trousers can be tailored to suit various styles. On occasion, a kain samping (short sarong) is worn over the trousers.15

The baju kurong is sometimes worn together with headgear. The men usually pair their outfits with a songkok, a type of traditional Malay cap, for everyday wear. For weddings, the groom usually pairs his baju kurong with a headdress known as a tengkolok, which is made from kain songket (a traditional Malay fabric) that is stiffened and tied in various styles. Most Malay-Muslim women would wear their baju kurong with a headscarf known as a tudung, which comes in various colours, materials and styles.16

Modern varieties of baju kurong are made from a variety of materials, including synthetic fabrics such as polyester. In line with modern fashion trends, Malay men now pair their baju kurong tops with casual jeans or trousers secured with a zipper instead of a drawstring. Fashion-conscious women now have their baju kurong tops tailored with a tighter fit and shorter length that extends to just below the hips. The women also wear modern sarongs featuring a waistband, zipper and sewn-in pleats.17

Cultural significance
The baju kurong is a traditional Malay dress that has remained largely unchanged in its basic form. It is still widely worn by the Malays for both everyday and formal occasions. During Hari Raya Puasa in particular, it is common to see Malay families wearing the baju kurong when visiting their relatives. This is because the baju kurong is regarded as a symbol of Malay cultural heritage and wearing the outfit during visits is seen as showing respect for one’s elders.18




Author
Jaime Koh



References
1. The sarong is a traditional Southeast Asian garment consisting of a tubular length of fabric. Traditionally, men wear the sarong around their waists while women tend to tuck it under their armpits. See Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 316. (Not available in NLB holdings)
2. Siti Dloyana Kusumah. (2000). Indonesia traditional costumes. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in Asean. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 78. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
3. Zubaidah Sual. (2000). The Malay costumes. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in Asean. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
4. Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 316. (Not available in NLB holdings)
5. Zubaidah Sual. (2000). The Malay costumes. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in Asean. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, pp. 109–110. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
6. Sim, K. (1963). Costumes of Malaya. Singapore: Eastern Universities Press, p. 8. (Call no.: RCLOS 391.009595 SIM)
7. M. Kamal Hassan & Ghazali bin Basri (Eds.). (2005). The encyclopedia of Malaysia: Religions and beliefs (Vol. 10). Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 56. (Call no.: RSEA 959.5003 ENC)
8. Zubaidah Sual. (2000). The Malay costumes. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in Asean. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 108. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
9. Ho, S., & Koh, J. Malaysia.  In J. Condra (Ed.), Encyclopedia of national dress: Traditional clothing around the world. Connecticut: ABC-Clio, p. 464. (Not available in NLB holdings); Baju + Sarung: Pemakaian satu bangsa [Baju + Sarung: Dressing a nation] (2002). Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, p. 9. (Call no.: R 391.209595 BAJ-[CUS])
10. Zubaidah Sual. (2000). The Malay costumes. In K. M. Chavalit & M. Phromsuthirak (Eds.), Costumes in Asean. Bangkok: The National ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information of Thailand, p. 124. (Call no.: RSING 391.00959 COS-[CUS])
11. Baju + Sarung: Pemakaian satu bangsa [Baju + Sarung: Dressing a nation] (2002). Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, p. 62. (Call no.: R 391.209595 BAJ-[CUS])
12. Baju + Sarung: Pemakaian satu bangsa [Baju + Sarung: Dressing a nation] (2002). Kuala Lumpur: National Art Gallery, p. 24. (Call no.: R 391.209595 BAJ-[CUS])
13. Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press,, p. 316. (Not available in NLB holdings)
14. Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 316–317. (Not available in NLB holdings)
15. Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 317. (Not available in NLB holdings)
16. Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 318. (Not available in NLB holdings)
17. Vaz, S. (1985, June 9). Baju Kurong – symbol of traditional ideas. The Straits Times, p. 15; Lim, J. Y. (2009, Jun 30). Tradition that has survived trends. The Straits Times, p. 84. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Norwani Md. Nawawi. (2010). Malaysia. In J. Dhamija (Ed.), Encyclopedia of world dress and fashion (Vol. 4). Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 318. (Not available in NLB holdings)
18. Vaz, S. (1985, June 9). Baju Kurong – symbol of traditional ideas. The Straits Times, p. 15. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 6 September 2013 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Heritage and Culture
Ethnic Communities
Clothing
Malays
Malay costumes
Traditional dress