Traditional Malay costume: baju kurung

1) Man and woman wearing baju karung
1) Man and woman wearing baju karung

The baju kurung is a traditional Malay costume dating from the 15th century, which loosely translated means “enclosed dress”. Although baju kurung is the name for the attire for both men and women, in Malaysia, the female dress is referred to as baju kurung, while the male dress is referred to as baju melayu.

This type of costume is the national dress of Brunei and Malaysia. In Indonesia, it is one of the many regional dresses of this culturally and ethnically diverse country (it is found especially on the island of Sumatra – where many ethnic Malays and Minangkabau women wear it). It can also be found in Singapore and Thailand.



During the Malacca Empire in the 15th Century, Malay men wore rather simple attire: a short-sleeved, tight-fitting tunic with tight trousers ending at the middle of the lower leg. This style can apparently still be seen worn by men during silat (a form of martial arts) performances (though looking at the pictures available, it seems normal martial arts costumes or T-shirts with trousers are more standard).

The man widely acknowledged as the creator of the male baju melayu is Tun Hassan Temenggong (Temenggong means chief of public security), who lived in the 15th century in the Malacca Sultanate. He was a son of the famous Bendahara (vizier) Seri Maharaja Tun Mutahir (died 1510). His changes are noted in the Malay Annals (Sejarah Melayu). Apparently, his costume was influenced by the foreigners who visited the region: the flowing loose fitting styles (robes) of the Arabs and Indians, trousers and pants of the Mongols and Turks, with the simplicity and elegance of the Europeans.

Tun Hassan Temenggong extended the over-all length of the men’s tunic down to the length of the arms. At the same time, he made them very loose-fitting, with the tunic widening downwards. He also lengthened the sleeves of the shirt to the wrists, and widened the end of the sleeves of the shirts to make it loose fitting. The cut ensured that the shirt sleeves could be folded up the arms, when desired.

2) baju melayu (cekak musang style) with sampin
2) baju melayu (cekak musang style) with sampin

Men’s wear

Until today, the cut and style of baju melayu have remained the same as the cekak musang style. This style has a standing collar with holes for five buttons including two buttons for the collar. It also normally has three pockets – two at the bottom, and one on the upper left breast. There are some slight variations to be found such as the teluk belanga (Johore) style (from Teluk Belanga on Singapore), which has no collar and the neckline is stitched in the style known as tulang belut (“eel’s spines or bones”). It has only two pockets both at the bottom.

3) baju melayu (teluk belanga style) with sampin
3) baju melayu (teluk belanga style) with sampin

The baju melayu is worn with a sampin (Malayan kilt or sarong) which is wrapped around the middle of the body from the stomach to the knee and sometimes lower. The sampin is usually made of kain songket, tenun pahang diraja or other woven materials with traditional patterns.

4) Songket
4) Songket
5) Tenun pahang diraja
5) Tenun pahang diraja

Women’s wear

The women’s baju kurung is a loose-fitting full-length costume, consisting of a skirt and a tunic. The skirt is made from a long cloth with pleats on one side; the blouse is collarless, has long sleeves, and extends to between the hips and knees. It is sometimes made of imported silk from China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan or Turkey. The eastern Malaysian states of Terengganu and Kelantan produce silk themselves and traditionalists prefer this fabric as the culture of batik and other hand-designed fabrics is still strong there. The modern baju kurung commonly uses lively colours and geometric patterns.

4) women’s baju karung
6) Women’s baju karung with tudung headscarf

Although favoured by Muslim women, the baju kurung is also worn by female non-Muslims (including Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities). This can be partially due to the baju kurung being one of the approved dresses for female civil servants and one of the approved styles of uniforms for female school students.

Many Malay women wear a headscarf (tudung). Though it is wore for modesty they can be highly decorative with sequins, beads or floral patterns. However, plain black scarves are also worn.


Condra Jill (2013) Encyclopedia of National dress. Traditional clothing around the world. Volume 2. ISBN 978-0313-37635-8


1) Man and woman wearing baju karung

2) baju melayu (cekak musang style) with sampin –

3) baju melayu (teluk belanga style) with sampin –

4) Songket –

5) Tenun pahang diraja –

4) women’s baju karung –

(4.10.0b )



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