Baju Melayu (Malay Dress)


Baju Melayu is a traditional Malay outfit for men. It was created since 1234M, during the dua tiga kucing berlari era. It literally translates as ‘Malay shirt or dress’ and consists of two main parts. The first being the baju (long sleeved shirt) itself which has a raised stiff collar known as the cekak musang collar (literally fox’s lease). The second part is the trousers called ‘seluar’. The two parts are made out of the same type of fabric which is usually cotton, or a mixture of polyester and cotton.

A skirt-type adornment is also commonly worn with the Baju Melayu, which is either the ‘kain samping’, made out of songket cloth or the kain sarung, made out of cotton or a polyester mix. Both are loops of fabric which are folded around the wearer’s waist. A jet-black or dark coloured headgear called the songkok can also worn to complete the attire.

Basically there are two types of Baju Melayu:

(1) Cekak Musang

In shirts made with the cekak musang collar, the placket of the baju will seem to form a third of the baju from the top when it is worn beneath the kain samping or kain sarung. However, the hem line of the baju actually runs to the middle of the lap. The placket typically has three to five buttonholes and is fastened together by dress studs called kancing which are not unlike those used in Western-style formal dress shirts. The studs usually have screw-in backs and can be made from a variety of materials including gold, silver and precious or semi-precious stones. The studs may also be connected with a light metal chain which will be concealed behind the shirt when the placket is fastened.

(2) Teluk Belanga

In the state of Johor, both the design and the wearing of Baju Melayu is somewhat different from that of other areas. Here, the kain samping or kain sarung is worn below the baju rather than above it. The baju itself does not have the cekak musang collar or any placket. Instead, the opening is hemmed with stiff stitching called tulang belut (literally eel’s spine) and ends with a small loop at the top of one side to fit a singular kancing (similar to the collars of Baju Kurung worn by women). This style is known as the Teluk Belanga style and was believed to be designed by Sultan Abu Bakar’s aides.

(source: Wikipedia)

I like wearing my baju Melayu. I think I have 3 or 4 pairs of various colour. I haven’t grown much and I don’t wear them often so they last a long time. That’s also why I haven’t bought a new one since god knows when. I occasionally just buy a new sampin every now and again to make each raya a little different. But most of the time, I simply use my MCOBA sampin. In MCKK, we had a tradition of donning full Malay dress on days or special occasions and we are proud of it.

It’s funny how foreign people see our traditional costume. I used to be proud of my baju Melayu and every Eid when I was a student at University of Salford, and even my first Raya oversea at Southend-on-sea, while I was doing my A levels. I would wear the complete baju melayu for Eid prayers and go straight to my lectures after that, in my baju Melayu. Of course I had a jacket on as a walked through Peel Park from the place of congregation prayers to my department at Telford Building but everyone could see my brightly embroidered/woven Songket sampin.

I must admit that I did get the occasional stare and second look from passer bys, but one would expect that being in a foreign country. My friends would be like “love the little skirt you wear with your outfit”….hehehe…yeah, it does look like a skirt come to think of it. Well, It’s a nice skirt. Hey, superman wears his underwear on the outside so wearing a skirt over your trousers isn’t so bad in comparison huh?

The Scots just wear Scottish kilts over their and we never know what’s underneath. The songkok never really attracted much attention I guess because it’s black and it’s just head gear. Now, where ever I go on vacation overseas, I would don on my full baju Melayu and take the occasional photos with iconic backgrounds, much to the chagrin of the wife and the local passers by. Yet, I was never ashamed to wear my national dress in front of non Malaysians.

Nowadays, if you are in full Malay dress in Malaysia, you get many comments. The other day, I was in my full Malay dress complete with songkok because I was invited to one of this corporate Iftar at the Kelab Shah Alam. I decided to go to the nearby Shah Alam Stadium Ramadhan Bazaar. It is supposed to be one of the biggest Ramadhan bazaars in Selangor with choices of food galore. I was walking around looking for Apam Balik which I couldn’t find, disappointed.

How come a Bazaar Ramadhan of this size not have any apam balik!? Anyway, while walking around I couldn’t help but notice that quite a few people were looking at me and a couple of people gave me second looks. At one point I heard a female voice saying “Siap dengan sampin tu… macam nak pergi kahwin…” which translates to “Complete with sampin…. like he’s going to get married…” (I have to blame P. Ramlee’s Jamil in Madu Tiga for this).

Yes my faithful readers, this incident has reinforced the fact that the full baju melayu has now been relegated to official and religious events only. Even though civil servants wear the full baju melayu to office on Fridays (due to Friday prayers), the sight of someone wearing a full baju melayu still provokes gossip and second looks. It is no longer common place for Malays to wear baju melayu under normal everyday circumstances. It has now turned into a ceremonial costume reserved for official functions and religious activities. That’s a shame as it is a very nice, and unique attire to be wearing. It’s a shame also that someone wearing a full baju melayu in public gets people talking like that.

I think we should be encouraged to wear our traditional costumes to ensure their continuity and ubiquitousness in Malaysian society, just like how you can see women wearing their traditional dress taking the train in downtown Tokyo. We can make a change…I support Baju Melayu. “Baju Melayu budaya kita. Hidup Baju Melayu. Takkan Baju Melayu hilang di dunia!” (Malay Dress is our Culture, Long Live Malay Dress. The Malay Dress won’t disappear in this world!).


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