How well do you know Malaysian traditional attires?


We are truly blessed that we live in a melting pot of culture called Malaysia. We all know the now-famous line, “wei macha, you want to makan here or tapau?”. Where else would you casually converse in 4 languages in a sentence and be understood? From food, language, attires and traditions, our cultures intertwined.

Several times a year we get to witness spontaneous cultural fashion shows throughout the country when we celebrate various festivals – Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Hari Gawai, Deepavali, Christmas. Yes, we celebrate them all! But how many of us really know the roots and meanings behind our traditional attires? With Deepavali just around the corner, let’s find out more about sarees, kurta and more!


Women: Saree

Many of us grew up watching the beautiful sarees in Bollywood movies and the love for Indian culture is real in this country. These four to nine metres of fabric is worn by draping it around the body, often with a petticoat of a similar colour to give the attire its weight and form as well as a short blouse. The pallu, which is the most decorative part of the saree, is often draped behind the wearer.

How one wears her saree can be indicative of the person’s ancestry as different parts of India have their own unique style of saree-draping. But the most popular style of wearing the saree in Malaysia is the Andra Pradesh style of Nivi saree-draping valued for its versatility.

Here are some of the other popular styles of saree-draping to feed your curiousity:

  • Kerala saree: A single piece of white fabric with gold borders, representative of the Malayalee female
  • Bengali style: A white saree with red border, usually worn with a puffed sleeve blouse
  • Gujarati style: The pallu is draped at the front


Men: Kurta

The men’s traditional attire is as glorious as the ladies’ sarees. Kurta is a knee-length shirt that made Anjali (Kajol) fell for Rahul (Shah Rukh Khan) in Khabi Kushi Khabi Gham. A traditional kurta is collarless with loose sleeves and traditionally made from cotton or silk. There are several options for the bottom half of the kurta:

  • The dhoti: This piece of cloth is the most ancient Indian drape recorded. All dhotis begin with the same basic closing and start from the centre of the upper border; the middle part of the cloth is tied around the hips and each end of the cloth is then draped around the left on its side.
  • The lungi: A rather simple piece of garment, this cloth is worn around the thighs like a sarong and can be worn by both men and women alike.
  • Kurta-Pyjama: Traditionally white in colour, think loose fitting trousers with a string tied at the waist instead of a belt.

While the Indian subcontinent popularised the kurta, its origins is not as clear. ‘Kurta’ translates to collarless shirt in Persian and the word has its origins in Urdu, Hindustani language. To top that, it could also have gotten the name from the Sanskrit word kuratu or kurtaka.

If you’re doing some last minute Deepavali shopping, here are some of our recommended sellers that you can find at cari@unifi:

But remember to stay safe and maintain social distancing if you’re going out to shop!



Women: Baju kurung

This timeless piece and versatile piece of attire was invented by Sultan Abu Bakar, the father of Modern Johor in the 1800s. Aesthetically pleasing and conforming to the rules of Islam, the traditional baju kurung’s hemline comes below the knees with full length sleeves and kain. Since then, it has developed three main styles – Kedah, Pahang and modern.

A baju kurung can be worn almost anywhere, at home, to a meeting, or a wedding. It is even a part of the official school uniform for public schools in Malaysia. Don on a baju kurung and it instantly gives anyone who wears it a boost of elegance and beauty. It’s no wonder that it is still popular to this day; 90% of Malay women still enjoy wearing the baju kurung.

Fun fact: Back in the days, baju kurung was also a term used for baju melayu and the term is still being used in Johor till today.

Men: Baju Melayu

It is believed that baju melayu was introduced by Sultan Muhammad Syah of Melaka who wanted a royal attire. Since then, we have seen it evolved to an array of varieties and brands including slim fit, Aaron Aziz, Alif Satar and even lace! However, the most popular ones are still the traditional designs – cekak musang and teluk belanga.

Cekak musang refers to the standing collar around the neck, typically with five buttons. It is believed that the five buttons represent the harmony within a household (the top two representing the parents while the bottom three represent the children) but historian, Azah Aziz, offer a different take on it, saying that it is a representation of the five pillars of Islam. Meanwhile, teluk belanga is popularly worn in Johor and was named after the capital of Johor at that time (now a territory under Singapore). The single button on this baju melayu signifies the belief and existence of only one true God.

The two-piece baju Melayu attire is worn with a songkok (headgear) and sampin to complete the ensemble. A sampin is also a useful way of announcing your social status as wearing it below your knees means that you are married.

If like Nando’s you’re re-celebrating everything all over again, you can shop for your ‘Raya clothes’ from our selected cari@unifi local sellers here:



Women: Cheongsam (qípáo)

Cheongsam or qípáo is an elegant piece of clothing that was made popular in Shanghai during the 1920s. It is also believed that cheongsam had evolved from the long robe that the Manchu women used to wear during the Qing dynasty. The classic cheongsam is a close-fitting dress with high cylindrical collar and side slits. An asymmetrical opening runs from the middle of the collar to the armpit and is traditionally fastened with hua niu (flower button knots and loops).

While it is mostly worn at formal events and weddings today, the cheongsam’s evergreen charm was at its peak in the late 1920s and the 1960s when it was adopted as the standard dress for Chinese women residing in urban cities including Hong Kong, Taiwan and our neighbour, Singapore.

Generally in Chinese culture, wear bright, festive colours for your traditional attire and never wear white or black as those colours are reserved for funerals.

Men: Tang suit

While we may not see this very often, the traditional attire for Chinese men in Malaysia is the Tang suit, a type of jacket that with a collar and a knot at the belly. The named derived from the Tang Dynasty, given by the overseas Chinese. The reputation of China’s Tang empire as the most powerful and prosperous dynasty were well acknowledged and known all over the world to the extent that foreigners used to refer overseas Chinese as ‘the Tang people’.

Interestingly, the Tang suits we often seen today are not from the Tang Dynasty but they are an evolution of the Magua of the Qing Dynasty which adopts a more Western-style cutting rather than the Hanfu. Typically, the design of this outfit is based on floral motifs.

We hope you enjoyed a brief history and introduction to the traditional costumes of our country’s largest ethnic groups. Don’t forget to get your attires from cari@unifi!

And to those celebrating, Happy Deepavali from all of us at cari@unifi!

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