From magnificent tribal head-feathers with bark body-covers to
antique gold-woven royal songket fabric, the array of
Malaysia's traditional costumes and textiles are stunningly
diverse and colourful.
In the early days, the
aboriginal tribes wore native bark costumes and beads. With the
advent of the ancient kingdoms, hand-loomed fine textiles and
intricate Malay batik were used by the Malay royalty. As
foreign trade flourished, costumes and textiles such as Chinese
silk, the Indian pulicat or plaid sarong and the Arabian
jubbah a robe with wide sleeves were introduced to the
attire such as the Malay baju kebaya, Indian saree and
Chinese cheongsam are still widely worn.
Before the 20th century, Malay women still wore kemban,
just sarongs tied above the chest, in public. As Islam became more
widely embraced, they started wearing the more modest yet elegant
baju kurung. The baju kurung is a knee-length
loose-fitting blouse that is usually worn over a long skirt with
pleats at the side. It can also be matched with traditional
fabrics such as songket or batik. Typically, these
traditional outfits are completed with a selendang or
shawl or tudung or headscarf.
attire for Malay men is the baju melayu. The baju
melayu is a loose tunic worn over trousers. It is usually
complemented with a sampin - a short sarong wrapped
around the hips.
Comfortable and elegant, the traditional cheongsam or
'long dress' is also a popular contemporary fashion choice for
ladies. Usually, it has a high collar, buttons or frog closures
near the shoulder, a snug fit at the waist and slits on either one
or both sides. It is often made of shimmering silk, embroidered
satin or other sensual fabrics.
The saree is the world-renowned traditional Indian garment. A
length of cloth usually 5-6 yards in width, the saree is worn with
a petticoat of similar shade and a matching or contrasting
choli or blouse. Typically, it is wrapped around the body
such that the pallau - its extensively embroidered or
printed end - is draped over the left shoulder. The petticoat is
worn just above or below the bellybutton and functions as a
support garment to hold the saree. Made from a myriad of
materials, textures and designs, the saree is truly exquisite.
northern Indian ladies is the salwar kameez or Punjabi
suit; a long tunic worn over trousers with a matching shawl.
is the traditional attire for men on formal occasions. It is a
long knee-length shirt that is typically made from cotton or linen
Chinese immigrants who married Malay partners wore the elegant
kebaya that can be described as traditional haute couture.
great skill using sheer material, its intricate embroidery is
equivalent to the best Venetian lacework. The pièce de
résistance is a delicate needlework technique called
tebuk lubang - literally to punch holes. This involves sewing
the outlines of a floral motif on the fabric and cutting away the
insides. When done correctly, the end result is fine lace-like
embroidery on the collar, lapels, cuffs, hem and the two
triangular front panels, which drape over the hips, known as the
Descended from Portuguese settlers of the 16th century, Melakan
Portuguese-Eurasian's traditional attire reflect their heritage.
Dominated by the colours black and red, men wear jackets and
trousers with waist sashes whilst ladies wear broad front-layered
With its diverse ethnic groups, Malaysia's largest state, Sarawak,
has a plethora of unique tribal costumes. Using a variety of
designs and native motifs, common materials for the Orang Ulu
or upriver tribes are hand-loomed cloths, tree bark fabrics,
feathers and beads. Sarawak is known for the woven pua kumbu
of the Iban tribe, songket of the Sarawak Malay,
colourful beaded accessories, traditional jewellery and head
Like Sarawak, Sabah is also blessed with a rich mix of ethnic
groups. Each group adorns attire, headgears and personal ornaments
with distinctive forms, motifs and colour schemes characteristic
of their respective tribe and district. However, culturally
different groups who live in close proximity may have similarities
in their traditional attire. Notable hats and headdresses include
the Kadazan Dusun ladies' straw hats, the Bajau woven dastar
and the headdress of the Lotud man, which indicate the number of
wives he has by the number of fold points.
Traditionally living in the deep jungles of Malaysia, the Orang
Asli of Peninsular Malaysia wore clothing made from natural
materials such as tree barks like the terap, and grass
skirts. Ornaments include skillfully woven headbands with
intricate patterns that are made from leaf fronds.