Our Queen, trend-setter of ‘baju kurung’ in millennial world

By Nur Najihah Md Akhir

“I want to start a trend here.  There is nothing wrong with wearing baju kurung.  It is elegant.” – a quote from New Straits Times.

When I read the statement in the newspaper, I felt so happy as I, myself, love wearing baju kurung.  What made me happier is the statement is conveyed by the highest ranking woman in Malaysia, none other than Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong, Tunku Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah Almarhum Sultan Iskandar.  She is not only encouraging women to don the baju kurung but at the same time promoting women to cover their aurah properly.

Speaking from my own experience, I have been wearing baju kurung since I was a kid.  I am donning baju kurung wherever I go and up until now I am still loyal and proud wearing the baju kurung.  If I were asked what makes me proud of my culture, the answer definitely is the baju kurung. Thank you to my beloved mother who happened to be first person who introduced me to baju kurung.

Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong had captured Malaysians’ attention with her elegant, charismatic and simple style of baju kurung during the installation of Malaysia’s 16th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, al-Sultan Abdullah Ri’ayatuddin al-Mustafa Billah Shah.

Baju Kurung as a daily wear

We should wear baju kurung on our daily basis.  According to Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong, it is vital for us to not neglect our national outfit and allow it to die away.  We need to take note of how the Indonesians, Cambodians and Japanese still wearing their national outfit regularly.

However, some people only view the baju kurung as a formal attire.

“For me, wearing baju kurung is formal.  For example, when some women are wearing it to class, it is formal for me,” said IIUM student Syamim Zubir.

I once wore baju kurung to KLCC mall watching a movie and people asked me why I did so as they felt it was really weird and uncommon to dress in baju kurung for such an occasion.  While some people praised me saying it was good that I wore baju kurung to such place while having fun, others seemed to imply that wearing baju kurung is something rare and uncommon nowadays.

In previous years, Malay women would wear baju kurung in their daily live for any other activities.  Compared to nowadays, baju kurung is rarely worn by Malay women except during special ceremonies and formal occasions such as Hari Raya, weddings and by civil servants in the government offices.

Origin of Baju Kurung

Baju kurung consists of two words, baju and kurung. In Malay language, baju is clothing and kurung, though literally means ‘captured’, it implies covering or hidden in the form of a skirt.

According to my reading and research, the baju kurung was invented by the late Sultan of Johor, Sultan Abu Bakar, who was regarded as the father of modern Johor.

Why this traditional clothing was created

Based on UK essays, Sultan Abu Bakar considered two main factors in creating the baju kurung.  First is to conform to the rules of religion which is Islam.  Second, being aesthetically pleasing. The result was the hugely popular baju kurung Teluk Belanga.  This showed that even the clothing has its own philosophy and in line with the religion and the way of life of the Muslim society.

Women are required to preserve their dignity so the main factors of the creation of baju kurung is to fulfil the syariah requirement.  The return of the British had brought rapid changes.  The baju kurung was shortened to just below the knee and later the women were brave and confident enough to lift them above the knee.

According to a news report in the New Straits Times, the Independence had brought about a change not only in physical term but a change in the mind-set among working Malay women.  The women earned their own salaries and that enabled them to have changes in their sense of fashion which were a bit different compared to the era before.

Baju Kurung not only for Malay women

“My great-great-grandfather made it the costume of Johor.  And it became the baju kebangsaan.  And the Malays are not the only ones wearing it.  The Chinese and Indians have their own traditional costumes, but they also wear baju kurung and they look elegant in it,” Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong told New Straits Times.

Today we can still see all the races in Malaysia wearing the baju kurung.  Teachers, public servants and some of the television news anchors are wearing baju kurung.

Variations of Baju Kurung

As we are living in diversity Malaysia, so the baju kurung varies in designs based on the states.  For example, we have baju kurung Kedah, baju kurung Teluk Belanga and baju kurung Cekak Musang.

Baju kurung Teluk Belanga has a typical neckline with no collar, stitched in the tulang belut or mata lalat style. 

Baju kurung Cekak Musang has a Mandarin-style collar.

Baju kurung Kedah is a bit different compared to the usual baju kurung as it has a three-quarter sleeves pairing with batik skirt.

Baju kurung Moden is the latest version of baju kurung.  It evolves from the usual baju kurung.  The baju kurung Moden has no pesak and replaced by zip.  Some of the baju kurung Moden also has a zip in both sleeves.  This baju kurung can be paired with a long skirt, mermaid skirt or A-line skirt.  As we can see today, many boutiques are selling baju kurung Moden compared to the usual baju kurung.

Women can easily choose their preference with these variations of baju kurung. 

Baju Kurung has been westernised

The fashion industry is not something static and continues to remain the same.  As the world changes, the fashion industry also changes rapidly. People, especially women, are always updated with the latest fashion and of course the media play a vital role in influencing the trend.

The New Straits Times reported that by the early 1980s, the baju kurung Moden was born.  The baju kurung Moden closely followed western fashion and detailing was born after Malaysians watched the royal wedding of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

Baju kurung with wide shoulder and padded with sponges, ruffled collars, lace clothes were adapted in our baju kurung and still remains until now.

How to style the Baju kurung

“Less is best, plain is elegant.  Accessorise correctly, and you will stand out,” said Her Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong.

Her sayings can be a guideline in choosing a suitable baju kurung.

For daily wear and casual times such as a day out to mall with friends, lighter and thinner materials are recommended.  For example, baju kurung in cotton.  The simple and cute flowery designs will make you look cute.

Thicker and stiffer materials such as baju kurung songket, satin or tenun are suitable for formal ceremonies and weddings.  For example, the Royal families wear songket during formal occasions.  The bride and groom also wear songket during their wedding day.

Apart from songket, shiny and patterned baju kurung is also suitable for formal occasions.

Women in Baju Kurung today

 As the fashion industry grows rapidly and many fashionable clothes are now available, what is therefore the status of baju kurung in women’s life today?

IIUM student Ameer Wafiq said, “I don’t think baju kurung is getting forgotten by women and society today.   We have a lot of fashionable clothes today such as blouse, long dress, and shirts that are more practical and convenient for daily wear.  But still in certain situations, such as in the government sector, wearing baju kurung is compulsory on Thursday.  So, there is no issue that baju kurung will be forgotten.”

To translate the statement of Her Royal Majesty Raja Permaisuri Agong into reality, let’s be proud with our national attire, the baju kurung, and wear it daily just like how the Indonesians, Cambodians and Japanese who are proud of their national attire.

“In a world full of trends, sometimes a girl just wants to wear something classic.”  – Anonymous ***

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