Showcasing Diversity Traditional Malay Clothing

Showcasing Diversity: Traditional Malay Clothing

Malaysia is a melting pot of several ethnicities and cultures, from Chinese to Indian, Portuguese and more. Aside from tasting different local delicacies, one of the best ways to see this diversity is by taking a look at the country’s traditional clothing.

Although most Malaysians dress in modern and Western clothes nowadays, it’s still worth taking a look at the ones used by our ancestors. 

To help you visualize what locals look like back in the day, we’ve listed down the different traditional Malay clothing worn by different ethnicities. Some of these clothing items are still seen today, while others are forever etched in history books–check them out!

Baju Kurung

Baju kurung is an iconic traditional Malay clothing for women, as it’s one of the most common ones you’ll see worn regularly to this day. Some women save this striking dress for special occasions, while others such as teachers and students, wear it daily as a uniform.

It’s a loose-fitting dress that spans all the way below the knee to make sure that it’s conservative enough for the country’s standards. This is more apparent when you see the top, as it’s fully sleeved and often puffed around the shoulders.

You’ll usually see this clothing being paired with a traditional long skirt called “sarong,” which has folds along the sides. Both clothing items are often matching in terms of colours and patterns for more uniformity and style

This clothing isn’t just exclusive to women residing in Malaysia, but those residing in countries as well such as Singapore–pretty cool, right?

Baju Panjang

Baju panjang took inspiration from baju kurung, which is why you’ll find several similarities between them in terms of design.

The biggest difference between the two is that this version was more predominant with Peranakan women. Plus, it’s also common to wear a white shirt before putting this traditional clothing on.

As for dimensions, this traditional dress also falls under the knee and features long sleeves to cover the arms of the wearer. To top the outfit off, women would wear a batik sarong as a wrap skirt to cover the remaining areas that aren’t reached by the dress itself.

Kasot Manek Manek

Back in the day, when Nyonya (Peranakan women) got married, they would create a pair of kasot manek manek (beaded slippers). This beautiful footwear consisted of the most intricate designs and patterns that were achieved through a process called beading.

Today, however, you’re most likely to find them in a collector’s cabinet, as they’ve become some sort of a rarity within their world. This makes sense though, as no shoe, sandal or slippers compare to the look and feel of this traditional footwear.

Fortunately, modern versions of this footwear are being sold by Nyonya shops across the country. You can score a pair during one of your visits to Malacca, where you’ll find the famous Colour Beads NyoNya Shoe Shop.


Tudung is one of the most important clothing pieces in Malaysia, as it’s part of the dress code for Islamic women. These are the fashionable head scarves that are worn by women to cover their hair, chest and neck areas, leaving only the face to be exposed.

These headscarves often come in a single colour, but recent iterations feature more creative patterns. You’ll also see them being paired with more modern Malay clothing such as baju kebaya and baju kurung.

Aside from being a simple piece of clothing, there are three important reasons why Malaysian women wear these headpieces. These are:

  • To show their devotedness to the Islamic religion
  • Reject the modern Western fashion that’s seen everywhere
  • Promote unity among themselves

Baju Kebaya

If you’ve ever flown with Malaysia’s airline, there’s a huge chance that you’re familiar with baju kebaya. This is because it’s where the uniforms of their flight attendants were based, which makes sense as it oozes style and slight formality at the same time.

It’s also a long-sleeved shirt, often designed with striking colours and patterns. To finish the outfit off, Malaysian women pair this shirt with the aforementioned tudung and some nice pleated pants.

This traditional Malay clothing is often interchanged with baju kurung because of their little similarities. However, what makes baju kebaya different is that its top consists of various buttons that run in the middle.

These buttons aren’t just for style, as they also accentuate the slim waist of whoever is wearing the blouse. This being said, you’ll commonly find it being worn by younger women, especially during special occasions.

Kain Songket

If you roam the local markets of the country, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll stumble across the songket. This is because it’s one of the most famous Malaysian arts and crafts that you can buy and bring home with you as a unique souvenir.

Songkets are essentially pieces of fabric that have handwoven patterns, courtesy of expert Malay weavers. They use a technique that runs deep in Malaysian culture, and it’s something that you can’t simply fabricate in a factory.

This traditional Malay clothing is instantly recognisable because of its signature golden and silver threads. These threads certainly add to the elegance of the fabric, especially when the light bounces off them creating a beautiful shine.

Both men and women can wear this traditional Malay clothing. However, you’ll most likely see it being used as a sampin to pair with baju melayu.

If you want to find the best songkets in the country, we recommend venturing out to Terengganu, which is in Malaysia’s east coast, as it’s sort of their speciality. 


Another traditional fabric that you’ll find in Malaysian arts and crafts stores today is batik. Just like with songkets, these pieces of fabric feature intricate designs, but this time, they’re hand-drawn or stamped instead of sown.

The designs that you’ll find in these fabrics often centre around flowers and geometric shapes and lines. There are, however, designs that are prohibited from being featured in this traditional Malay clothing and these are the ones resembling humans and animals.

The great thing about batik is that it’s highly versatile, as it can come in different kinds of clothing pieces. For instance, you can find them being incorporated into baju kurung and shirts while other versions simply come in the form of a scarf.

If you’re looking for unique Malaysian souvenirs that you can use in your home, you can find batik tablecloths, fans, bags and more. You won’t have a hard time finding these since they’re one of the most well-known local products in the country.

Baju Melayu

As for the male’s version of traditional Malay clothing, look no further than baju melayu. This clothing is mostly worn during formal occasions but you’ll also find it being worn during one of the best annual festivals in Malaysia, Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

It essentially consists of a long-sleeved shirt and pants that have the same colour and fabric, but in some cases, they add a sampin. 

A sampin is a piece of fabric that’s worn around the waist to complete the outfit. Usually, people use a songket or any other kind of fabric that has an intricate pattern to contrast the monotonic appearance of the matching shirt and pants.

Nowadays, you’ll find modern iterations of this traditional clothing that put a spin on the original style. For instance, other versions feature a pattern while others don’t have a matching colour.

Tang Suit

Moving over to Malaysian Chinese clothing, one that you’ve almost certainly seen at least once in your life is the Tang suit or Tangzhuang. It’s specifically made for men and they’re worn during special occasions.

If you don’t know this is the bright red jacket that features golden hints of floral designs. Aside from that, another trait of this clothing that you may have noticed is its iconic high Mandarin collar.

These jackets can be closed using the pankou knots found in the middle, working sort of like a button for your polo.

You can still see this being worn today, and more fashionable iterations have been released recently. Plus, they’re now paired with modern pants that feature slimmer fits as opposed to the traditional loose-fitting ones.

Cheongsam or Qipao

As for the female traditional Malay Chinese clothing, the most iconic one is the cheongsam dress, also known as qipao. Unlike the previous dresses we’ve mentioned that are loose-fitting, cheongsams feature more of a body-hugging fit.

Just like with the tang suit, some of this dress’ signature features are the Mandarin collar and pankou knots. Where they differ is in terms of designs and colour, as cheongsams are more versatile.

For instance, some versions feature more elaborate stitching and colour patterns, while others are simply red. Furthermore, the cuts and lengths of these dresses may also vary, depending on the wearer’s preference.

They can run down until the ankle or be cut just below the knee. Also, some variations come with leg slits while others don’t


Kurta is a traditional Indian Malay clothing that can be worn by both men and women. It borrows some inspiration from the Chinese by featuring a Mandarin collar, but aside from that, it’s all Malay, from the sleeve length to the satin finishes and more.

These traditional clothes can come in different colours and can either end below or above the knee. Some versions also have buttons down the chest for added details and functionality at the same time.

They are paired with some loose-fitting pants, usually featuring the same colour and material as the kurta itself.


The best way we can describe lungi is that it’s India’s version of a sarong. What makes it different from other sarongs, however, is their flexibility and functionality.

For starters, you’ll notice that they’re sort of shaped like a tube, making them easy to wear and take off as opposed to those that have to be folded. Furthermore, they’re designed with functionality in mind because they’re flexible, allowing men to perform tasks while wearing them.

What makes them even more special is their amazing designs. They come in different colours and patterns, but our favourite ones are those that feature batik and checkered patterns.

If you’re looking to grab one for yourself, don’t worry! You can easily find lungis across street markets and stores in Malaysia because they’re common nightwear for older men.