#JendelaRamadan: The metamorphosis of the national costume

#JendelaRamadan: The metamorphosis of the national costume
The identity of baju kurung has been eroded but will never be ceased - Zubaidah Sual , activists property culture. - Photo Courtesy Zubaidah Sual
Baju kurung is the national costume worn by the Malays in the olden days. Traditionally, the characteristics of the attire are suited to the wholesome outlook of the Malay community – that promotes decency, modesty and humility.

Its designs are often practical in accordance to the hot and humid Malaysian climate. If you’re familiar with the boxy and baggy cuts of the two-piece outfit, its designs are flattering and fit all physiques, making it a dominant piece of clothing items in almost every Malay households.
History records that the baju kurung was a name given to represent the men and women from the Malay community.

baju kurung
The multiple interesting looks of the traditional baju kurung and baju Melayu. - Picture courtesy of Zubaidah Sual

The fascinating history of the baju kurung started in the late 19th century and was dignified as the national costume by the late Sultan of Johor, Sultan Abu Bakar. Since then, the ensemble underwent various layers of formations. The most striking was in its name as it was renamed baju Melayu for men and baju kurung for the fairer sex.
Over time, the identity of the dress has seen various transformations and eventually, its core identity has slowly fade and became pretty vague especially in its designs and fabrics.

baju kurung
The baju kurung and baju Melayu as worn by the Malay community in the early days of its creation. -
Picture courtesy of Zubaidah Sual

In conjunction with the upcoming festive season, Astro AWANI interviewed several fashion personalities from different eras in an attempt to explore the transformation of the baju kurung.

According to cultural treasure activist and businesswoman, Zubaidah Sual the baju kurung was designed as a symbol of modesty and simplicity of the Malays.

Over time, external contemporary influences had taken over the conventional and original features of the traditional baju kurung and baju Melayu.

Modern pieces that often designed to accentuate the body shapes and silhouettes cut tight to produce pieces that fall neatly had superseded the traditional box-cut and baggy baju kurung.
baju melayu moden
The many 'faces' of the modern baju Melayu.
Picture courtesy of Fahad, the designer for BEO menswear.

Small and sweet flower motif in harmony with the clear hues had taken over centrestage along with an assortment of colours and abstracts.

For Singapore-born young designer, Yvka, although his creations scream modernity, basic features that denotes the symbolic portrayal of the Malay community would always be utmost priority in his designs.

Closer to home, Syomir Izwa, the highly-experienced designer who is synonymous for designing the concept of 'color blocking' or the use of blocks of color – echoed that changes to traditional Malay attire should emphasise the fundamentals of the original design, based on respect and self-esteem of the Malay community.

Asia’s largest online shopping destination in Asia, Zalora agreed that the sales of modern baju kurung  and modern baju Melayu had never subsided throughout the year. The mad rushes during the festive seasons see its online sales increased by two-fold, most of the time. The trend of buying in Zalora indicates the high demand for designer’s baju kurung.

Can baju kurung and baju Melayu sustain its authenticity and maintains its identity that is full of modesty amidst the wide array of modern baju kurung available in the market?

Just like the structures and characteristics of historical buildings that are almost impossible to preserve and revive in the name of modernity and development, would the Malay costumes share similar fate?

No prize for guessing. One thing that remains unchanged is that the responsibility to uphold and preserve this valuable piece of national attire and its identity lies in the hands of each and every one of us.

To each his own…