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Baju Kurung

Written By Jacob Silitonga on Jumat, 24 Februari 2012 | 02.00

It is said that costumes of the ordinary Malays in the olden days are simple dresses, but as time progresses, the attire evolved and became more sophisticated, while the wearers became more discerning in their fashion tastes. For instance, Chinese chronicles described the attire of the Malays in the 13th century for both male and female as covering only the bottom part of the body, with no cloth to cover the upper body. Later, tunics, which are simple cover-alls that are either short-sleeve or sleeveless, were said to be the main attire of the Malays. And the pants or trousers worn were mostly in the "gunting Aceh" (Aceh cut) fashion, ending just below the knee. The women folks, on the other hand, normally wear sarongs in the "berkemban" style, that is, by wrapping a piece of sarong around the body covering the chest.
However, with the growth of trade, and the importance of the Silk Route in China, traders crossed the Malay Archipelago from the Arabian archipelago and India to China by ships to sell their products. And these ships stopped at the ports and villages along the coasts of the Malay Archipelago, that later bloomed into trading posts in south-east Asia. Goods from China, India, Middle East (Arab) and European countries were traded here. And the foreign traders not only brought with them goods for sale and barter, but also their unique dressing and fashion styles. The Malays were therefore influenced and exposed to various fashions and costumes from various countries early in their civilized state, and these foreigners have influenced greatly the evolution of the traditional Malay costumes and dress. And when the Malacca Empire was at its height in the 15th century, with Islam as the main religion, the Malay traditional costume, the Baju Melayu, was born, as clearly described in the "Sejarah Melayu" or "Malay Annals". When they became more civilized with the adoption of Islam as their religion, the Malays slowly covered their bodies according to the tenets and teachings of Islam.
The early baju kurung was longer and looser, unsuited to the figure of Malay women. It was popularised in the late 19th century by Sultan Abu Bakar of Johor
It has been reported that the baju kurung has "not only survived, but prospered" in modern Malaysia, pointing to its popularity during the Islamisation of Malaysia in the 1970s and 1980s.
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