Baju Kurung And Me

bajukurung8MY love-hate-love affair (if there’s such a thing) with baju kurung  must have started when I was a toddler… I think!

Well, by then surely I wore the dress because it was forced upon me by my mom. I didn’t know what baju kurung (pics here) was then except, every Hari Raya (Eid-il Fitri) or any big religious celebration, I knew I would be dressed in a brand new baju kurung. Everyone was wearing baju kurung. The brand new ones were reserved for big celebrations.

I am sure this story shared by many Malaysian Malays out there. We all were growing up donning the traditional baju kurung. Especially if you happened to live in the country.

For as long as I can remember, whenever I wore my baju kurung it represents my culture, my upbringing, a touch of religion and plus the fact that it is extremely convenient, economically and socially.

Born and raised in a small village, the culture and the tradition are fairly strong in my household. Especially my mom who takes pain (still is, even when I am way beyond my 40s now!) in making sure that all her daughters were properly attired whenever we wanted go out for any social gathering… A serious pain. Hence to avoid argument, most of the times, I opted out and stayed at home.

bajukurung1I remember clearly, at the age of 14, I started wearing baju kurung uniform to school to replace my favourite pinafore dress.

As I was riding bicycle to school daily, rain and shine, I found my baju kurung uniform was a lot more better than my pinafore as I didn’t have to worry about gushing wind or anything like… 😉

Baju kurung accompanied me throughout my schooling years – from Muar, Johor, I moved to Kuala Lumpur and landed a place at Lower Form Six at Sekolah Aminuddin Baki in Kampung Pandan.

There I discovered jeans and blouse and skirts and everything in between. Woohoo!

When I enrolled at university, I balked at the idea that we female students were required to wear baju kurung to attend our classes. I really hated it. I despised it! My simple reason was what dress (or lack of it) got to do with studying and to score in our chosen subjects. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t into short skirts and stuff but in my young mind, simple jeans and blouse would be efficient and decent enough for us to catch the bus and move about in between the campus and the hostels.

I just couldn’t get it. Why do we have to be so petty in dress code. And now, more than 20 years later I realised that dress code rule really overshadowed my other great memories and lasting friendships I gained in four years I was there.

Book1My second wave of love affair with baju kurung gradually happened when I married John. Being married to a proud Scottish, I have that inexplicable need to stay true to my identity as a Malay/ Asian or else I would lose it all and turned into a Mat Salleh celup (fake Westerner complete with blonde hair and sexy dresses).

With John’s encouragement to stay true to my essence as a Malay/Asian, I started collecting Baju Kurung again and gradually using them daily to work. He said if he wanted a blonde-haired/fair-skinned wife with sexy dress he could have one but its me (an Asian with dark complexion) that he fell in love with and want to spend the rest of his life with. He didn’t want me to change. Neither did I.

Hence, my collection of baju kurung expanded and only the traditional Baju Kurung and Baju Kurung Pahang made it into my collection as I love the shape/cutting.

For my non-Malaysians readers, baju kurung is the traditional dress for the Malay ladies here. It is simple and graceful, and covers the wearer’s body in compliance of the Islamic teaching.

As Islam is an official religion of this country, the baju kurung not only meets the requirement of the religion, but also shows the unique culture of Malaysia. To conform to religion duty is one of the reasons why Malay women wear the baju kurung.

In Malay baju means clothes, dress and shirts. bajukurung4 (1)The baju kurung was invented by Sultan Abu Bakar, who is the father of Modern Johor, my home state. In 1800s, when aiming at creating the baju kurung, he considered two main factors: conforming to the rules of the religion and being aesthetically pleasing.

As the time goes by, the baju kurung has developed into three main styles. The original style is the traditional Baju kurung. The hemline comes below the knees. Baju Kurung Pahang is another of my favourite. Lose fitting. Another style is the Baju Kurung Kedah. It is similar to the traditional one, but the top part is shorter. The last style is the Baju Kurung Moden. It is the modern pattern for women.

Wearing the baju kurung among Malay women has been considered as a common way to show our cultural identity. Nowadays, not only Malay women, but also many Chinese and Indian girls enjoy wearing the baju kurung. And honestly, I love it whenever my non-Malay colleagues donning their best baju kurung to work or any other occasion!

When a woman is wearing the baju kurung, she is generally considered polite, respectable, and genteel. Made of cotton or silk, women who wear the baju kurung will not feel hot and uncomfortable.

For a Malay woman such as myself, wearing the baju kurung not so much of expressing my faith (Islam), but I am also displaying my Malay culture proudly to others. If you ask me, it is indeed a successful combination of tradition and modernisation and very elegant, polite and comfortable to boot! By the way you may disagree with me on this… and that’s allowed! A

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All pics are from Gerobok Baju Kurung (https://my.facebook.com/gerobokwarisanbajukurung/)