Over the generations Malaysian women seem to have been a very fashionable group, having been exposed to a myriad of textiles, colours, patterns and designs from various parts of the globe.
Those from China, India, Java and various parts of the world who made Malaysia their home, brought with them the traditional clothes of their homeland and over several generations, some even adopted clothes worn by fellow Malaysians women of other races and or incorporated the designs of these to their own clothes.
Malay and Nyonya women wore the baju kebaya with pride.
It is a variation of the Malay “baju belah” which means split dress owing to the fact that it is open in front and the opening is often fastened with brooches. It is believed that this dress is an adaptation from the robes worn by Arab traders.
There were two versions, the baggy version and the short version, both worn with sarong from Jawa or India and woven cloth from Pahang, according to ‘Pakaian Melayu Sepanjang Zaman’ (Malay dress through the ages) by Abbas Alias and Norwani Md Nawawi.
With westernisation the baggy baju belah gave way to the kebaya which was more fitted and nipped at the waist.
This gained polularity amongst the women living along the West Coast of Malaysia, particularly the nyonya women in Melaka, Penang and Singapore.
Chinese and Indian women on the other hand were influenced greatly by movies from India and HongKong.
Most of the clothes and hairstyles worn were copied from popular actresses at the time.
The rich designs and fabric were worn by these women especially during, religious, festive and formal occasions.
Here are some of the pre-Merdeka fashion and traditional styles worn by Malaysian women.