Pre-Merdeka fashion in Malaya

 |Aug 30, 2016
Baju Belah Labuh worn by Malay aristocrats 1900s ... source National Museum.
Baju Belah Labuh worn by Malay aristocrats 1900s … source National Museum.

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.

Malaya's Indian women fashion 1880s ... source httpvintageindianclothing.tumblr.com.
Malaya’s Indian women fashion 1880s … source httpvintageindianclothing.tumblr.com.

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.

Cheongsam early 20th century ... source Peppin Fashion.
Cheongsam early 20th century … source Peppin Fashion.

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.

 

Traditional Cheongsam. 1800s ... source Peppin Fashion.
Traditional Cheongsam. 1800s … source Peppin Fashion.
Baju Belah worn by women in Terenganu in the 1900s ... source Muzium Negara
Baju Belah worn by women in Terenganu in the 1900s … source Muzium Negara

 

Malaya saree fashion 1940s.
Malaya saree fashion 1940s.
Malaya women in kebayas 1950s.
Malaya women in kebayas 1950s.
An Indian move screened in Malaya in 1940s. Most Indian women in Malaya adapted their clothing with movie fashion.
An Indian move screened in Malaya in 1940s. Most Indian women in Malaya adapted their clothing with movie fashion.
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Maria Angela is a Malaysia Outlook contributor with about 15 years of experience as a journalist. She developed her passion for arts, culture, history and heritage while on the local council beat when she discovered not much emphasis was placed on preserving our past for the benefit of future generations.