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Wearing Baju Kurung in London

Wearing Baju Kurung (Malaysian National Dress) in London

Baju Kurung

Baju kurung is a traditional costume of Malay women in Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, and some parts of Indonesia.

It is one of the oldest Malay costumes, originating from the 15th-century Malacca sultanate. During that era, Malacca was the center of entrepΓ΄tΒ trade, with a continuous flow of traders from China, India, and the Middle East.

As a result, some elements from those region had found their way into the local culture, and influenced the clothing styles of the locals, as can be seen in the baju kurung. Over the centuries, the style has not only survived, but prospered, with very few changes made.

Baju kurung consists of a long-sleeved loose blouse that goes to between the hips and the knees, and a long skirt with pleats on one side.

In Malaysia, this national dress is typically worn during religious / cultural celebrations, at weddings, and at formal events. It is also worn as school uniforms by female students in most public schools, and is one of the approved attires for civil servants, regardless of ethnicity.

Baju Kurung
Credit: Luqman134 / Wikimedia Commons

Wearing Baju Kurung in London

When traveling, I usually opt for outfits that can make me blend with the locals. In Indonesia, for example, I’d go for Javanese batik. And in the Middle East, I might wear a scarf and an abaya. It somehow makes my travels feel more wholesome when I immerse myself in the local cultures. And at the same time, I feel safer when I don’t stand out like a sore thumb in a foreign place.

However, in 2015, I decided to do something different.

My trip to London coincided with Eid al-Adha, and although I don’t really celebrate the festival, I just thought it would be nice to send my mom a picture of me in London wearing the baju kurung that she sewed for me herself.

In a way, it was also going to be a social experiment of sorts to see how Londoners would react to a culture they were not familiar with.

Double Decker bus
Exploring London in baju kurung.

I arrived in London early in the morning and changed into my baju kurung at the airport restroom. I had deliberately chosen a baju kurung of a thicker fabric for this trip in case it would get cold on that autumn day. In any case, I always had my jacket with me.

Although baju kurung is usually paired with feminine footwear, such as high heels, stylish pumps or strappy sandals, I didn’t want to lug around an extra pair of shoes in my backpack, so I went with my regular sneakers.

Then, I went on to explore London for the first time in my national costume.

London Underground
London Underground
Wearing baju kurung on Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

When I was in school and college, I used to wear baju kurung every day, and grew very accustomed to it. I never once felt inconvenienced by its loose fit or its long flowing skirt. But as I left college, I started to wear it less and less, and in my adulthood, it was reduced to once or twice a year — during Eid or at weddings.

So, when I first set foot in London city, having to navigate the Underground system and board the double-decker buses in this getup felt a little bothersome, especially with my backpack, jacket, and tote bag. But it wasn’t too long before I got into my stride.

My baju kurung and I managed to go to a few London attractions.

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

The Verdict

Wearing baju kurung in a foreign country was my way of showing how proud I was of my traditions and culture. And wearing it in the country that used to colonize mine for over a century added another layer of meaning to it.

So, how did the Londoners react to my outfit?

Well, some of them gave me more than a cursory glance, but the rest didn’t even bat an eye. No one discriminated me because of it, but none complimented me either. It’s good to know that London is multicultural enough to be able to accept differences. At least, that was what I felt in one day. Perhaps if I were to stay longer, I might have a different opinion.

Have you ever worn your traditional costume abroad? Or have you been discriminated because of what you wore? Share your experience in the comments below.

Posted in United Kingdom


    • ummi

      Haha, thank you so much, Retnawati. Takdenya nak bawak tripod2 segala bagai. Paling canggih pun monopod je. Kalau nak ambil gambar jauh sikit, mintak tolong orang, ataupun letak kamera/phone tu atas permukaan yang agak stabil (pandai2 la guna apa2 objek supaya dia tak jatuh). Lepas tu, buat self-timer.

      • Ruby

        Ummi! Wahhhh cantik Baju Kurung warna purple tu. Usually bab pakaian ok je pakai semasa travel. Lg comfortable kan. Baju Kurung ni tak mencolok mata. Bak kata arwah yah saya, manis menutup aurat. Hehehe.

        • ummi

          Terima kasih, kak Ruby. Menurut cerita2 yang biasa saya dengar, pakaian kadang2 menimbulkan masalah juga semasa travel. Contohnya kalau pakai hijab atau niqab di negara2 yang bukan pro-Muslim, memang akan jadi target untuk ‘random inspection’ di imigresen. Malah, kalau di negara yang mengamalkan Muslim ban, mungkin terus kena deport balik. Ada sesetengah orang kulit putih ni kadang2 tak suka dengan bangsa lain, lebih2 lagi yang dengan bangga memperagakan budaya masing2.

          Begitu juga di negara majoriti Muslim. Kalau pakai pakaian yang tak sesuai pun jadi masalah juga.

  1. Saidila Abdul Rahman

    baju kurung yang ummi pakai nampak menyerlah sebab warna dan corak polka dot yang klasik. Ummi pun nampak cantik dan ayu gituu. Mungkin diorang pun dah biasa nampak student kita kat sana pakai atau sememangnya diorang dah tahu pasal baju kurung ni dari Malaysia sebab dah banyak pendedahan di media sosial, tu yang diorang kurang heran sangat

    • ummi

      Mungkin juga la kan, Saidila. Lagipun orang2 bandar biasanya berfikiran lebih terbuka dan biasa didedahkan dengan budaya luar. Mungkin ada dalam kalangan mereka yang dah pernah sampai ke Malaysia juga. Saya rasa saya patut cuba di kawasan luar bandar pula lain kali. Apa pun, terima kasih, Saidila!

  2. bae roslan

    feeling travel oakai baju kurung indescribable haha. i penah pakai baju kurung masa pi perth. bangga je pakai baju tu jalan2 hehe

  3. Rawlins GLAM

    You go girl! I think I should try donning baju melayu when I travel next time right? The only time I wears baju melayu outside of Malaysia was when I attended a cultural event in Tokyo. And boy, was I bombarded with questions about my baju melayu. Hehe.

    • ummi

      Haha entahlah, sis. Saya tak rasa pun ada orang pandang. Tapi perasaan pakai pakaian kebangsaan di negara orang ni memang seronok dia lain macam sikit.

  4. Fafa

    Nice nya berbaju kurung.agak nya most malaysian ramai buat macam ni jugak .. My friend pon g korea dorang buat yg sama. seronok bila kita dapat tunjukkan bj kebangsaan kita

    • ummi

      Ya, Fafa. Memang seronok. Rasanya kalau dibandingkan dengan negara2 Asia lain, mungkin negara kita ni kurang menonjol di mata dunia. Jadi bila sesekali dapat tunjukkan pada orang luar tentang budaya kita, rasa teruja sangat.

    • ummi

      Eh, tak malu sikit pun. Lagi bangga ada la. Tapi takde pulak orang tegur. Kalau tak, boleh jugak introduce baju kebangsaan Malaysia ni kat diorang. Haha.

  5. Grace Ng

    omg! when i first the colour of your baju kurung, i was expecting many of them to come up to you for photos. quite shocked that not many are surprised by it. btw love this little experiment that you did here!

    • ummi

      Thank you, Grace! I was hoping some of them might take notice too so I could proudly tell them where I was from. Hahaha. I might have to try it at some other place next time.

    • ummi

      I agree, Kelly. Baju kurung is comfy because it’s loose and airy. But when traveling, I think it felt a bit troublesome with the backpack and everything. I rarely even wear skirts or dresses when I’m going to do a lot of walking. But it’s worth it to display my national pride once in a while. πŸ™‚

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