When one needs to wear traditional Malay clothing, one can always rely on a set of Baju Kebaya. This Southeast Asian traditional staple can be worn to weddings, graduations, and other formal occasions. Read the guide here to know more about this traditional clothing item.


Everything You Need to Know about Baju Kebaya

What’s a Baju Kebaya?

Baju Kebaya, or simply known as Kebaya, is a traditional attire worn by women throughout Southeast Asia. The earliest type Kebaya is believed to be originated from the court of the Javanese Majapahit Kingdom and the word itself derived from the Arabic word abaya which means clothing.

Before the 15th century, Baju Kebaya was reserved only for royals, aristocrats, and nobilities. Lower-class citizens and peasants walked bare-chested during this time. Afterwards, when the Portuguese women adapted the Kebaya after they stepped foot in the country.

Although the Kebaya is technically the national attire for Indonesia, you can find women wearing Baju Kebaya in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, southern Thailand, Cambodia, and the Southern Philippines. There are regional and international variations like the Kebaya Kartini, Kebaya Jawa, Kebaya Kutubaru, Kebaya Bali, Kebaya Peranakan, and Kebaya Sunda.

Elements of Baju Kebaya

The traditional Baju Kebaya is comprised of three components: the blouse, the brooch, and the skirt. The blouse is typically made from semi-transparent cotton, lace, silk, brocade, or velvet embossed with elegant embroidery. The blouse is then fastened by a brooch, or kerongsang, to secure the center flaps of the blouse due to it having no buttons.

The brooches are then divided into two types: the kerongsang ibu (mother piece) and kerongsang anak (child piece). To wear a traditional Baju Kebaya, you usually need to fasten it with one mother brooch and two child brooches. The former tends to be heavier and larger than the latter. They are often made from gold or silver and can symbolize one’s wealth and nobility. Villagers and peasants would only fasten a traditional Kebaya with safety pins or peniti.

Lastly, the skirt, known as kain or sarong, is a piece of long, unstitched fabric wrapped around the hips and secured with rope (tali). The skirt is then held in place with a belt (ikat pinggang) that can also serve decorative purposes. In Indonesia and Malaysia, women would substitute the skirt with hand-painted silk batik with gold threads.

Variants of Baju Kebaya

Wearing Baju Kebaya modern tend to be easier than wearing the traditional counterpart. You don’t need to fasten the blouse with brooches or the skirt with ropes. The Baju Kebaya modern can also be altered depending on one’s needs; many Indonesian graduates would often wear tailor-made Kebaya in various designs to their convocations. In Malaysia and Singapore, other than the Baju Kurung, modest women would wear Kebaya Muslim to formal events paired with their hijab. Most Muslim brides nowadays would wear Kebaya modern instead of the traditional wedding custom attire. The wedding Kebaya mixes the classic Baju Kebaya with a modern and slightly Western, silhouette.

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