Baju kurung literally translates as “cage dress”, most likely because you’re covered all around (very figure friendly, they say). The basic baju kurung consists of a long top that reaches down to the knees, worn with a full-length skirt or sarong. Modern versions feature shorter tops and modified hemlines.
Baju Kurung Kedah
Ancient housewives came up with this version. The baju kurung Kedah top is shorter and has three-quarter sleeves, making it more practical for housework (and maybe just a little sexier around the hips).
Baju Kurung Pahang
Baju kurung Pahang differs from the norm because of the top’s cut. As opposed to straight, this one features an A-line shape, all the better to highlight the feminine form. (Editor’s note: Most of my baju kurung are Pahang-style!)
Baju Kurung Cekak Musang
The most distinctive feature of the Cekak Musang is the neckline. This style has a high neckline, sometimes with frog claps not unlike those seen on cheongsams and samfoos. Some baju melayu for men also feature cekak musang.
Baju kebaya consists of a blouse worn with the sarong. Take note that sarongs for baju kurung andbaju kebaya are different: sarongs for baju kurung have pleats at the side, while sarongs for baju kebaya can have pleats at the front or back, or may even be simply wrapped around the waist, resulting in a sexy little slit.
Baju Kebaya Kota Bharu
The only difference with this one is that the design of the blouse is more open – the edges of the blouse are far apart but there’s material in the middle, or you can wear it with another top underneath (e.g. tube).
Baju Kebaya Nyonya
This is a personal favourite of mine (Thank you, Straits Chinese). The blouse is made of kasa rubia, or voile (usually Swiss or German voile). The fact that the material is so light makes it perfect for our weather, and the embroidery along the edges is just lovely. Women always look sexy yet elegant in this one, provided they wear it with proper Pekalongan sarongs and not with jeans like some people choose to do (that’s a no-no).
This is another one originally from the Straits Chinese of Malacca, and it’s even harder to come by. It consists of a tunic worn with a sarong, though nowadays some people may even wear this with pants (again, “why?”).
As the name implies, the kebarung is simply a hybrid of the kebaya and the baju kurung – quite the happy compromise, particularly for people who love the shape of the kebaya but long for the roomy feel of the baju kurung.
This style of dress comes from the Minangkabau people, most of whom are found in Negeri Sembilan. Their costumes are notably more elaborate in design and significantly heavier, always worn with matching head dresses.
Pakaian Cik Siti Wan Kembang
Here’s a beautiful classic made famous by Cik Siti Wan Kembang, a princess of Kelantan. Her choice of dress consisted of a tube top (of sorts) paired with a sarong and worn with a wrap around the shoulders. Ironic that the women of what is probably Malaysia’s most conservative state today, once wore such sensual apparel a long time ago ;)