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5 Traditional Dresses of Singapore That Portray Singapore's Diversity

Being a small island nation, Singapore inculcates people of four ethnicities majorly. These are ethnic Chinese, Malays, ethnic Indians and a small number of Eurasians. Though being a small country/city, Singapore is multiracial as well as multicultural which makes it the reason why it is home to a diverse range of ethnic wears which helps in defining the city’s culture. So let’s dive into the culture of the residents and take an in-depth look at the traditional dress of Singapore.

Here are five traditional dresses of Singapore that represent the country's rich diversity. 

1. Cheongsam

Cheongsam dress of Singapore
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The exquisiteness of this elegant traditional Singapore costume makes it a great alternative to modern wear. Having a slim fit and appropriate cuts for comfort with a high collar made from silk or cotton, the Chinese Cheongsam or Qipao portrays the duality of modern wear as well as revives the traditional culture and identity. Cheongsam has been widely popular overseas as well as in mainland China for over 80 long years since its development in China during the early Republican times. Later on, cultural migrations resulted in the spread of this traditional attire in Hong-Kong, Shanghai, where Chinese women adapted it. Slowly, the women of Singapore and Malaya too changed it since they found the Cheongsam the perfect wear for the tropical climate there.

In South-East Asia, this traditional dress of Singapore is considered as an alternative to fashionable and modern garments. Well-tailored and exotic fabricated Cheongsams can cost as high as current high-end designer gears. Moreover, it is believed that Cheongsam too showcases a person’s cultural identity, social status and personality, due to which it was the only dress worn as a uniform by wealthy society matrons. Not only them but famous personalities like Aw Cheng Hu, Christina Loke and Elizabeth Choy has a diverse and priceless collection of Cheongsams which blended with their classy and modern persona. 

2. Baju Kurung

Baju Kurung in Singapore
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Baju Kurung is a traditional Singapore costume as well as the national dress of Malaysia, though the people of Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand have adapted with it well. This traditional costume became fashionable in the late 19th century by Sultan Abu Bakar of Johar. Baju Kurung is a generic name given to the outfit for both male and female. The male costume is recognised as Baju Melayu and the female version as Baju Kurung. Moreover, the Baju Kurung has two distinct fashion methodology, the Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga and the Baju Kurung Cekak Musak. 

These two can be differentiated only based on a standing collar on the neck of the outfit, the former one having no collar.

This female traditional dress of Singapore became eminent and was adapted by an increasing number of women of Chinese, Indian as well as Eurasian ethnicity when the Baju Kurung became a uniform for the civil servants as well as female school students. Buju Kurung too like the Baju Melayu is a baggy full-length outfit which is paired with a long skirt (usually made from a long piece of cloth with folds on one side) and a collarless blouse with long sleeves which extends down to the hips or sometimes even knees. In more conservative states like Northern Malaysia, the Baju Kurung is worn with a headscarf (tudung). Malay women who work in office wear the Baju Kurung usually on Fridays to show a sign of respect for the traditional costume.

3. Baju Melayu

Baju Melayu in Singapore
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Baju Melayu, the male version of Baju Kurung, is a baggy shirt with long sleeves and is worn with long trousers. Usually, a Sampin (three quarter or even full sarong style garment crafted with the traditional pattern of woven materials like Kain Songket or Tenun Pahang Diraja) goes with this traditional dress of Singapore which is wrapped around the mid-body section from the stomach area, and it goes down to the knee or even lower.

There are two genres of the Baju Melayu, the Cekak musang shirt (usually has three pockets, two at the bottom and one at the upper left breast) and the Teluk Belanga shirt ( two pockets at the bottom). 

4. Sarong Kebaya

Sarong Kebaya in Singapore
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A symbol of dignity for the Peranakan women (Nyonas in Singapore), this traditional dress of Singapore was popularised in the early 20th century by iconic banners of the Singapore Girl as well as TV shows like the Little Nyona and famous personalities like Evan Heng. 

The Sarong Kebaya is a tight-fit costume which comprises of a tight blouse and a skirt of beautiful batik. Today, not only Nyona women in Singapore but also Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar take pride in wearing this traditional outfit. Moreover, this national dress of Singapore is the uniform of the stewardess of Singapore Airlines, which increases the prestige of this already a dignified costume and also encourages women to wear this outfit.

5. Saris

indian saris in Singapore
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Ethnic Indian women prefer to wear traditional outfits like the Sari (a long strip of fabric worn around the body in different styles) which is mainly worn around the waist with one end leaned on the shoulder and the Salwar Kameez (a long blouse combined with bagged trousers). Men wear a salwar kurta and a dhoti (a long piece of embroidered cloth worn around the waist) or achkan which is a combo of trousers and a jacket (usually embroidered and collarless).

Mostly, other than these traditional dresses of Singapore, the fashion culture of Singapore is imbibed from the western dressing sense. Usually, you would see a guy in t-shirts and trousers or wearing a suit on formal occasions or even a tuxedo in an extravagant event. Women too are very fashion-conscious and have an elegance and exquisiteness in whichever outfit they put on. The fashion stereotype in Singapore has undoubtedly taken a massive leap towards a much modern fashion statement, although the citizens still take pride in their traditional culture and garments.

This post was published by Shaif Ahmad