memores acti prudentes futuri

A dress code for royal functions

Sultan Iskandar  pointed out that the tanjak is outdated. Its use has been prohibited since 1825 and Malay men are to put on black songkok when they appear in public.

Johor Buzz

The songkok is part of Johor Malay culture but not the tanjak (headgear).

(From left)  Palace officials Datuk Dr Shahir Nasir,    Datuk Ali Musa with Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli in the ‘baju Melayu Telok Belanga’.
(From left) Palace officials Datuk Dr Shahir Nasir, Datuk Ali Musa with Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli in the ‘baju Melayu Telok Belanga’.

The Sultan of Johor, Sultan Iskandar, was displeased when members of a cultural group wore the tanjak during a performance in Kota Iskandar.

Sultan Iskandar  pointed out that the tanjak is outdated. Its use has been prohibited since 1825 and Malay men are to put on black songkok when they appear in public.

It was Sultan Abu Bakar who decreed that the songkok be part of Johor Malay culture.

It was during Sultan Abu Bakar’s time that Johor achieved the status of a modern state, with its system of administration, trade, foreign relations and dress code.

He had spent time touring Europe and the East and brought back the art of dressing for himself and his subjects.

Baju Melayu Teluk Belanga
Sultan Abu Bakar was impeccably dressed for all occasions. He wanted his subjects to be presentable and disciplined. Public servants were dressed in semi-western fashion with a closed neck jacket over a loose baju, a knee length kain samping over black pantaloon, and black songkok. Shoes and socks form part of the attire.

Like his great grandfather, Sultan Iskandar imposes strict dress codes in line with customary requirements. He made changes to suit the times but without overhauling tradition.

I remember as a young officer attending palace functions, I had to put on the baju Melayu Telok Belanga berdagang dalam where the kain samping (also known as kain dagang) is worn underneath the baju.

Only princes and those with the title “Datuk” were permitted to have the kain samping folded over the baju in the style of berdagang luar.

In 1981, Sultan Iskandar decreed that Malay men may dress in the dagang luar style as he did not wish to discriminate his rakyat.

The baju Melayu Telok Belanga was introduced by Sultan Abu Bakar when he ascended the throne at Telok Belanga, the seat of his government then, thus the name.

The baju Melayu was made up of a loose baju and matching trousers known as seluar Cina.

Originally, there were two versions of the attire — the cekak musang (collared) and the round-necked tulang belut.

The first type was only for princes and Datuk, although the public may put it on at private functions.

Sultan Iskandar decreed that only the round-necked tulang belut version be adopted as the baju Melayu Telok Belanga.

The first baju Melayu had two pockets and the round neck was plain. Sultan Ibrahim added a third, smaller pocket on the left breast, and the round neck had to be hemmed in the fine tulang belut style similar to the ladies’ baju kurung.

Non-Malay men are to be attired in dark lounge suits at royal functions. A white long-sleeved shirt and dark necktie complement the suit.

Even the flamboyant Virgin Airlines founder Sir Richard Branson 

wore the Baju Melayu with a complete headgear'Tanjak'

Name tags are not to be worn.

An incident happened to me as head of the civil service in 1986. Sultan Iskandar remarked that if the people did not recognise me and I needed to put on a name tag, it showed that I had not been working!

Double-breasted suits are permitted but not sports jackets or blazers. A suit must be buttoned when standing. It is not correct to put pens or spectacles in the top pocket of lounge suits or baju Melayu. But pocket squares are acceptable.

In 1986, Sultan Iskandar decreed that the black songkok be worn by non-Malay men at royal functions as a sign of respect.

The songkok is made from plain black velvet and must not have embroidery or decorations on it.

A Sikh gentleman may put on a dark turban.

Long-sleeved batik shirts may be worn at garden parties, and during sports and entertainment events.

A change in the ladies dress code in 1986 required female guests to be attired in the baju kurung Telok Belanga, except in the forbidden colours of plain white, blue and yellow.

In 1996, female guests were required to put on a tudung kepala (headscarf).

However, at garden parties non-Muslim women may be dressed in their traditional attire, minus the headscarf.

In the days of yore, a Malay lady would use a full length kain to cover her head and part of the upper body while walking. When at functions, the kain is folded like the dagang luar, or hand held.

So, the wearing of the modern-day tudung simplified matters.

The tudung also covers the hair colour. Under palace etiquette, it is not proper for a lady to dye her hair. It is also not advisable to dress in loud colours or wear excessive jewellery.

Malays from other states and foreigners may wear their traditional attire but must inform the organisers beforehand.

The covering of the head for non-Muslims at official or palace functions is not an intrusion of individual rights or beliefs, but is a sign of respect.


Written by Datuk Abdul Rahim Ramli ,


Filed under: Customs & Etiquette

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