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As much as British gents rely on their suits when an occasion calls for them to dress up, the men in Malaysia can turn to the Baju Melayu when in need.

The traditional Malay wear is deemed as the go-to attire, especially for celebrations like Hari Raya.

A well-tailored Baju Melayu goes a long way in terms of style. It is both classic and sophisticated – a well-accepted form of demure dressing that has not much changed for decades.

Idris Mokhtar of Omar Ali Holdings sees the baju Melayu as a form of tradition, of which the cut, fit and details must not be experimented with too much. He says that it should always remain as so.

“You have people designing what they think are modern versions. Sleeveless, koyak-koyak (frayed), sheer. It doesn’t work. That’s disrespectful. Like showing up at a wedding in singlet and shorts,” he states.

Well, the man should know. Omar Ali is widely recognised as the place a guy visits in Kuala Lumpur to get his fix of a Hari Raya wardrobe. As a tailoring establishment, it has been in business for 80 years.

While Baju Melayu is Omar Ali’s forte, it also offers other traditional wear such as baju kurung and kebaya. The business is headquartered in Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, with seven outlets in and around the city.

Idris, the marketing manager, is married to Azizah Omar, the daughter of the founder. Azizah took on the role of managing director in 1989, after having grown up with the business.

“There are three basic styles of Baju Melayu. First you have the five-button cekak musang. The tunku comes with three buttons and pockets. Then you have the teluk belanga – a variation with no buttons,” Azizah explains.

According to Azizah, the Baju Melayu Tunku was specially created for the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj. Her father came up with the design for the then prime minister of Malaysia.

“Most of the Baju Melayu at that time were either of the cekak musang or teluk belanga style. The late Tunku’s wife visited our store and requested a three-button version to be made, as he preferred one with sort of a mandarin collar.”

When it comes to accessorising, a songket and songkok completes the look. There is however, no set colour. There are a lot of different shades that a man can choose from for his Baju Melayu.

When asked if the Baju Melayu will ever go out of fashion, Idris says: “It’s like saying that you’ll stop eating nasi lemak one day. As long as orang Melayu is still around, the traditional wear will be there.”

Reportedly, Omar Ali sees a spike in orders for Baju Melayu just before Aidilfitri. It seems that business also picks up during the school holidays, as that is when most Malay weddings take place. This says a lot about the occasions where the Baju Melayu is worn.

Azizah explains that Omar Ali offers both off-the-racks designs, as well as those specifically tailored for a person’s needs. As of that, the price for an Omar Ali Baju Melayu varies widely.

“I have no idea why people return to us for their Baju Melayu. Some of my customers will try other tailors before coming back. They just say one thing: ‘Yang lain tu tak sedap pakai’ (The others are not comfortable),” Idris concludes with a smile.

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