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A Royal Affair: Dressing Etiquette at the Istana

In Malaysia, a country rich in traditions, lies a collection of royal palaces (Istana), each with a special spot in the nation's history. One such distinguished place is Istana Negara, the official home of Malaysia's constitutional monarch, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Other royal establishments, like Dewan Istiadat Seri Negeri in Melaka, Istana Abu Bakar in Pahang, Istana Balai Besar in Kelantan, The Astana in Sarawak and Istana Alam Shah in Selangor are more than just about their grand facade; they are where tradition and luxury come together.

People may visit the Istana for various reasons, such as receiving prestigious titles and awards, like Dato' or Datuk, or attending alongside their honoured spouse who is being conferred a title, granting them the esteemed Datin title. Additionally, the Istana hosts official luncheons, dinners and a range of special ceremonies, making it a place of significance and celebrations.

Attending an official ceremony at the Istana is a special opportunity that many don’t get to experience and more importantly, one that requires careful considerations of dress code. Each Istana has its own unique traditions and customs, so dressing protocols can vary accordingly. Here, we have come up with some general guidelines to help you ladies experience your royal rendezvous in style.

Modesty is the key principle when selecting attire for an official ceremony at the Istana. Due to this, you are only allowed to wear the national dresses or baju kebangsaan Malaysia which are not only modest, but also celebrate Malaysia’s unique and diverse cultural tapestry. The Baju Kurung and Baju Kebaya Labuh are usually the most popular choice for women of all races, though you can also opt for Cheongsam if you are Chinese or Sari if you are Indian.

If you have decided to don the classic and elegant Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya Labuh, make sure that it is loose-fitting and that the top is long enough to cover the buttocks. Your attire should, in no way, be revealing, see-through or body-hugging. Slits are also not permitted. Remember, modesty is paramount.

You are also required to wear a scarf or selendang over your shoulders to pair with your Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya Labuh. Here’s a tip: To prevent your selendang from falling off your shoulders as you move around, secure it with a small brooch on each side to neatly keep it in place.

Another significant aspect to take into account in dressing up to the Istana is your colour selection. Colour choices may differ between states and it is important to consider local customs. However, the general rule of thumb here is to avoid the royal colour of yellow and white. It is advisable to check for specific colour requirements with the organisers or local authorities. Ultimately, your best guide here is your invitation card. The colours to avoid are usually listed there.

It is essential to ensure that your Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya Labuh features tasteful patterns or motifs, with a preference for designs that are not too excessive, overwhelming or distracting. The key here is to project an understated yet elegant aesthetic.

Also note that dressing in sync is off-limits. It is necessary for you to avoid having your clothes, hijab, selendang, handbag and shoes all in the exact same colour. While you can certainly choose from the same colour family, duplicating the same tone is definitely not permitted. To stay on the safe side though, consider mixing varying colours that complement each other to create a visually appealing look. Introducing subtle patterns or textures can also add an extra layer of sophistication, making your appearance both balanced and refined.

After all, one of the best things about dressing up is the mixing and matching! So, let your personality shine through and pick the colours that perfectly complement your skin tone or ones that make you glow. It is, in fact, a big day for you, so don’t be afraid to look your best while still adhering to the dressing protocol.

Moreover, remember that you should refrain from dressing in the same outfit or colours with the group you are with, whether it is your spouse or friends, when visiting the Istana. The Istana's dressing guidelines specify that you should wear different colours from those in your group, as matching attire is not permitted.

Black closed-toe, low-heeled shoes are the only permitted type of footwear. Thankfully, black goes well with anything so your look will still be flawless with a touch of regal elegance. Comfort and practicality are essential, as you may be required to stand or walk for extended periods, so choose the best footwear for the day.

When it comes to accessories, less is always more; especially when you are at the Istana. Keep jewelry minimal and tasteful. A watch, a simple necklace or a pair of minimal earrings, and a small handbag would suffice. If you are wearing Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya Labuh, a statement brooch would also liven up the whole look. However, excessive or flashy jewelry can detract from the overall modest and elegant appearance. Sophistication and simplicity are of the essence.

Keep in mind that you will require two sets of attire for your royal affair. A set of Baju Kurung or Baju Kebaya Labuh for the rehearsal, and another for the actual ceremony. You could save your more majestic and grand look for the latter.

Now that you have covered the general guidelines in dressing up to the Istana, you can experience your royal rendezvous with confidence. We at POYA would love to be a part of your grand experience, and we have a wonderfully wide selection of Baju Kurung and Baju Kebaya Labuh that will surely capture your eyes (and heart!)

Over the years, we have had the privilege of assisting many Istana newcomers and seasoned Datins alike. It has been our pleasure to make their experiences memorable and we look forward to continue doing so. Rest assured, our recommendations will not only adhere to the Istana's dress code but also exude a sense of tasteful elegance.

Drop by our boutique at Bangsar Shopping Centre to explore a variety of designs, patterns, colours and cuttings. Our selections of Baju Kurung and Baju Kebaya Labuh showcase a range of styles and sizes, regardless of age and body shape. Size options range from XS to 3XL. We also have an array of selendang and accessories to match. On top of that, we also offer alteration service to help you achieve the perfect fit and the perfect look.

Attending an official ceremony at the Istana is undeniably a special and honorable occasion. And dressing appropriately not only demonstrates respect for the culture and traditions, but also ensures that you are in line with the royal customs. Modesty, respect and cultural sensitivity are key principles to keep in mind when selecting your attire for such occasions, regardless of the state in which it is taking place.

But at the end of the day, it is also your special day, your special occasion! Make sure to enjoy every moment and maybe snap a photo or two (where permitted) so that you can look back and cherish the special memory.


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