The traditional Malay costume of Baju Melayu is deemed not complete without the sampin (sometimes called "samping").
Some consider this additional sarong-like cloth to be just an accessory to the traditional dress, but it is nonetheless an important complement to the Baju Melayu. It undoubtedly adds to the elegance of the traditional Malay costume.
It means and shows that the Baju Melayu is not just a shirt and a pair of trousers or an ordinary habiliment - it is more than that.
It has style and fashion and it’s uniquely Malay, presenting the unique identity and style of a cultured race.
It adds color and a certain attractiveness to the Malay Baju Melayu costume without which it looks drab and ordinary.
It is an essential accessory, worn together with the Baju Melayu for completeness as well as for its aesthetic value.
Well, what is sampin?
Sometimes referred to as "samping", it is the cloth worn on the belly area covering the stomach up to the knees or slightly below the knees, or the mid-area of the body.
Although most of them are stitched and closed like a sarong, there are some men who prefer to wear one that is left unstitched at both ends of the cloth, and this cloth is called sarong lepas or as samping kain punca potong.
"Samping" is from the word "sampingan" meaning an "accompaniment" or "accessory", of the dress or attire.
Outside formal occasions, not wearing this small sarong-like cloth with the Baju Melayu shirt and trousers is quite normal, and in fact in daily life such as during prayer times, it is sometimes left out of the Baju Melayu dress.
Although the normal method of wearing this accompaniment to the Baju Melayu is just to wrap it around from both sides and meet in the middle, there are certain rules to be followed when in public ceremonies, especially when royalties grace the occasion.
The motif, pattern and color of a costume or dress worn are the visual identity to understand and to know the official status of the wearer.
For instance, in some places, a green sampin worn in the palace gives notice that the wearer is a Datuk ( similar to a "Sir" Knighthood in the United Kingdom) and court officials will immediately recognize the person’s status.
So from afar we can tell who the person is, his public standing and status, by the motif, pattern and color of the dress being worn.
The king or sultan can actually wear any color he likes but yellow being the symbolic color of royalties, there is normally still a tinge of yellow in the costume worn by him, if the dress is not of the yellow color.
And the way the costumes are worn and the materials or fabrics they are made from, can definitely identify a person whether he is from Pahang, or from other states or parts of Malaysia.
Besides the color and fabrics worn, the manner of tying the sampin also shows the standing or personality of the wearer and will tell its own story.
For instance, if it is wrongly tied or if the wrong side of the cloth is worn, it might indicate something odd, like saying that the young man is ready to marry, whereas he isn’t ready!
Therefore a Malay man needs to know how to properly tie and wear this unique costume accessory so as to give the right message to others.
Cotton is normally used as the material for the cloth, although nowadays cheaper materials are sometimes used, especially for the children.
For more formal and official occasions, it is usually made of woven silk or songket materials. Terengganu and Kelantan songket materials, although rather expensive, are popular and are always the favorite choice for the majority of Baju Melayu wearers.
In Pahang, another popular but rather expensive cloth for this Baju Melayu accompaniment is the famous woven silk cloth called Tenun Pahang Diraja.
Basically, there are two ways of wearing it, and it relates to the style of the Baju Melayu worn, that is, whether worn for the Baju Melayu Cekak Musang, or the Baju Melayu Teluk Belanga.
Being a cloth, it can be tied in a variety of manner and ways, and so is normally up to the creativity of the wearer.
During a traditional Malay wedding , the sampin worn by the bridegroom is usually tied in the shape of a flower in bloom either on the left or right side of the waist.
It is normally worn to give a feeling of gaiety to the occasion. This style is known as ikatan kembung if it is stitched sarong-style, and called ikatan pancung if it is an unstitched sarung lepas or kain punca potong.
In normal everyday wear, the sampin is just tied by folding and rolling the top of the cloth downwards at the waist, and since it overlaps in front, the top front part of the cloth is therefore differentiated by its thickness.
And of course, during traditional Malay weddings, the keris is worn and slipped inside the sampin, with its beautiful hulu showing, a traditional practice of the Malays.
However, the above manner of tying and folding where it can be seen (worn over the shirt) is when wearing the Baju Melayu Cekak Musang style, in the style known as sampin dagang luar. This is the style mostly worn by the Malays in Pahang.
For the Baju Melayu Teluk Belanga style, worn mostly by Johore Malays, it is worn under the shirt, in the style known as sampin dagang dalam. The tying or folding at the top cannot therefore be seen.
Well, I do hope you’ve learnt something about the Malay sampin, a necessary part of the male Baju Melayu. It is said to be a "without which not" of the traditional dress, otherwise the Baju Melayu looks, and is deemed, somewhat incomplete.
This unique additional cloth, very much like the tanjak or tengkolok , adds that subtle touch of style, elegance and poise to the wearer of the Malay Baju Melayu.
As always, from me ...