Voters of yesteryears wore their best to cast their votes, writes Nadia Badarudin

IT’S polling day! The time has arrived for more than 14 million eligible Malaysian voters to exercise their right.

When it comes to important events, dressing for the occasion is crucial. And polling day is no exception.

A voter casting her vote in Mersing, Johor at the 1955 general elections.

While waiting in line to cast your vote and play your part in shaping the country’s future, look around and observe - is is all about dressing up or just a mismatch of everything in the name of convenience?

Excited first-time voters (mostly students from ITM Shah Alam, Selangor) at the 1982 general elections.

With casual looks and dressing down becoming a norm, fashion on polling day in recent years has seen more voters opting for comfortable and practical pieces like T-shirts, jeans and sandals.

But it was a different affair decades ago.

In the past, the atmosphere and excitement of polling day were likened to joyous celebrations or festivities like Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

It was common to see men and women in their best clothes normally reserved for weddings or formal occasions.

Fashion-wise, sloppiness or dressing down had no place on the day.

Voters looking prim and proper while waiting for their turn to cast their votes at the 1959 general elections.



For the men (both young and old), prim and proper attire or classy traditional costumes were the standard looks when casting their ballots in the 1950s and 1960s.

Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj – in his 10-year-old “lucky shirt” – and his wife Tun Sharifah Rodziah Syed Alwi Barakbah arriving at the polling centre at Keat Hwa School, Kampung Perak in Alor Star, Kedah to cast their votes.

Simple but Western-inspired clothes — crisp shirts (either short- or long-sleeved) in plain colours paired with trousers and dress shoes — were popular among most male voters including dignitaries. There were also men donning similar outfits but with neckties to match.

A combo of bush jacket paired with trousers of the same colour was a hit with voters in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

A safe bet, a batik shirt was an evergreen choice for men preferring the smart casual look.

Malay women turning up in baju kurung and kebaya to cast their votes at the 1969 general elections.



When it comes to classic ensembles and timeless styles, traditional costumes were a favourite among older men and women including electoral candidates.

A voter in a baju Melayu.

Malay men would go for baju Melayu cekak musang or teluk belanga complete with accessories such as songkok, kain sampin and capal (leather sandals).

Kadazan women in traditional outfits outside a polling station at Penampang, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah at the 1986 general elections.

Baju kurung, kebaya labuh or kebaya Bandung complete with long selendang or shawl covering the hair or simply draped around the shoulders were popular among Malay women.

Indian women turned up in beautiful sari, while Chinese women looked elegant in samfu or cheongsam.

A Chinese voter in samfu smiles after a ride in a Democratic party limousine which brought her and a friend to the polling station at Tiong Bahru School in Singapore at the 1955 general elections.



Former civil servant Rokiah Mohd Basir, 64, has fond memories of her late mother Saadiah Abdul Kadir looking elegant in a traditional ensemble on polling day in the 1960s.

“I didn’t understand casting a vote was all about because I was still small at that time.

  “But I remembered how my mother and aunts made an effort to look their best on polling day. Nobody turned up in sloppy clothes,” says Rokiah from Ipoh, Perak.

“While my father Mohd Basir Itam wore a nicely tucked shirt and trousers (ironed with a copper iron, no less), my mother donned her best kebaya labuh or long kebaya, all prepped up for the day as if it was Hari Raya Aidilfitri,” she says.

Polling day was special particularly for voters in villages because they were treated like VIPs by political parties. Some parties chauffeured voters from their homes to the polling centre.

  “Women voters including my mother and aunts were driven to the polling centre in a car decorated with posters and the party symbol.

  “A car was a luxury those days, so I guess being dressed up for the important occasion and arriving in style at the polling centre in such a ride was an unforgettable experience.”

Rokiah says in the 1960s, kain wirun (said to originate from Indonesia) was the in-thing, the go-to dress for special functions.

Kain wirun is kain batik lepas (long batik sarung) styled in a way in which one of its edges is folded into several similar-sized folds (called wiru) resembling a hand fan.

  Young Malay women usually pair it with a short kebaya (some call it kebaya Bandung) and a long shawl. The folded elements create a faltering silhouette and add elegance to the traditional ensemble.

“While elderly women wore baju kurung or kebaya labuh, the younger ones donned the kain wirun with short kebaya.

  “One of my aunts wore kain wirun and kebaya on polling day, complete with a beautiful hair bun decorated with a big flower. She had to get up earlier than everybody else to create the neat folds of the kain wirun and get her hair done,” says Rokiah.

“There’s something graceful about women in kain wirun. To complete the ladylike style, the women chose medium-heeled slip-ons called kasut Bandung. Those pretty shoes were trendy in the 1960s,” says the mother of three.

And when it was her turn to vote, Rokiah says: “It was the 1970s and bell bottoms were the rage. Being young and trendy, I wore them on the big day.”

A man wearing a bush jacket with matching trousers at the 1982 general elections.

Pictures from NSTP archives


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