I love baju butterfly. That’s one of the most Malay things about me.
For those who don’t know, it’s a dress that older women usually wear when they’re lounging at home or when they’re going to bed. It usually comes in batik prints, but sometimes, it comes in floral and other designs.
Of course, it’s not just Malays who wear them. I’ve seen Chinese and Indian aunties in my neighbourhood out and about in them. I’ve also seen Caucasian tourists wearing them out, which also led to my sisters and I jesting that it should be a thing. “Just wear it with a belt to turn it into a dress,” we would joke. Who would have thought I would make that a reality?
In the past, it came with wide sleeves (when you lift your arms, you look like you have butterfly wings, hence its name) but nowadays, it comes in different cuts: long-sleeved, short-sleeved and even sleeveless. I personally love the short-sleeved ones.
I have a lot of bajus at home but there are three that I religiously wear. They’re super thin and comfortable—perfect for Singapore’s weather.
Last week, when I was in the office toilet, I decided, wouldn’t it be funny if I wore it to the office? And so the idea was born. (The best ideas are formulated in the toilet and/or bathroom, if you ask me.)
Picking the Right Baju Butterfly
I headed to Geylang Serai at 5.30pm and reached there just in time before the shops close (they close at 6pm). My mum took me to a store that has a wide variety of baju butterfly (gotta trust a makcik on this) and true to her words, there were all kinds of baju.
I must say I’m quite a good judge of which fabric will leave you sweating and which will keep you cool, so I picked those that I would definitely wear and not complain to no end about.
My mum also pitched in her two cents’ worth, based on the years she has spent wearing and buying baju butterfly: “This one too thin; this will tear after you wash; this one is see-through.”
More from CLEO:
I chose designs that would be wearable as a dress to the office, but also picked one baju that I would wear at home because, objectivity. I also made sure the pieces I picked had different cuts because, variety.
I left with a bag of baju worth $44 and some doubt on whether I could make this makcik staple look fashionable.
Scroll through the gallery to see my attempts at making them look fashion, not fashun.
10/10 would do this again. I usually wear Uniqlo’s AIRism innerwear underneath my tops and dresses because Singapore’s weather is so hot, but with baju butterfly, I could forgo the inner layer.
My only gripe is that I had to spend a lot more effort in dressing up. My idea of dressing up is wearing a suit like Park Min Young in Her Private Life, a dress, or a nice jacket or blazer. But with this challenge, I had to show variety (wearing jackets every day would be cheating). I also had to plan my outfit the night before to make sure I wouldn’t end up looking fashun.
The day after the challenge, I came to work in a normal dress that I bought from Japan. Beauty Editor Smita asked, “Are you still on your makcik challenge?” SMH.
An hour later, Associate Editor Sophie asked, “Is this your makcik dress?”
“Eh, y’all need to have your eyes checked!” I said indignantly.
I guess I have “makcik fashion” permanently tattooed on my forehead now.