Traditional Balinese clothes

You know Bali is rich in culture when you see how beautifully the people dress, especially on ceremonial days. In traditional Bali, how you dress directly reflects your social status, just like in Victorian England. Though styles differ depending on the occasion, with attire getting more extravagant higher up on the social ladder, Balinese clothing is traditionally centred around the sarong.

The Balinese dress code and style is often divided into three broad categories based on their function: everyday, religious, and ceremonial. Everyday clothing refers to clothes that the Balinese wear to work daily or around the house. Despite many Balinese adopting Western attire (typical shorts and T-shirts), many people still choose to dress traditionally. This is especially visible in villages where men and women often wear a single sarong, tied on the waist with a sash and topped with a T-shirt despite the absence of a ceremony.

Everyday clothing also covers the clothes the Balinese wear when preparing for a ceremony, known as pakaian adat madya. The men usually wear dark-coloured sarongs (bright-coloured ones are reserved for religious ceremonies) that are thicker than everyday sarongs and specialized sashes that have pockets and holsters where the men can sheath their knives, while the women wear a sarong topped with either a simple lace dress or a shirt.

Religious attire is a step up from everyday clothes. For religious or community ceremonies related to religion, the Balinese make sure that they wear their best attire. It is considered an insult to the gods and goddesses if a Balinese wore inappropriate clothes in the temple. Men wear a white buttoned shirt and two sheets of sarongs. The outer layer is the saput, usually bright yellow or white; the inner layer is just a simple sarong. On the head, the men wear a destar or white headband. Women wear lace dresses called brocade or kebaya over a colourful sarong. Balinese women love their colours. Thus their outfits are more eye-catching. Unlike men, women do not wear any headgear. They can, sometimes, style their hair with hair extensions called sanggul, but since it takes a lot of work, only a few women opt for that.

Ceremonial clothing is on another level. Ceremonial clothing seeks to resemble the attire worn by Balinese royalty during the feudal age. Known as busana agung or literally “royal dress”, this attire is guaranteed to make anyone look like a prince/princess for a day!

The men wear two sheets of modified sarongs, usually made from expensive fabric, that covers their chest until their ankles. The outer layer is either a lighter or darker colour than the inner layer. The headgear is still a destar, but sometimes, men wear gold-plated crowns. On the back, men also wear an imitation dagger made from wood. Sometimes, they carry a real dagger! In addition, they wear gold-plated accessories on the neck, ankles, and wrists. Men also wear makeup, but these attributes are only reserved for special ceremonies, such as weddings and tooth filings.

The women also wear similar attire to the men but without the dagger. The women wear two pieces of fabric: a shorter one for their torso and a longer one for their bottom parts. The pieces are held together with a sash. The women also wear the same decorations as the men, but the crowns for women are usually much more prominent.

Traditional Balinese clothing can easily be bought in local markets and even souvenir shops. For the more fancy ones, you can rent them at photo studios that offer a traditional Balinese package.