What to Wear in Malaysia

by | Sep 23, 2017

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Last updated on November 19th, 2023

Most days I wore short-sleeved, mid to lower, calf-length dresses in acrylics that could be washed in the sink. I found these cooler and more comfortable than pants and was treated with more respect when I wore them.

Shannon, Seattle, USA

I spent a month in Malaysia and my one regret is wearing sandals that buckled up. Every time I went in or out of temples, homes, even some museums, I had to do up the straps. Next time I’ll pack slip on sandals!

Guylaine, Hamilton, Canada

If you’re a woman travelling in Malaysia, most of your body should be covered. Wear blouses or shirts with sleeves, slacks or long skirts and closed collars. The Muslim women wear a tudong, a veil or scarf over their head and covering their bosom. They do not expect foreigners to do the same except when visiting their mosques.

Mylene, Manilla, Philippines

Contrary to popular beliefs, you can wear anything you like in Malaysia as long as it is considered decent. If you are going to religious places like temples & mosques do wear something more appropriate – sleeveless & shorts are out of the question. But most of the times, I think what most tourists wear in Malaysian are ok. Being a Malaysian who has travelled around Europe, I noticed that some travellers especially women do not think ahead of what they are wearing so that they can be culturally correct.

Azlina, Michigan, USA

I travelled in Thailand and Malaysia and would like to share what I learned with other women travellers. Dress in SE Asia is (not surprisingly) conservative, but there are some subtle differences between countries. For example, in a business setting, a pant suit is acceptable in Malaysia but not in Thailand, where a longish skirt is better (knee-length or below). In Thailand, women do not usually wear trousers or shorts (except for students who wear jeans but only in casual settings), they never wear sleeveless attire or swim in t-shirts and shorts (if they swim at all).

Malaysian women overall dress conservatively but there are variations due to background (Muslim Malays, Chinese, or Indian). Whereas Thai women will wear form fitting outfits (not trashy though), Malaysian women opt for looser and longer clothing – no short skirts here.

Conservative dress implies a respect for SE Asian culture and without it, you will be denied access to religious sites (an integral part of Asian culture) and treated without respect.

While the dress codes may seem restrictive, there are a multitude of options which will not require steamer trunks to be carted around – long skirts, tank tops under long sleeve shirts (to help mop up perspiration and combat the sub-zero air conditioning), etc.

Helen, Boston, USA

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1 Comment

  1. Christine Aleta Jacobson

    Apparently, in Malaysia, the men must also follow certain guidelines in dress. My son spent a month last year in Malaysia and after a few days, wondered why he was being stared at so much. He asked a local and was told that shorts are not worn in Malaysia but since he was a tourist, he could get away with it. But, he immediately went to a clothing store and purchased some long, breathable pants. My son is dark complexioned with black hair due to his Arabic heritage and I wonder if he were obviously white and LOOKED like a tourist with blonde hair, he’d not be stared at so much b/c people would realize he was a tourist. AT any rate, he loved Malaysia and plans on moving there.


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