Kadazan Traditional Dress

Kadazan traditional dress is made of black velvet with golden trimmings.  Having so many different tribes in Sabah, North Borneo ignite the creativity of each seamstress.  It is an old saying, a Kadazan girl is never complete without her tribal dress, she will either wear them on her wedding day, and pass it on as family heirloom to the eldest daughter or if she has no daughter, she will eventually clothed in her Kadazan dress on her funeral day.

To say I am proud to call myself a Kadazan girl is an understatement.  That is why it always important for me to own one, so when the date was set for my wedding.  This is the most important project in my list. Like way up there!  But it is a challenge to find a really good seamstress who knew what we wanted on the dress.  There are no short of tailor in Sabah but it takes a really good seamstress who understand the making of a Kadazan dress.  It took me awhile to find a genuine Kadazan dress to refer to, as I mention earlier, Sabah has many Kadazan tribes. Each one of them has different motives on their dresses.  My mom came from Membakut, a district in the west coast of Sabah about 50km from KK town, while my dad was from Putatan, Penampang. So I have two patterns to choose from.  Kadazan dress from Penampang was a sleeveless top with long tube skirt. Adorn with red and gold trimmings.  The ones from Membakut has more elaborate design.  I fell in love with them the moment I saw it.

It was a struggle to find a seamstress to make my wedding dress.  I finally found one a ways away from KK, the small town of Tuaran.  The lady has been making Kadazan traditional dress all her lives, in additional for that, she handmade the motives onto the dress.  She also used the original high quality beads and sequins as oppose to all those cheap low grades sold on the market.

Now let's talk about the interesting part, The DRESS:

Each colors and motives on the dress brought different meaning to the tribe.
Red means bravery;
Gold means prosperity; and
Green means bountiful harvest.
The top is a 3/4 sleeves heavily intricate designs, enough blings to shout, "Here's the Bride!"

The skirt was knee length with  paddy and bamboo shoots designs, main food source of the Kadazan.  
Two brass bells on the collar and gold plated buttons add to the charm.

The trims was of the red, gold and green and adorn with 3 color leaves design

Handmade add to the uniqueness

The colors are beautiful and there's only one of this in the world
 I bought my own trimmings, buttons, bells, sequin and accessories to the making of the dress.  I love the way  the sequin glitter in different shade of light, make it worthy of a wedding dress.  Although the dress has the basic Kadazan Membakut colors and by retaining the motives, both the seamstress and I came out the winner, putting together wonderful design and produce the Kadazan wedding dress of my dream.


  1. Thank you for posting this very informative blog! I was wondering how the Kadazan traditional costume made of and how it was put together! I have been amazed about the costume from my childhood.

    Vancouver, Canada

  2. Hi, it was really an insightful post, however, I am wondering why black was chosen for the base? Is there a certain meaning attached to it? And before the introduction of black velvet material, what are the original fabric used for this beautiful costume? :)


    1. The original Kadazan costume I used as reference to this one is made of black cotton fabric with very simple embellishment. Hand embroidery over the front and the skirt hem.

    2. During the olden times, the only colours available on fabrics were those one theme dark colours, probably black/brown/dark blue; some red fabrics and some yellowish white. Clothes were dyed from the natural colours of tree barks, roots and fruits. So, it has been known that even during those festive celebrations, the paddy farmers would wear their best clothes (which were mostly blackish brown) and that costume became a trademark till today.

  3. Hi there Orientalily, my dad is from Putatan and my mum is from Membakut too...just wondering if you are on FaceBook or have an email address ? Love to discuss with you about our Kadazan culture. Thanks

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