CLOTHES AND FASHION IN MYANMAR: LONGYIS, EINGYIS, LOTUS ROBES AND ETHNIC CLOTHING

CLOTHES IN MYANMAR

The Burmese national costume consists of wrap around sarong-like skirt called a longyi (pronounced LONG-ees). Both men and women wear longyis, which are regarded as more comfortable in the hot weather than skirts or pants. They are tied loose around the waist and have three pockets and cloth buttons from China. The longyi is folded around the front and can be gathered. Men tend to tie them in a knot while women tuck in the ends. Cotton is the preferred material in the heat. Silk is worn in formal occasions. There are also silk and cotton mixtures.

A short or jacket is worn with the longyi. Many men wear a button up Western-style shirt with their longhi Many women wear a short formal jacket or shirt jacket called an eingyi —or a button up Western-style shirt—with their longhi . When working outside both men and women wear large, flat, straw hats. Some men also wrap material around their heads often made from the same material as the longyi.

A traditional dance costume consists of a tight-fitting longyi, that reaches from the waist to the caff. On the hem of the longyi is a deep section of fine white cotton or organdie, which flows into a train. The upper bodice may have sleeves or be sleeveless. A white transparents jacket is worn over the bodice. Pastel colors are usual for this type of costume. Pale blues and pinks are popular. White socks are worn. A pair of elaborate Burmese slippers displayed at a museum are adorned with gold sequins and have mythical birds over the toes.

The Los Angeles Times reported: “In fashion, that culture has meant the longyi. Still mandatory in schools and most government offices, the graceful, modest mode of apparel is a wraparound cotton or silk fabric hanging from the waist to the feet. Nobel laureate and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi wears it.”

There are a variety of textiles in Myanmar and some popular ones are Acheik, Silkware and Lotus robe. The main center for silks and cottons is Amarapura and Mandalay but there are other famous silk and cotton weaving industries in the Inle region, Rakhine State and Mon State.

Weaving is a highly developed traditional art form in Myanmar. Among the Burmese, it reached its highest form in the production of lun-taya acheik cloth. The technique was brought from Manipur in the eighteenth century, but the complex motifs are distinctly Burmese. This style of cloth is still woven near Mandalay for sale to elite Burmese. There are distinctive textile traditions among the ethnic minorities. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

Burmese proudly wear hand-woven silk materials on auspicious occasions. Traditional turbans, jackets and longyis worn by Myanmar men are made of silk while intricate acheik designs woven with over 100 silk threads are a feature of silk blouses and silk shawls proudly worn by Myanmar ladies. Although the colors and patterns of silk-woven materials have changed since the time of Myanmar kings. they are still proudly worn by Burmese. ~

To make silk thread firstly three or four raw silk threads from a cocoon are twisted tightly with the aid of the machine and made taunt and smooth. After that impurities are removed by washing the threads in a boiled soap-nut liquid. You will have to boil and wash more thoroughly the threads which are used for the designs. because they need to be softer than ordinary silk thread. After dyeing the threads for about 30 minutes in boiling dye-filled water you have to rinse the excessive dye from the threads. This step may be repeated several to acquire the desired color. Then the dyed threads are dried in the sunlight. In this way. you get beautiful smooth dyed-silk threads. ~

To weave the silk threads you wind the threads on a machine or a loom. After attaching the bobbins on the loom the weavers will weave the desired acheik patterns. The acheik patterns are horizontal wavy lines of various sizes and numbers. There are up to 300 small bobbins used to weave very intricate and complicated acheik designs. Traditionally, acheiks have names like “royal thread,” “6 design thread,” “5 design thread,” “4 design thread” and so forth—depending on the usage of color and the number of small bobbins used for the particular design. In the old days, people used to prefer the acheik with more colors. But nowadays people prefer soft and smooth silk threads of only two or three colors. ~

Traditional Acheik designs woven with more modern colors and designs are winning the hearts of locals and foreign visitors. Both women and men wear lovely, colorful silk acheiks to special occasions like weddings and important festive ceremonies. Men's silk have diamond, jasmine or pearl designs. In Amarapura city, not far from Mandalay, 100-shuttle looms make acheik pasoes and shawls woven in a variety of designs and colors. ~

Making Lun Yar Kyaw Silk

To make Lun Yar Kyaw, one of the Myanmar’s traditional fabrics: First of all, the white silk is dyed according to one's liking. The dyed silk is made into yarn by using a small spindle and put into the wooden spool. These are used as a hitching-post when weaving. Simultaneously, yarn of various color is mixed and made into a whole yarn according to the number of yarn one desires. These mixed yarn are then transferred onto the small bamboo spool in the desired amount from the wooden shuttle. These are to put onto the loom for use in weaving. Dividing upper and lower yarn from the hitching-post is made by hand using a big spindle. After that yarn from the big spindle is put onto the wooden spool. To weave easily, the yarns are put into the frame of the reed in a loom. When these tasks are done you are ready for weaving. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

It is very difficult to weave a design on 100 shuttle fabric. Much waft and weave is needed to create the wavy design. It takes about three years to learn the art. Depending on the design 100 or more shuttles on a loom are used. Therefore, the fabric is called Lun Yar Kyaw which means fabric specially woven with a hundred or two hundred shuttles of multi-colored silk thread. Much patience is needed. To make an intricate wavy design or pattern two or three 3 girls are employed on a single weaving machine. To finish a fabric for one person often takes more than a month. Mirrors are used to check a work in progress because designs are woven up-side down. The shuttle is moved when the upper yarn and lower yarn are kept open. A shuttle is used to weave an entire line and only a frame of the reed in a loom is used. If you finish When the weaving is done. the fabric’s edge are cut with a pair of scissors and a systematic Lun Yar Kyaw fabric is obtained. There are more than 70 patterns of Lun Yar Kyaw fabric. They vary from the pattern of the Royal Era to modern patterns like Sabei kon, Pan Bayin, Thonn Yaung Che and Da wei sin. ~

Tapestries and Embroidery in Myanmar

Embroidery is an old industry believed to have started during the reign of Alaungpaya, founder of the Konebaung dynasty. Shwe-ge-doe embroidery is elaborately designed and creatively embellished with ornaments for grandeur. In making tapestry the base cloth, usually black, is adorned with metallic sequins, colored glass beads, and figures that are stuffed to give a distinctive three-dimensional effect. Each tapestry depicts a character or a narrative from Jatakas or the Ramayana epic. Tapestries can vary in size from 25 x 25 centimeters to 6 x 1.5 meters. Jackets, pasoes, longyis are also beautifully embroidered for special functions, and Mandalay is the center of this industry. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

The art of tapestry and "Shwe Chi Hto" (gold embroidery) are said to have originated in Myanmar about a thousand years ago. They are forms of needlework used to create a variety of pictures and patterns so delicate and detailed they requires great skill, artistry and patience to make. In addition to gold threads, silver and colored threads as well as other materials such as tinsel, sequins, semi-precious gems, colorful cut glass, seed pearls and beads are also used. The earliest record of such embroidery was the Pyu Period during the reign of King Mahayaza, about A.D. 800. The center of this craft was and still is Mandalay. The ancient ceremonial royal raiment known as the "Maha Latta", worn by kings and queens was a very heavy gold-embroidered and gem encrusted robe. The Maha Latta worn by King Thibaw and Queen Suhpayalatt, the last reigning monarchs of Myanmar, were the creations of skilled seamstresses, goldsmiths and other artisans of Mandalay. These raiments are on display at the National Museum in Yangon. The embroidery of gold thread and gems is so fine and intricate that it defies imagination. The most outstanding artisans became court craftsmen by royal appointment. They sewed and embroidered all kinds of royal raiments for the monarch and the royal family, ministers and generals. They made headgear down to footwear as well as furnishings for the royal palace such as wall tapestries, fans, cushions and pillows. ~

Myanmar’s ethnic groups also favor gold embroidered garments and headgear. The ceremonial dress and headgear of the Mon, Rakhine, Shan, Palaung, Kachin, Kayah, Padaung Akhar and others are heavily embroidered in gold and silver thread and encrusted with silver ornaments and beads. It takes a lot of time, practice and perseverance to become skilled in this decorative art of embroidery. In ancient times the basic design were floral patterns, vines and curlicues. The sequins used in the embroidery for royal wear was made of genuine gold or silver and the artisans who made them lived in their own colony known as "Kyaikhat Win" as their descendants still do today. The ward where the gold embroidery is famous for is still known as "Shwechi Hto" ward to this day. ~

Making a Burmese Gold-Thread Embroidery

To create an artistic piece of traditional Myanmar gold thread embroidery one needs a piece of white cloth of suitable proportions that has to be stretched and tightened on a square wooden frame. Then on the rigid and smooth surface the figures or patterns desired are sketched in outline with charcoal or pencil. The sketched outlines are then stitched over with gold. silver or colored thread. This is the edging or border of the central picture of the embroidery. Then comes the ornaments that are sewed on such as silver stars. sequins. cut glass. beads and seed pearls to bring the picture to life. This part of the embroidery is called "ayoke cha gyin". which literally means "laying down the figure". Then the stitches are brushed over with glue on the underside to strengthen and prevent the threads from breaking. It also makes it easier to cut out the figures separately. The cut figures or pictures are then appliquéd on the piece of velvet or satin or silk which will form the background of the embroidery. However an opening is left through which cotton is later stuffed to make an embossed figure. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information ~]

Then other adornments such as sequins, beads, seeds, pearls and semi-precious and even precious gems are added around the figure which is the central theme of the embroidery to form a backdrop. Depending on the main figure or theme this backdrop could be a palace or a pond, a forest glade or a galaxy of stars or just patterns pleasing to the eye. Some of the more elaborate tapestries bring to life tales from the Jatakas, tales of valor and historic events. Sometimes a color painting or a patchwork of colored velvet is worked into the picture. Whatever it may be the process requires great skill and artistry. Gem studded embroidery often requires the work of gold and silver smiths. Often a picturesque Myanmar tapestry not the work of a single craftsman but a cooperative team effort. ~

The patterns and names given to the small colored cut glass are equally fascinating. Some of them are include “Diamond Dome,” “Rhomboid,” “Emerald Square” and “Banyan Leaf.” In creating gold embroidery, the size, color, designs and patterns as well as the materials to be used depend on the object it is intended for, and in the days of the monarchy the place or person it was intended for. A whole range of objects and places were adorned with gold and silver tapestries including monasteries and palaces. Some tapestries were used to adorn the ceiling of a shrine hall or used as room dividers and wall hangings in monasteries and palaces. Sometimes an entire wall would be hung with a heavy tapestry. Other smaller objects such as fans were edged with gold embroidery. Then there were cushions and pillows and even palm leaf manuscripts that were ornamented with delicate gold embroidery. Royal crowns and coronets, headdresses and turbans, cuffs and sashes were embroidered with suitable insignias of rank and royalty. Other apparel for royalty were embroidered with pure gold thread and gems right down to the footwear. The harnesses and saddles of elephants and horses were also decorated with such embroidery for auspicious and ceremonial occasions. ~

The traditional designs and patterns were usually based on the Jataka tales and historic events or were depictions of celestial bodies and nature at different seasons of the year. There were also animals from elephants and lions to birds. Nowadays, Myanmar tapestry has become an attraction for tourists from abroad and there is a wide range of objects available with gold embroidery. The traditional tapestries are still available but there are many eye-catching novelties like clutch purses, handbags, cushion covers and even baseball caps. But the basic figures and illustrations and the techniques remain the same as in the old days. Because of the huge popularity of Myanmar gold embroidered articles the previously small cottage industry has now spread to Yangon and other places. This has opened up employment opportunities for women with a skill and talent for needlework. ~

Elegant Lotus Robe of Myanmar

In Myanmar, where Theravada Buddhism flourishes, yellow robes have been offered to the Lord Buddha in different seasons for many hundreds of years. The robes are known as Waso-thingan, Kahtein-thingan, Matho-thingan, Kyar-thingan and Pantthaku-thingan. The Waso-thingan is the robe offered on the occasion of Wazo, the three-month Lenten period from round about July to October. The Kahtein-thingan is the robe that is offered to the Buddha and his congregation of monks—the Sangha—at the end of Lent. This robe must not be offered to a monk of one's acquaintance or choice but to the Sangha in general. The Matho-thingan—literally meaning “the robe that has not decayed”—is woven on the full moon night of Tazaungmon and which must be completed before the sun rises the next day for offering at sacred Images of the Buddha. Some of the latter robes are woven with yarn from the lotus.[Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The very first Pantthagu-thingan was the robe sewn by The Buddha himself with remnants of discarded clothing. This was in adherence to the vow of poverty –– no costly robes, no silks or velvets, just a simple garment patched from torn pieces of cloth — a robe to clothe oneself in decency and modesty. The Buddha laid out the scraps of cloth in the pattern of cultivated fields. each enclosed by low dykes. This pattern is still adhered to in making of robes for the Sangha. =

Some regard the lotus robe as the noblest and most sacred garment because it is meant as an offering to the future Buddha aspiring for Enlightenment or Buddhahood. According to religious texts the tradition of the lotus robe emerged a long time ago. Thar Lay Taung Sayadaw U Tay Zeinda from Inlay district states that the lotus robe does not literally mean the robe which is woven from the lotus thread. When this present world, known as the Badda Kabba (the Badda World) came into existence, five buds appeared on a lotus plant and each contained a complete set of Thingan Pareikaya (prescribed articles for use by Buddhist monks). So it was prophesied that five Buddhas would appear in this world who would show the Path to Liberation. =

Then the age-old Thuddawartha Brahmas brought all the five buds to the place where “Ariyas” holy persons lived and offered the sweet-scented lotus robes to them. As only four robes have been so far offered, there is still one robe outstanding. That was said to be the origin of the lotus robe. There are lotus robes which are woven from strands of yarn obtained from the lotus plant and are offered to the Images of the Buddha and in special cases to eminent monks who have been awarded titles for outstanding religious services. Lotus robes are often decorated with patterns of flowers in gold and silver foil to make it as magnificent as possible for offering to Buddha Images in shrines and pagodas.

Sayadaw Shin Ohn Nyo, one of the four ‘shins’ or venerable clerics in Myanmar literature, composed in his ‘Pyo’—or ode of 60 Ghahtas—that a set of Thingan Pareikaya offered to Prince Sidhattha, the future Buddha, by Yatikaya, Lord of the abode of Brahmas, was the fourth one obtained from the lotus flower that had been in the safekeeping of the ancient Brahmas. In accordance with this legend in which Thudawatha Brahmas offered robes obtained from the primitive lotus to the potential Buddhas, Myanmar Buddhists celebrate a symbolic offering of the lotus robe.

Making a Lotus Robe from Lotus Fibers

Weaving a lotus robe from padonmar kyayoe (lotus stems) and kya-kmyin (lotus fibres) by extracting the yarn from the Padonma lotus stalks demands great creativity, imagination and artistic skill. The place where such wonderful robes are woven is Kyaing Khan village in Inlay district near Inlay Lake. Many varieties of lotus flourish in the Inlay Lake but the yarn for the robe is taken from the the Padonma Kyar (the Red Lotus). As the level of the water surface rises. Padonma lotus plants begin to grow in profusion to supply the necessary thread for this special robe. Kyaing Khan village, located in the south of Inlay district, is the only place where lotus robes are woven. It is not easy to produce lotus thread from which the lotus robe is woven. Lotus stems are plucked in the months of Kason and Nayon (May and June) when lotus plants are abundant in the Lake. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

According to traditional belief in the region, local people believe the lotus has supernatural powers and that the lotus must be in full bloom to produce lotus fibres from its stems. So they conduct a ritual at the lotus pond with offerings of nine dishes of food a week before they cut off the stems. At the time of plucking the stems also, nine dishes of food are offered to the guardian spirit of the house where the lotus robe will be woven. After plucking the lotus stems only the soft stems are taken. =

The next day, they prepare to separate the lotus fibres from the lotus stems. First they rub out the thorns on the stem and cut it into two parts. Then these are marked at 5 or 6 places with a knife at intervals of 9 inches or so after which the cut stems are twisted. They then pull out the fibres with wet hands on a special table about 3 feet long made for the purpose. If the lotus stems are left too long they will decompose and the threads obtained will be of no use. So they pull out these fibres the day after they have cut the stems. These fibres are spun on the small pulley in order to prevent them from getting tangled. Next, they are spun again into the spindle from the pulley. Naturally, the lotus likes water and they hold the fibre from the pulley with wet hands while spinning. After that, handfuls of the fibres are put on different shelves of the same size and spun again on to the large pulley to make them stronger and thicker. =

These strong and thick fibres are spun again almost continuously into a yarn to produce threads. Then these threads are washed and coated with glue to make them ready for special weaving.These ready-made threads are fixed on the loom both for the warp and woof by twisting them into the spinning rod. Now the weaving of the lotus robe can begin. “In weaving the lotus robe, unlike the ordinary yellow robe, it is necessary to adhere to the Buddha’s teachings and to abide by the five precepts,” said one of the old and skilled woman weavers of the lotus robe. She added. “Even if the weaver is not a virgin, she must be a woman of virtue who keeps the five basic precepts of Buddhism”. The loom is also considered to have supernatural powers so it is surrounded with split bamboo fences of diamond-shaped designs used for royal occasions. Banana and sugar cane plants are tied to the fence at suitable intervals. =

For a perfect robe. the outer robe (Aygathi) must be two and a half yards long and under-wear (Thinbine), six yards long. The weaver must weave ten yards to get a perfect lotus robe. About 220,000 lotus plants are required for one set of robes and it takes 60 weavers 10 days to complete one set. The process from the cutting of the stems to the finished robe takes one month. As the lotus is a hydrophyte, lotus threads are continuously sprayed with water as they are woven and pressed between rollers to yield thicker density. The natural color of the woven robe is ivory-colored, but it is dyed in what is locally called a deep jack-fruit color somewhat like old gold.. Although the length, size and color are the same as the ordinary robe, it is not so heavy but is light, strong and much more beautiful. You can smell the fragrance of lotus from a freshly woven lotus robe. This lotus robe can give coolness in the hot season and warmth in the cold season.

Clothes of Myanmar’s Main Ethnic Groups

In Myanmar, there are about 135 ethnic groups according to the Myanmar government. Among them, the major races are Bamar, Shan, Kayin, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Mon and Rakhine. They all have their own dialect, tradition, culture, legends and traditional costume. The traditional costume consist “longyi” (sarong) and “eingyi” (blouse or shirt). Centuries ago, people from India, Tibet and China came into Myanmar. The way of the dressing of the earliest Myanmar people—“Pyus”—was like Indian people. King Anawyatha also brought Indian traditions and cultures.[Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

Bamar, Kachin, Mon, Shan, Kayah and Rakhine men wear a traditional jacket called a “teik -pon” over their “eingyi”. It is white, grey, black or terracotta in color. Burman, Kayin, Chin, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine and Shan women’s “longyis” are nearly the same, made by cotton. A black waistband is stitched along the waist end. This waistband is folded in front to form a wide pleat, and then tucked behind the waistband to one side. =

The Kachin “eingyi is black and it is very interested and very beautiful because it is decorated by many pieces of silver. Kayin women wear long dress called “thin-dai” decorated by many threads. Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Chin, Kayah, and Shan women’s” eingyis” are nearly the same, comprised of a form-fitting waist length blouse. Kayah women tie this traditional shawl on their “eingyi”. It is embroiled of male and female royal birds of them called “Keinayee & Keinayah”. Burman, Rakhine and Mon women put the shawl on their shoulders. Kayah, Layin, Shan , Kachin, Chin women tie a lovely band on their head Bamar, Mon and Radhine women wear beautiful flowers in their hair. =

Bamar men wear ankle-length longyis with patterns of checks, plaids or stripes The traditional Kayin “longyi” has solid reds bordered with horizontal stripes at the middle. Rakine longyis feature a thick, high- relief weave in light, reflective grays and blues. Kachin “longyi have checks of black, green and deep purple. Mon longyi feature small checks on red, with horizontal stripes at the middle. The Chin “longyi is like Bamar “longyi” but it has a wide stripe. =

The Bamar women’s calf-length “longyis” are in solid colors, flower prints and many kinds of designs. One of the famous designs features wavy or zig zag “ acheig” patterns. The traditional Rakhine women “longyi” may also have “acheig”patterns. The Mon “longyi” has red base color, with partial stripes and very small check design. Kayin and Kayah “longyis” have horizontal stripes on red or green color. Kayah women tie them beautifully with very long band in front of them, at the waist. The Shan “longyi” has horizontal or vertical stripes at the middle part. Upper and lower parts are in plain color. Kachin longyis have “manaw” columns, on a red or black color base. It’s quite short. They wear many loose cane belts. At their legs, they tie two pieces of cloth. =

Bamar Clothes

Bamar (Burman or Burmese) men dress in longyis, shirts without collars and traditional jackets. They also wear ready-made turbans with a wing-cloth standing to the right. Bamar women wear longyis and blouses with an opening in the front, which are buttoned either in the center or on the side. They wear their hair in top-knots and drape lace shawls over their shoulders. Bamar women’s calf-length “longyis” are in solid colors, flower prints and many kinds of designs. One of the famous designs feature wavy or zig zag “ acheig” patterns. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

The htamein is one of the traditional dresses of Burmese women. This skirtcloth or lower body wrapper was worn by women during the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1855) as a wrap-around skirt, or sometimes as a folded clothing material placed "tightly across the abdomen slightly left center of the waist". In comparison, Burmese men wore the traditional lower garment known as the pahso. [Source: Wikipedia].

Myanmar Longyi

The Myanmar "longyi"—a sarong-like garment—is an integral part of the Myanmar national dress and worn by both men and women. Basically a piece of cloth sown into a cylindrical tube, it is slipped over the head by men and stepped into by women and tucked in at the waist. Men and women however fasten their longyis at the waist in different ways. Men fold the garment into two panels and knot it neatly at waist level. In olden days the knot was tied neatly and sported a triangular flap. For the ladies it is a wrap-around skirt tucked in at the side of the waist. It may be wrapped from right to left, which is more common, or from left to right, depending on the comfort of the wearer. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The ladies longyi has a plain black strip of cotton about five inches wide sewn and attached to the top part of the circular skirt. It is known as the "Ahtet hsin". It helps to keep the longyi firmly in place especially if it is of silk or satin. It prevents frequent adjusting and keeps the skirt neat and level. To further differentiate between men and women’s wear. the garment for men is known as "pasoe" and for women. "htamein." =

These garments are usually made of cotton for everyday wear and of silk, satin or the better quality synthetic fabrics for formal wear. The masculine patterns are mostly checks or squares or sometimes vertical stripes or horizontal circular bands. Most men shun flowered patterns but they do sometimes wear the silk "acheik". the horizontal "wave patterned" bands of bright colored silks on ceremonial occasions. The "acheik" is a traditional royal design for both and women and it is said that the ancient designers were inspired by the waves and ripples of the Irrawaddy River. The main center for silks and cottons is Amarapura and Mandalay but there are other famous silk and cotton weaving industries in the Inle region, Rakhine State and Mon State. =

The Kachin and Chin State also have their special hand woven designs. But the Inle silks with their artistic flowered patterns are popular with the ladies. Then there are the silks and cottons with designs of a hundred small birds known in Myanmar as "Kye Tayar" and checkered patterns with tiny dots and stars in the center of each square. which are much in demand. Each of these longyis is traditionally hand woven on small looms in the town of Yaw on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River in Central Myanmar. Nowadays these longyis are popular with men as formal wear. The ladies of course have a wider choice. They wear patterns of flowers, stars, checks, stripes, or even impressionistic splashes of all colors and shapes. Some prefer self colored plain textiles of bright or sombre hues. =

As for what's worn underneath a longji, CNN reported, “that's a matter of personal preference. In the cities, Burmese men usually wear underwear beneath their longyis when they go out, but at home wear it as the Scots wear their kilts. In the countryside, underwear is much less common -- for men and women. As one man jokingly put it: "Longyi are great. Free air-conditioning." That's a plus, especially when the summer temperature tips 104 F (40 C). It's completely acceptable for a foreigner to wear a longyi and can be a conversation starter. [Source: CNN]

Longyi and Women’s Fashion

The calf-length longyi that was in vogue a short time ago is over its heyday and the Myanmar longyi is back to ankle-length. I think Myanmar women are smart enough to realize that the longyi can hide a multitude of sins especially if one happens to be short and stocky. Moreover the long sweep of the longyi enhances the beauty and elegance of our young and lissome girls. They appear both slinky and innocent. So the longyi is still the favoured garment. The Myanmar ladies have experimented and adopted new fashions and styles, yet they cling to traditional fashions. For them there is a time and place for different fashions. The Myanmar long-sleeved jacket is still worn by housewives, office workers, teachers and middle school children. The longyi and the Myanmar style jacket are a MUST for all formal occasions. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

It is true today’s fashions have brought about some changes in ladies’ longyis. They may have slits at the sides, front or back. They may have a false front flap and maybe worn by zipping it up at the side or back. They may also wear it shorter than the traditional longyi. But the cut and pattern is still recognizable as a Myanmar longyi. But for informal wear nothing can beat the comfort of the old tube- shaped cylinder which is still worn by almost all Myanmar people, men and women alike. However modern one may be, the "pasoe" or "htamein" is still very much favoured over jeans, trousers, mini and midi skirts and what have you. =

“The Myanmar longyi is also catching on as fashionable wear for foreigners. Tourists of both sexes can be seen in longyis on the streets of Yangon and I have heard that the wrap-around skirt has become quite a fashion in some countries like Australia. I think fashions in Myanmar may come and go, but the longyi will go on forever.

Myanmar Shirts and Blouses

In the old days men wore a stiff-collared shirt, buttoned down the front and it was usually white. It is the same as a western style shirt and this has been worn ever since they abandoned the traditional Myanmar style long shirt. The shirt was either long-sleeved or short-sleeved. Men usually wore short-sleeved shirts with collar on informal occasions. Today, men have switched to T-shirts and sports shirts of all colors and designs for casual wear. But they still wear the longyi for all occasions. Formal occasions and office wear require men to don a jacket over the shirt. The jacket is of thicker material than the shirt and is worn open in front but has Chinese style cloth buttons and loops on each side. Men hardly ever button up the front of these jackets, which have has two large pockets below and two smaller ones at the top on both front panels. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

Today, ladies’ top wear, especially casual wear is on the way out. The traditional Myanmar blouse has not been entirely discarded and is still kept in reserve to be worn on formal occasions. But most Myanmar ladies, young and old. have taken to wearing loose and comfortable western style blouses and T-shirts of all designs and colors. But they still wear them over the longyi. Some of these blouses are so long they almost cover the knees. Necklines have also been lowered both front and back. and some have been daring enough to wear tank tops. but with the ubiquitous longyi. Not only do parents and elders frown on this daring style, the innate modesty of most Myanmar girls has prevented the proliferation of immodest fashions. =

History of Myanmar Shirts and Blouses

Formerly top wear for the ladies consisted of a waist-length blouse known as an "Aingyi". At one time its length was waist length but worn to show the "Ahtet Hsin". But later it was further lengthened to just about cover the black strip of cloth on the ladies’ longyi. The blouse had a squarish flap that was buttoned at the side. somewhat like the top half of the Chinese Cheongsam. The blouse had no fixed buttons. just loops. Buttons of all shapes and colors would then be fastened on these loops. Each button had a ring through which the loop would be passed and then slipped over the button to keep it in place. There were always five loops for the set of five detachable buttons – one below at the front. three at the side and one at the neckline. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The ladies could thus keep a variety of buttons and select them to match the skirt and blouse to be worn. Wealthy ladies wore buttons of gold and diamonds. rubies. sapphires. pearls and other precious and semi-precious gems. There was another style popular in the 1930s. It was a blouse with a front opening with button loops down the front. This style was called the "Yin Si". meaning as opposed to the "Yin Hpone" with the opening at the side. Before World War II only long sleeves were worn. and at one time the sleeves were loose and flared at the bottom. The jackets were made of thin colored or printed material. =

The plain white blouses often had embroidery on the hems of sleeves or waist. Then during World War II ladies began to shorten the length of their sleeves. One reason given was that cloth was scarce during the war; in fact it was unavailable. But the ladies’ jackets. after many washings. began to show signs of wear and tear especially at the elbows. So some enterprising Myanmar lady cut off the lower half of the sleeves rather than wear a torn aingyee or discard it altogether. This is said to have set the fashion for short sleeves. that grew shorter as the years went by and finally ended up as a sleeveless blouse. =

The quarter length sleeves also came into fashion together with a stiff chinese style collar. Although the Chinese collar is no longer very popular the quarter-length sleeves has now claimed a permanent spot in Myanmar fashions. The blouse material also grew thinner and more transparent to show off the dainty lace and embroidery of the under garment – a long-line bra that tucked into the skirt. This fashion of transparent top wear had its roots just before the Second World War and was highly disapproved of by the general public and the Buddhist clergy who found it immodest, offensive and unpatriotic as well. So when the fashion re-emerged after the War it still failed to gain the approval of our straight-laced Myanmar society. So it enjoyed only a short period of popularity. But the enduring longyi stayed the same throughout the intervening years. =

Silk Industry of Inle

Inle Lake, the largest and most famous natural inland lake in Myanmar, lies like a beautiful, glistening jewel encircled by the blue mountain ranges of the Shan Plateau. Inle Lake, which is located in the southeast of the Shan State at an elevation of 2900 feet above sea level, is home to the “Inthas” meaning literally “the natives of Inle Lake”.The Inthas are most famous for their unique leg rowing but they are also talented in many arts and crafts. Their weaving and goldsmith, silversmith and blacksmith cottage industries have earned renown both at home and abroad. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The silks that the Inle weaving industry produce are outstanding for their quality in both material. and colors and designs. Tourist can watch the entire process of Inle silk production in the weaving sheds from the primary stage of bleaching the silk threads through dyeing them, spinning the threads, affixing them to the loom and to the final stage of weaving the finished product. =

The skill and deftness as well as patience of the young Inle girls who weave and fashion the gorgeous silk fabric from a multitude of tiny thin threads is truly marvelous. Because of the beautiful designs take shape only by aligning each silken thread with great precision. it takes about three days to weave the required length for one longyi. that is. the traditional straight skirt for the both masculine feminine wear. =

The men’s wear is usually of checkered design. The ladies’ wear comes in a host of shimmering colors with gorgeous floral designs. Nowadays it is possible to buy a stole of the same pattern and color for formal wear. Some Inle silks also have gold or silver thread woven into the silk fabric. The charm and beauty of the finished product exemplifies the innovative spirit of the people of Inle. =

Elegant Lotus Robes of Myanmar

In Myanmar, where Theravada Buddhism flourishes, yellow robes have been offered to the Lord Buddha in different seasons for many hundreds of years. The robes are known as Waso-thingan, Kahtein-thingan, Matho-thingan, Kyar-thingan and Pantthaku-thingan. The Waso-thingan is the robe offered on the occasion of Wazo, the three-month Lenten period from round about July to October. The Kahtein-thingan is the robe that is offered to the Buddha and his congregation of monks—the Sangha—at the end of Lent. This robe must not be offered to a monk of one's acquaintance or choice but to the Sangha in general. The Matho-thingan—literally meaning “the robe that has not decayed”—is woven on the full moon night of Tazaungmon and which must be completed before the sun rises the next day for offering at sacred Images of the Buddha. Some of the latter robes are woven with yarn from the lotus.[Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

The very first Pantthagu-thingan was the robe sewn by The Buddha himself with remnants of discarded clothing. This was in adherence to the vow of poverty –– no costly robes, no silks or velvets, just a simple garment patched from torn pieces of cloth — a robe to clothe oneself in decency and modesty. The Buddha laid out the scraps of cloth in the pattern of cultivated fields. each enclosed by low dykes. This pattern is still adhered to in making of robes for the Sangha. =

Some regard the lotus robe as the noblest and most sacred garment because it is meant as an offering to the future Buddha aspiring for Enlightenment or Buddhahood. According to religious texts the tradition of the lotus robe emerged a long time ago. Thar Lay Taung Sayadaw U Tay Zeinda from Inlay district states that the lotus robe does not literally mean the robe which is woven from the lotus thread. When this present world, known as the Badda Kabba (the Badda World) came into existence, five buds appeared on a lotus plant and each contained a complete set of Thingan Pareikaya (prescribed articles for use by Buddhist monks). So it was prophesied that five Buddhas would appear in this world who would show the Path to Liberation. =

Then the age-old Thuddawartha Brahmas brought all the five buds to the place where “Ariyas” holy persons lived and offered the sweet-scented lotus robes to them. As only four robes have been so far offered, there is still one robe outstanding. That was said to be the origin of the lotus robe. There are lotus robes which are woven from strands of yarn obtained from the lotus plant and are offered to the Images of the Buddha and in special cases to eminent monks who have been awarded titles for outstanding religious services. Lotus robes are often decorated with patterns of flowers in gold and silver foil to make it as magnificent as possible for offering to Buddha Images in shrines and pagodas.

Sayadaw Shin Ohn Nyo, one of the four ‘shins’ or venerable clerics in Myanmar literature, composed in his ‘Pyo’—or ode of 60 Ghahtas—that a set of Thingan Pareikaya offered to Prince Sidhattha, the future Buddha, by Yatikaya, Lord of the abode of Brahmas, was the fourth one obtained from the lotus flower that had been in the safekeeping of the ancient Brahmas. In accordance with this legend in which Thudawatha Brahmas offered robes obtained from the primitive lotus to the potential Buddhas, Myanmar Buddhists celebrate a symbolic offering of the lotus robe.

Making a Lotus Robe from Lotus Fibers

Weaving a lotus robe from padonmar kyayoe (lotus stems) and kya-kmyin (lotus fibres) by extracting the yarn from the Padonma lotus stalks demands great creativity, imagination and artistic skill. The place where such wonderful robes are woven is Kyaing Khan village in Inlay district near Inlay Lake. Many varieties of lotus flourish in the Inlay Lake but the yarn for the robe is taken from the the Padonma Kyar (the Red Lotus). As the level of the water surface rises. Padonma lotus plants begin to grow in profusion to supply the necessary thread for this special robe. Kyaing Khan village, located in the south of Inlay district, is the only place where lotus robes are woven. It is not easy to produce lotus thread from which the lotus robe is woven. Lotus stems are plucked in the months of Kason and Nayon (May and June) when lotus plants are abundant in the Lake. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

According to traditional belief in the region, local people believe the lotus has supernatural powers and that the lotus must be in full bloom to produce lotus fibres from its stems. So they conduct a ritual at the lotus pond with offerings of nine dishes of food a week before they cut off the stems. At the time of plucking the stems also, nine dishes of food are offered to the guardian spirit of the house where the lotus robe will be woven. After plucking the lotus stems only the soft stems are taken. =

The next day, they prepare to separate the lotus fibres from the lotus stems. First they rub out the thorns on the stem and cut it into two parts. Then these are marked at 5 or 6 places with a knife at intervals of 9 inches or so after which the cut stems are twisted. They then pull out the fibres with wet hands on a special table about 3 feet long made for the purpose. If the lotus stems are left too long they will decompose and the threads obtained will be of no use. So they pull out these fibres the day after they have cut the stems. These fibres are spun on the small pulley in order to prevent them from getting tangled. Next, they are spun again into the spindle from the pulley. Naturally, the lotus likes water and they hold the fibre from the pulley with wet hands while spinning. After that, handfuls of the fibres are put on different shelves of the same size and spun again on to the large pulley to make them stronger and thicker. =

These strong and thick fibres are spun again almost continuously into a yarn to produce threads. Then these threads are washed and coated with glue to make them ready for special weaving.These ready-made threads are fixed on the loom both for the warp and woof by twisting them into the spinning rod. Now the weaving of the lotus robe can begin. “In weaving the lotus robe, unlike the ordinary yellow robe, it is necessary to adhere to the Buddha’s teachings and to abide by the five precepts,” said one of the old and skilled woman weavers of the lotus robe. She added. “Even if the weaver is not a virgin, she must be a woman of virtue who keeps the five basic precepts of Buddhism”. The loom is also considered to have supernatural powers so it is surrounded with split bamboo fences of diamond-shaped designs used for royal occasions. Banana and sugar cane plants are tied to the fence at suitable intervals. =

For a perfect robe. the outer robe (Aygathi) must be two and a half yards long and under-wear (Thinbine), six yards long. The weaver must weave ten yards to get a perfect lotus robe. About 220,000 lotus plants are required for one set of robes and it takes 60 weavers 10 days to complete one set. The process from the cutting of the stems to the finished robe takes one month. As the lotus is a hydrophyte, lotus threads are continuously sprayed with water as they are woven and pressed between rollers to yield thicker density. The natural color of the woven robe is ivory-colored, but it is dyed in what is locally called a deep jack-fruit color somewhat like old gold.. Although the length, size and color are the same as the ordinary robe, it is not so heavy but is light, strong and much more beautiful. You can smell the fragrance of lotus from a freshly woven lotus robe. This lotus robe can give coolness in the hot season and warmth in the cold season.

Underwear: A Sensitive Issue in Myanmar

Underwear can be a sensitive topic in Myanmar. Never raise your underwear above your head. This is considered very rude. Washing is often by hand. If you have some laundry done at a guesthouse, some people make take offense to washing your under garments. If you wash them yourself do so in a bucket, don’t do it in the sink. When drying underwear, do it in a discreet place and don’t hang it so it is head level or above as it is regarded as dirty and uncouth for part of the lower body to be higher than the head.

There is a superstition in Myanmar that contact with women’s garments, especially underwear, can sap men of their strength. It is widely believed in Myanmar that if a man comes in contact with a woman's panties or sarong they can rob him of his power. In 2007 one Thai-based group launched a global 'panties for peace' campaign, in which supporters were encouraged to send women's underwear to Burmese embassies, in the hope that contact with such garments would weaken the regime's hpoun, or spiritual power. The generals may indeed subscribe to this belief. It is widely rumoured that, before a foreign envoy visits Burma, an article of female underwear or a piece of a pregnant woman's sarong is hidden in the ceiling of the visitor's hotel suite, to weaken their hpoun and thus their negotiating position. [Source: Andrew Selth, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, The Interpeter, October 22, 2009]

The Daily Mail reported: “Burma's iron-fisted - yet superstitious - military junta believe touching lady's underwear will "rob them of power", organisers say. And Lanna Action for Burma hope their "Panties for Peace" campaign will help oust the oppressive rulers who ruthlessly crushed recent democracy protests. The group's website explains: The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power. So this is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from them. Activist Liz Hilton added: "It's an extremely strong message in Burmese and in all Southeast Asian culture. [Source: Daily Mail]

Fashion in Myanmar

At a fashion show at a bar in Mandalay, men in the audience pass flowers to the women they want. Some regard these events as thinly veiled prostitute markets.

Describing a fashion show in Yangon, the Los Angeles Times reported: “It's a sweltering afternoon, but crowds at the Yankin shopping center hardly notice, transfixed by the models parading along a makeshift runway in white boots, hot pants and short skirts. Myanmar's repressive regime may have a tight grip on power, but it's losing the fashion war. "Hemlines are changing a lot faster than the political system," said one Yangon fashionista, adding, "That was definitely off the record." [Source: Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2011 /\]

“For decades, Myanmar has tried to keep its people isolated from the outside world and its dangerous ideas about freedom. "Decadent alien culture such as scanty dresses is unacceptable," the New Light of Myanmar newspaper, a regime mouthpiece, lectured recently. "Appropriate measures need to be taken by one and all to protect our own culture." In Myanmar, desire for power is at the heart of the ruling generals' decades-long fight against revealing female clothing, said Monique Skidmore, an anthropology professor at Australia's University of Canberra. "Its focus on 'traditional values' reflects a quest for legitimacy and an ongoing attempt to persuade the Burmese population they are guardians of the past and therefore fit rulers of their future," she said. /\

“Some say Myanmar's ruling generals started losing the fashion battle in 2005. As the capital shifted to isolated Naypyidaw, the generals left their families in Yangon. With daddy away, daughters soon shortened their skirts, or so the theory goes. Others cite pro-business policies after 2000 that saw the Internet, satellite TV and South Korean dramas spread like wildfire. "For old ladies, especially, the changes have been rather shocking," said Terry Tan, a Yangon-based jewelry designer. /\

“Burmese advertising and media executives say they're constantly skirting the regime's red line. Readers love photos of pop singers with cleavage and short skirts, but these risk the censors' wrath. Some acknowledge using Photoshop to "lengthen" celebrity clothing. "When you take risks, readers love it," said one editor, who, like others for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity. "But you have to balance this against some general who sees the magazine and complains." Getting it wrong risks punishment. Popular Journal magazine was shuttered for a week last summer after running several covers adorned with racy models. /\

“Singaporean Brian Jeremiah said that when he moved here in 1995 to set up a modeling agency, most people didn't even know what "model" meant. "All they knew were car models," he said. There were no shopping malls, fashion magazines, strapless tops or media coverage of fashion shows, he recalled, with photos showing armpits particularly taboo. Today, Yangon has more than 20 malls, a host of nightclubs, thousands of wannabe models and few underarm qualms. Hemlines that once crept above the knee have retreated farther, into micro-minis. /\

“Su Thin Zar Aung, 17, recently picked through racks of skimpy clothing at the Dagon shopping center. "I have disagreements with my mother and father if it's too short," she said. "Mostly I win, especially when I'm going out to a party." Not unexpectedly, the rapid change has created generation gaps. "From a Buddhist standpoint, these fashions are really not good," said U Hla Myint, 65, a government employee. "But you have to be flexible since we're practicing the market economy." /\

“Beliefs have also changed with style. "Traditionally there was a big value on virginity," said one magazine editor. "But increasingly not. Parents can't control their kids so strictly anymore." Although teenagers have been at the vanguard, a thirtysomething nouveau riche set is following close behind, flaunting its wealth with sexy, ostentatious creations, over-the-top colors and lots of bling. "Sometimes I have to warn clients, 'If you put on that much jewelry, you won't be able to walk,' " said Ma Myinzu, a wedding dress designer. /\

“Decades of isolation have left their mark. Myanmar largely skipped black-and-white TV and went straight to color satellite. It all but missed Madonna for Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Images of beauty still revolve around 1950s Marilyn Monroe-style body shapes and styles, fashion mavens say. "J-Lo was very popular because she's got a posterior like Marilyn's," Jeremiah said. "Myanmar's just happy to be on its own, not letting anyone tell them what and why to do it" -- a welcome change, he added, from the predictable Milan-New York-Paris fashion echo chamber. The regime's grip, at least over fashion, may be illusory. "The government pretends it controls things, but Western styles are really increasing," said Hen Tha Myint, a member of Suu Kyi's banned National League for Democracy party. "If the junta hates Western values so much, why don't their soldiers wear slippers and longyis? It's hypocritical. They know you can't fight in a longyi."

Western Culture in Myanmar

In the 1990s, Myanmar’s military government forbid dancing in public, broadcast military music instead of rock videos on TV, and called karaoke bars a "deteriorating cultural situation." Burmese in Rangoon told National Geographic they were envious of the people who live in Mu Se, near the Chinese border, where there is a disco. [Source: Joel Swerdlow, National Geographic, July 1995]

Names inspired by Burma places in Myanmar include Burma Shave, Mission to Burma rock group, Mandalay Casino in Las Vegas.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Page Top

© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.