Burmese Fashion: An Expression of Culture

Burmese fashion is not only an expression of culture but alludes to Burmese history, status, and ethnicity. As the largest country in Southeast Asia, Burma boasts over 135 ethnic backgrounds, each with their own unique traditions and styles. The major ethnicities include Bamar (Burmese), Shan, Karen (Kayin), Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhine. A variety of clothing and accessories are represented throughout each region and is worn for such occasions as daily wear, weddings, celebrations, and holidays. Burmese fashion is intricately designed and beautifully colored, and it is often paired with ornate jewelry and accessories.

Across nearly every region, you will find the national dress of longyis (LONG ees), or wrap around sarong-like skirts. Longyis are worn by both men and women and are the preferred mode of dress in the hot weather. They are typically long, loose fitting, and made from cotton, silk, or a combination of the materials. Silk longyis are more often worn during formal occasions, whereas cotton longyis are worn for daily dress. Longyis are often paired with eingyis, or blouses, and may be tighter and more intricate when worn during traditional dances and performances. Shawls, turbans, headdresses, and jackets are also common items.

Much attire is hand woven, as weaving is a highly developed and traditional form of art in Burma. Designs may include birds, flowers, and other traditional “acheig” patterns that feature waves or zig-zags. These designs are a testament to the surrounding beauty of the country and nature itself. Burmese attire is rich in history and has been altered throughout the different periods, though it remains for the most part modest. Since the early 2000’s, however, the western-style of dress has become more common, leading to the popularity of non-traditional and global styles and designs. Yet, each region still has its own signature patterns, designs, and colors.

Bamar

Bamar women traditionally wear longyis, blouses that button in the center or on the side, and lace shawls. Hair is often worn up in the top-knot style, or a knotted bun at the top the head. Men also dress in longyis, which are paired with collar-less shirts and traditional jackets. Turbans with a tassel to the right are common. Some practices and styles have faded throughout the years, now usually seen only within the elder community.

Karen (Kayin)

Women dress in long tunics and ankle length longyis. Popular colors are blue, red, and black. The outfit is typically accompanied by a headband. Men wear headdresses that have right sided tassels. Trousers or longyis are popular and are paired with pullover or jacket-like tunics. A common design includes horizontal lines with a vertical stripe running down the center. Women’s clothing may be embroidered with beads, while men’s is typically plainer. Turbans may be also be worn by both genders.

Chin

Women wear the traditional long-length longyis, which are patterned with horizontal stripes, diamonds, or floral designs. Blouses are buttoned in the center and have checkered patterns along the edge. Heavy bronze and silver jewelry is popular as well as wires around the waist. A common practice for women was heavily tattooed faces; however, the practice is now rare and is only seen on elderly women. Men wear traditional eingyis and trousers as well as headdresses with vertical black stripes. Both men and women drape themselves with colorful woven silk blankets for special occasions.

Fortunately for us Buffalonians, we need not venture far to see Burmese fashion in action. Since 2003, refugees from Burma have made Buffalo their home. The West Side Bazaar on Grant St features three shops that specialize in traditional and modern Burmese dress, all run by women from Burma. For more information about the West Side Bazaar or to learn more about the women behind the shops, visit their website at www.westsidebazaar.com

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