Classical Ladies' Fashion Design and The Society Changing (7): Myanmar Htamein
Burma is a multinational country with 153 nationalities. The 153 nationalities have their respect national costume showing their own cultural feature. However, eight major groups have the similarity in clothes, i.e. they all wear a sarong-like nether garment named "longyi". In Yangon, the Capital city, over 80% of people, including men and women, wear "longyi" in everyday life. Therefore, "longyi" is considered as the national costume of Burma.
Longyi is actually a sheet of cloth with about 2m long and 80cm wide, and sewn into cylindrical shape, wrapped around the waist running to the feet or sometimes shorter to the knee for comfort. Generally, men and women wear it in different ways. To differentiate them, the longyi for men is known as "pasoe", and for women, "htamein".
Usually, pasoe of men is worn by folding into a flowery ball on either side at the waist. In old days, women wore htamein in the similar way. They wrapped it around at the waist and made a single broad fold in front with the end tucked in on either side. Nowadays, the htamein is made ready to wear as the fashion rises and falls. There is a plain black strip of cotton about 5 inches wide sewn on the top end of the cylindrical skirt. The strip is called "Ahtet hsin". It helps to keep the skirt neat and level, and in the firm place to show the modesty and innocence, which is especially necessary in a country with the popularity of Buddhism. Unlike men's pasoe, which generally has patterns of stripes or checks, and may be worn upside down or inside out with no difference, the htamein is much more various in color, pattern and material. Ladies wear htameins with patterns of flowers, stars, checks, stripes, or splashes of multi-colors and shapes. The cloth fabrics can be cotton, silk, satin, crepe, Indonesian batik. Cotton is more common in ordinary life, while people will wear the more expensive silks for ceremonial and special occasions. In ancient time, royal and noble families wore silks richly ornamented with gold, silver, pearls and precious stones. The most elaborate ones are known as a cheik, which is a beautiful and intricate wave by weavers of a town, Amarapura, and worn generally at weddings.
The "htamein" is basically the lower part of Myanmar women wear, while the matching top wear is another matter. Traditionally, the top wear for ladies is a waist-length blouse known as "Aingyi", which was at one time long to the waist but worn to show the "Ahtet Hsin", i.e. the 5 inches wide strip, but was later lengthened to just cover the black strip. The blouse has heavy oriental cultural color, somewhat like the top part of Chinese Qi Pao. The squarish front flap is buttoned at the side. All those buttons are in traditional shapes and colors, and fastened by passing through loops on the opposite flap. Generally, there are five buttons altogether, one below at the front, three at the side and one at the neckline. The buttons are an important decoration, so ladies always select them with thoughts to match the htamein skirt. Rich women may use buttons of gold, diamonds, rubies, sapphires, pearls or other precious gems. Before World War II, the blouse always had sleeves long, loose and flared at the bottom, and with embroidery on the hems. But during World War II, the sleeves were shortened. It was said that it was because the cloth became scarce at then, or even not available at all. On the other hand, short sleeves fell into the fashion as years went by, so some fashion industries cut off the lower part of the sleeves, which were believed easy to wear and tear especially at the elbows. Nowadays, angyi comes into fashion with long, half- or quarter- length sleeves, or sleeveless. Ladies could wear a very thin silky shawl over the angyi to show an elegance. The blouse material is now basically the same with the htamein skirt, but it used to grow thinner and more transparent to show off the dainty lace and embroidery of the long-line bra under the garment. However, this fashion was found immodest, offensive and unpatriotic by the Buddhist clergy, and thus just popular in a short period before World War II.
Now, the aingyi blouse and the htamein skirt are made into grace and decorum with some modern changes. The whole costume together looks like Chinese Qi Pao with a long sweep showing off the beauty and elegance. This design in the whole on some level hides some flaws of girls in body shape, such as short and stocky. As far as the comfort is concerned, nothing can compare with the cylindrical shape garment made by simple sewing on a sheet of cloth at the waist, and this design is also suited to the tropical climate in Burma. However up-to-date it is now, the longyi still stays in the fashion and is very favored over jeans, trousers or other modern style skirts, which on one level indicates the cultural foundation and belief of a Buddhism country. It is true that Myanmar ladies tend to wear casual and comfortable western style blouses or T-shirts over the htamein as the concept of modern fashion increases. Sometimes, they wear fashionable top wears with lowered front and back, and even tank tops. However, parents and the elderly always frown upon it, and more importantly, most Myanmar girls still keep their innate decorum. So, traditional aingyi blouse over htamein skirt is still kept in reserve to be worn on every formal occasion.