Burmese Longyi, along with the country’s longtime history, art, and heritage sites has contributed to the richness of the local culture that will grasp your attention whenever you find yourself in strolling around the streets of Myanmar. With just a piece of fabric grasping on the lower part of the body through time, the longyi has made it become an incredible pattern of Myanmar traditional costume for both men and women. In this article, we are going to find out the secret of Myanmar quintessence through Longyi, about why it has been worn for centuries by the Burmese people.

History of Burmese Longyi

The modern longyi, a single piece of cylindrical cloth, is a relatively recent introduction to Burma, having gained popularity during British colonial rule, effectively replacing the paso and htamein of precolonial times. The word longyi formerly referred to the sarong worn by Malay men.

In precolonial times, men's pasos used to be a long piece of 30 feet (9.1 m) called taungshay paso and unsewn. Alternately the htamein was a 4.5 feet (1.4 m) long piece of cloth open at the front to reveal the calves, with a dark strip of cotton or velvet sewn on the upper edge, a patterned sheet of cloth in the middle and a strip of red or white cloth sewn below, trailing on the bottom like a short train. Paso was commonly worn by men in 19th century Burma and Thailand. The amount of cloth in the putso was a sign of social status.

A western visitor to Rangoon in the 19th century wrote:

"Nearly all the men are naked to the waist, or wear a small white open linen jacket, with a voluminous putso [paso] wound tightly round their loins and gathered into a great bundle or knot in front."

Visiting Amarapura, Henry Yule described the pasos and their equivalent for women, the htameins, as "the most important article of local production", employing a large proportion of the local population. The silk was imported from China. He wrote:

"The putso piece is usually from nine to ten yards long. When made up for use the length of web is cut in halves, which are stitched together so as to give double width. It is girt round the waist without any fastening. 

However, with the onset of colonial rule, Lower Burma and urban areas more readily adopted the longyi worn in the Malay and Indian style, which was considered more convenient to wear.

Design and style

In Burma, longyis worn by males are called paso, while those worn by females are called htamein (or htamain). Strictly speaking, they are not unisex attire, as the way they are worn as well as the patterns and makeup are different between the sexes.

Men wear the modern paso by making a fold on either side in front and tied by tucking them together at the waist just below the navel. Women, on the other hand, always have a three-cubit one finger span length but again unsewn in the old days like men’s. They are worn wrapped around with a single broad fold in front and the end tucked in on one side or folding back at the hip and tucking into the opposite side of the waist, usually topped with a fitted blouse worn just to the waistband.

Hemlines rise and fall as the fashion of the day dictates although they are unlikely to go up above the knee. Longyis are generally sold unsewn but nowadays they are available ready to wear; htameins may even be sewn like Western skirts. Untying and re-tying a longyi is often seen in public with both sexes, women much more discreetly than men.

Patterns and fabrics

Men's pasos are generally stripes or checks apart from plain colours and may be worn upside down or inside out with no difference. Women's htameins have a black calico band called a htet sint (lit. topband) for the waist; they wear more multicoloured and floral patterns, too.

Cotton is the basic material but all sorts of fabrics, both imported and home-grown, may be made into longyis. Tootal, georgette, satin and crepe have been made into htameins. Indonesian batik, although very expensive, has been very popular for decades; outfits of batik of the same design top and bottom were very popular in the 1980s.

For ceremonial and special occasions wearers use their best silks; the most elaborate ones are known as a cheik (lit. hook), a beautiful and intricate wave or houndstooth pattern in several colour combinations from the weavers of Amarapura. They are worn especially at weddings, almost invariably by the bride and groom in matching colours. The poor may keep aside some traditional silks for special occasions.

In ancient times silks were generally worn by royalty and courtiers, the royal pasos and htameins richly embroidered with gold, silver, pearls and precious stones. Modern reproductions of these may be seen on the stage at zat pwès (theatrical performances).

Ethnic and regional weaves and patterns are plenty and popular. There are Rakhine longyi, Mon longyi, Kachin longyi, Inle longyi, Zin Mè (Chiang Mai) longyi, Yaw longyi, Seikkhun longyi, Dawei longyi and more. 

Silk pasos, but not a cheik, that men wear for special occasions are called bangauk (Bangkok) paso. Kala (Indian) paso are often longer and are worn by taller people; Kaka zin refers to a broad check pattern of black, brown and white worn by Indian teashop owners. Mercerised longyis from India are popular as the fabric is more durable.

Versatility and convenience

The longyi suits the climate as it allows some air to circulate and keeps cool in the hot sun. Silks are unique in keeping warm in the winter as well as cool in the summer.

The longyi is versatile. Men often tuck the lower portions of their pasos at the top by bunching it in the front then passing it up between the legs round the back to the waist, known as paso hkadaung kyaik and, rather like the dhoti, usually for climbing and sporting activities instead of changing into shorts or trousers. Soldiers in ancient times wore their pasos in this manner either on their own or on top of a pair of trousers.

In rural areas men are often seen with a folded paso on one shoulder either for use when bathing (yei lè — lit. water change — longyi) or for use as a cushion for a carrying pole on the shoulder or a heavy load on the back. Women, when they bathe, simply wear their htamein higher by tucking it just under the arms to cover their breasts before removing the blouse; they may be seen using the htamein as a buoy in the river by trapping some air in and secured underneath by the hands. They use a man's paso or another piece of long fabric, rolled and coiled as a cushion on top of their heads to carry water pots, firewood, baskets and trays; it is the street hawker's customary way of carrying her wares.

Changing is done simply by stepping into the new longyi and pulling it up, at the same time loosening and dropping the old one, or the new one can be pulled over from the head down. However, even when in private, women change without removing all their clothes. Instead, they will wear one htaimin while changing into a new one.

A woman may be seen pulling her htamein up bit by bit as she wades deeper and deeper into a river without getting it wet. It is merely a matter of lifting it up in the bathroom or in bed for that matter. Washing and ironing cannot be simpler as they are cylindrical pieces of cloth, easily hung, pressed, folded, and stacked with a bare minimum use of wardrobe space.

Longyi makes its way into Myanmar life and culture

How men and women wear Longyi in Myanmar

That being said, Burmese longyi is not a unisex costume. Each gender has its own signature fabric pattern. Also, how to wear Longyi differs between men and women.

Men

Burmese men wear Longyi with plain, checked or striped patterns. The dress can be worn upside down and inside out alike. Normally, people will tie a knot to hold Longyi in place. The knot is often more or less the size of a tennis ball. However, sometimes Longyi is worn without a knot too. In other times, Myanmar male fold their Longyi up to wear it like a short.

You can easily find how to wear Myanmar traditional dress in this video:

Women

Women’s Longyi (Htamein) often has more vivid and diverse patterns. The floral pattern is also popular too. Unlike Paso (male’s longyi), dress for women has a black band around the waist. Thus, it can only be worn one way. To fixate Longyi, Burmese women often pull all of the fabric to one side of their waist. Then they fold it at the hip and tuck it into the other side.

When to use Longyi

You will be surprised to see how versatile Longyi Myanmar can be. No wonder why Myanmar people can wear this dress every day with little convenience.

For men, this Burma traditional dress can be used for agile activities, even sports games. In this case, you can pull the front part of the dress backward between the dress, then tuck it up in your back waist. This is how Burmese men used to wear when they did farming or other labor activities. In ancient times, soldiers also wore this way.

As they are cylindrical, it can be washed and ironed easily. Moreover, it is pressable, foldable, and easy to hang. Therefore, Longyi does not take a lot of space in your wardrobe.

Changing Longyi is also easy and convenient. One can effortlessly put on a new Longyi without having to remove the old one in advance. Thus, you need no closed space to change. This is how Burmese women usually change their clothes.

Moreover, Longyi makes it simple to wade in the water. Without much worries of getting wet, people can walk in water just by pulling their Longyi a little bit.

In rural regions, men and women wear Longyis when bathing in public for the sake of modesty. On this occasion, you can wear it in the way that you wear your bath towel: wrap it around your torso and tuck it under your armpit.

How Longyi means to Myanmar people

To many elderly Myanmar people, Longyi makes them feel “comfortable, simple, gentle and attractive”. This is the reason why people love to wear every day.

It is the uniform for all students from elementary schools to universities. While some kids prefer to wear modern western clothing, a lot of them still happily wear Longyi to school every day. They have stated that “It is because Longyi is part of Myanmar’s unique culture”.

Should a foreigner wear Myanmar traditional dress?

If you are worrying about whether to wear Myanmar traditional dress on your Myanmar itinerary, you can chill now. To Burmese people, they like it when they see foreign visitors wearing their traditional costumes. It’s an act of respect for the indigenous culture. Therefore, Longyi can be our ice-breaker to Burmese people’s hearts. It would help travelers blend in and understand Myanmar’s local culture more.

In the same way, if you are given a strange look by Myanmar people while wearing Longyi, do not be nervous. They just find it unusual and impressive.

Where to buy Burmese Longyi?

There are various Longyi brands of all sizes and colors that you can find to buy in the shops. However, the best brand should be Min Gyi Kyite, which are mostly silk ones. Silk longyis are smooth and long-wearing but you can't wash them. If you're looking for washable longyi, then you should ask for U Gyan or search its online shop on Facebook, of which longyi is made of cotton. The longyi price is around $15.

If you are travelling to this beautiful country and want to try on these unique Myanmar traditional dress, we would like to suggest you 2 best places to buy Longyi in Myanmar:

1. Bogyoke Aung San Market

Bogyoke Aung San Market is one of the best places to buy longyi in Yangon, give yourself a treat to this market where you can indulge yourself in a bazaar of stalls and shop selling everything from snacks and tableware to accessories and clothing. Friendly women will size you up for a traditional longyi skirt and blouse, made-to-measure upstairs in minutes.

  • Location: Bogyoke Aung San Rd, Yangon, Myanmar
  • Pricing: $15 – 30 
  • Opening hour: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m – 5 p.m

2. Thein Nyo Silk

In Mandalay, weaving industry in Amarapura has been popular in the country as well as the people in this town have long considered silk-weaving as the main profession of Amarapura people. Tourists should pay a visit to one of the silk-making workshops, especially the workshop called Thein Nyo Silk. It is the other best place to buy longyi that allows the most access to silk weaving process and offers silk at a reasonable price. 

  • Location: Oh Taw Qtr, Amarapura, Mandalay, Mandalay, Myanmar
  • Pricing: $15 – 100 
    • Chin State cotton with silk detail - $15.00
    • Chin state with needlepoint, cotton - $16.50
    • Mandalay cotton with embroidery - $18.00
    • Kachin silk cotton blend- $30
  • Opening hour: daily, 9 a.m – 9 p.m

If you cannot make it to Myanmar, there are some online shops where you can buy your Burmese longyi such as etsy.com

Longyi meets the modern world

Although indeed, Longyi can still be seen everywhere in Myanmar, in recent years, young people have been using it less. Modern fashion with various shapes and sizes give them more choice than a cylindrical dress. It’s the same problem of tradition and modernity. Whether Myanmar traditional dress can keep its position or will it be replaced by modern clothes like in other Asian countries? Only time can answer.

Similar traditional dresses in Asia

In the other regions of Asia, Longyi is called Lungi, longi, kaili or saaram.

India

In India, the customs behind wearing lungis vary by state. It could be worn with or without the traditional unsewn kaupinam or later-era sewn langot, both of which are type of traditional loincloth undergarments.
In Kerala, the lungi is generally colourful and available in various designs, and it is worn by both men and women. It is also called Kaili.

Physical laborers typically use it as a working dress. A Kerala dhoti is plain white and known as mundu, and it often bears golden embroidery (known as "kasavu" mundu), especially at the border; it is worn as formal attire and on ceremonial occasions like weddings, festivals, etc.

Saffron-coloured mundus are known as kaavi munde. The men sometimes tuck up their mundus (Kerala dhoti) or lungis with the bottom of the garment being pulled up and tied back on to the waist. This would mean that the mundu (Kerala dhoti) or lungi only covers the body from the waist to the knees.

In Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, only men wear this garment. It is also known as "Kaili" or "Saaram/Chaaram" in South Tamil Nadu.

In Tamil Nadu Dhoti is considered as a traditional informal or casual wear and also preferred as a comfortable night wear. Lungis with checked pattern are more popular. A white-colored open cloth called vesti (dhoti) and is used in formal occasions.

It is common in Konkan side of Karnataka state. Mostly used by Nawayath people who hails from Bhatkal Almost all of them wears it as their daily attire. It is as a mark of their tradition in Bhatkal. Mostly you will find them sewn like cylindrical shape.

In Punjab (both Pakistani and Indian portions), lungis are worn by both men and women. The male lungi is also called a tehmat, while the female lungi is called a laacha. They are part of traditional dance attire in Bhangra dance groups, but are also popular in rural areas as home wear. They are generally tied in a different way than in other parts of India and are, as a rule, unstitched and very colourful. Wearing the lungi has declined in the Punjab region in recent years. 

In Odisha, and West Bengal the lungi is primarily worn at home by males of all classes of society. Hindu men generally avoid wearing lungis on the street. In Odisha, Sambalpuri with the Sambalpuri pattern and mule based lungis from Khordha are available in addition to normal cotton fabric lungis.

In Bihar and Haryana the lungi is considered a night garment for men.

In Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh the lungi is worn often by Tribals. They have shifted to this from their previous dress of a small cloth around their waist.

Sultanate of Oman

In the Sultanate of Oman the garment is referred to as a "wizar" it is worn in all regions by men and is recognized as an undergarment to the traditional Omani "dishdasha". It is wrapped around the waist quite differently to the Indian style as it is folded left then right to make a straight seam in the middle. The wizar is usually white (north of country)with a colourful border of different colors. The wizar can be worn as an in house garment as most Omani's simply remove their dishdasha when at home and relax in their "wizars" and vests. In the South of Oman in the region of Dhofar it's common to see a colorful varieant of the wizar and is worn more openly outdoors than it is in the north.

Bangladesh

The lungi is the most commonly seen dress of Bangladeshi men, although it is not normally worn for formal occasions. In Bangladesh, lungis are worn by men, almost universally indoors, but commonly outdoors as well. Elaborately designed tartan cotton, batik, or silk lungis are often presented as wedding gifts to the groom in a Bangladeshi wedding. The typical Bangladeshi lungi is a seamless tubular shape, as opposed to the single sheet worn in other parts of South and Southeast Asia. In Bangladesh, the lungi industry is concentrated in Sirajganj, Kushtia, Pabna and Khulna. Bangladeshi women do not traditionally wear lungis, although non-Bengali tribal women do wear similar garments in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

In April 2013, the Baridhara Housing Society—a housing society in Dhaka—banned lungi, and began refusing entry to those who wore them. Many opposed the ban, however, taking to social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to criticize the decision. A march took place on 13 April to oppose the ban. U.S Ambassador Dan Mozena has been seen wearing a lungi in front of his house.

Thailand

In Thailand, it is known as a "pa kao mah" for men and a "pa toong" for women.

Laos

In Laos, it is known as Sinh and worn by women only

Maldives

In The Maldives, it is known as "Mundu", worn by elderly men exclusively.

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My name is Jolie, I am a Vietnamese girl growing up in the countryside of Hai Duong, northern Vietnam. Since a little girl, I was always dreaming of exploring the far-away lands, the unseen beauty spots of the world. My dream has been growing bigger and bigger day after day, and I do not miss a chance to make it real. After graduating from the univesity of language in Hanoi, I started the exploration with a travel agency and learning more about travel, especially responsible travel. I love experiencing the different cultures of the different lands and sharing my dream with the whole world. Hope that you love it too!

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