Dressing Up Myanmar Style

One of the first things visitors to Myanmar will notice is how Burmese people dress differently from the rest of the world. It is great to see that many people are (still) dressing in a traditional and thus typical Myanmar way. Probably the two key features are the longyi (a kind of kilt/ long tube skirt) and thanaka (a beige paste made from a tree).  Furthermore, while not as exotic, everybody wears flip flops! 🙂

The longyi

A longyi is a 2m by 80cm tube sheet worn by men and women, wrapped around their waist, covering the legs.

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Typical male longyis with a knot in the center

Men tie their longyis in the middle front in a twisted knot, which gives them a lot space to move their legs. The colour and pattern of the longyis traditionally shows the region and/or ethnicity of the wearer. Women’s longyis are usually more colourful. They are a tube/shaped cloth, but they are tucked in at the sides to make a long elegant skirt. This means that women sit sideways on the back of motorcycles (think of horse riding with skirts in former times).

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One stylish family on a bike in longyis and thanaka

In richer urban areas women seem to invest in fitted longyis that have zippers or clasps on either side and are sewn together at the top part. Many women wear matching tops, which results in very smart outfits. Like the men’s the womens’ longyis traditional colours and patterns show their ethnic and regional origins. Of course tons of patterns are just fashion. The longyis are usually woven from cotton or silk. The cotton ones are very affordable, we even saw some for tourists for 3000 kyats, which is less than 2 Euros.

Women wearing beautiful longyis in front of Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon

For tourists many weaving and souvenir shops have a wrap around version with string ties. This comes in handy as you need to cover your legs when going to temples and pagodas. Although the disadvantage is that it can blow open in windy conditions, a problem which the original longyi elegantly avoids.

Tanja wearing a tourist longyi

Longyis can be used in many different ways. One cool feature is that men keep stuff like lighters or beetle nuts in the knot in front of them wich they use for tying up the longyi. Longyis can also be worn in various creative styles, which we have not really seen much, but our friend will painted on a hostel wall, see (cool) example below. 

Lastly it should be noted that longyis are simply a very practical piece of clothing. They certainly fit the warm climate of Myanmar since they are not tight and allow air to flow around the legs. It was also very interesting to see how women wash in a river. They simply wash themselves while wearing their longyi as a wrap around top. Then they pull over a new one while dropping the old, wet one. This allows to conveniently wash your body and clothes in public, something many people do who live next to rivers or lakes (and don’t have their own bath room).

Flip Flops

Myanmar’s national footwear (at least in the warm central region) is the flip flop. You see old ones lying in ditches and entire shoe shops just selling flip flops. Since it rains a lot, is pretty warm and people remove their shoes a lot when going into houses and temples it makes sense.dsc07045~2-02477951076..jpg


Thanaka is a white or sometimes yellow paste that is made from ground bark and used as make-up.

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Children wearing thanaka in their face
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Women wearing thanaka at the Jade Market in Mandalay

According to Wikipedia trees including the thanaka tree and wood apple tree can be used.

Wood sold on a market that can be used to make thanaka

Below you can find the instructions how to put it on as the tools and materials you need to make it. It is very easy to produce, all you have to do is grind the bark or wood against a stone plate with a bit of water.

Thanaka is a beautiful make-up and we saw many different styles that people, mainly women, were using. Apart from the beauty aspect it has a coolin effect and provides protection from the sun and mosquitos. We saw quite a few children whose faces were pretty much fully covered with Thanaka, probably to provide a thorough sun protection.

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