Fashion in focus

Fashion in focus

There is a saying in Myanmar that “the glory of a man is his strong arms; the glory of women is her black healthy hair in a big tight knot”.

Today, however, many Myanmar women no longer have long enough hair to make even a small knot. Others may have long hair, but dye it a different colour, following trends borrowed from other countries.

Clothing, however, remains the biggest change in Myanmar fashion of late. I have heard that in the past, Myanmar women were shy about showing their ankles. They wore long skirts or longyis to hide themselves. Nowadays, some Myanmar women wear very short hemlines, showing a lot of skin, usually in an attempt to imitate Korean actresses or styles from Western countries.

However, many women still have reservations about wearing clothes that are too revealing.

Ma Chu Chu, an 18-year-old university student, said she does wear Western trousers instead of longyis. But she won’t wear shorts, she said, because she doesn’t want her legs to be exposed.

“We need to wear clothes that keep us safe,” she said. “Wearing a short dress looks beautiful but it’s inviting danger, I think. From my point of view, Myanmar women shouldn’t wear shorts and tops that show a lot of skin.”

Some parents also do not approve of their children pushing the fashion envelope.

Daw Thae Thae, 35, a mother, said she thinks it is beautiful to wear Myanmar-style clothing. Doing so, she said, preserves a young woman’s “prestige.”

“There is a range of smart dressing that makes one’s appearance look beautiful,” said Daw Thae Thae. “These clothes are not too short and they don’t have too deep a neckline. If someone wears such [revealing] kinds of clothes, her parents may suffer a loss of prestige. So I think parents shouldn’t allow their daughters to wear such styles.”

“It’s not suitable to wear clothes showing a lot of skin because I’m now attending some training and have to take buses,” said Ma Ei Thiri Thu, a 22-year-old. “Sometimes, I wear shorts or short dresses, but I dare not to wear them too short. I put on that kind of clothes just when I go shopping with my friends.”

Ma Ei Thiri Thu said she likes to change her style often, switching between the old and the new on any given day. “I like Myanmar traditional costumes, and we who attend state-run schools have to put on traditional costumes,” she said.

The majority of Myanmar women seek to emulate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s look. Whether at home or at ceremonies around the world, she wears Myanmar traditional clothing and looks elegant and graceful while doing so. She is undoubtedly Myanmar’s democracy icon as well as its fashion icon. Yet even Daw Suu sometimes opts for a change, however: photos of her wearing blue jeans on a recent visit to Mongolia provoked outrage on some websites in Myanmar.

While Daw Suu’s outfit in Mongolia certainly wasn’t indiscreet, some feel that when older women mimic foreign trends, the results are unappealing.

“It is not good to see elder women wearing mini-skirts like young ladies,” said Daw Win Kyi, a Yangon City Development Committee employee. “Elders must be a guide to youths.”

Daw Win Kyi says many of her co-workers are opting for foreign styles, something she regrets.

“Now, most Myanmar housewives are watching Korean movies that air on Myanmar TV channels. They think Korean fashion is dominant, but they must know that Myanmar also has its own lovely fashion. I don’t want our fashion to disappear from our culture,” she said.

Thirty-year-old Ma Nyein Nyein said that Myanmar girls can wear short skirts without compromising their morals.

“Sometimes, your fashion relates to your own feelings. For example, you think about what you want to dress like each day. If you can wear what you want, you have confidence the whole day.”

That doesn’t mean, she said, that anything goes.

“It depends on where you go. If you go to a place where it’s okay to wear short skirts, you can. But you shouldn’t wear something rude. Although you can wear short skirts, you must have style,” Ma Nyein Nyein said.

If you want to wear fashionable styles, it should be compatible with you, said Ma Thinzar, a 30-year-old housewife.

“It is not wrong for a young person born in modern times to wear modern styles,” Ma Thinzar said, “But you must consider whether your choice is compatible or not. For example, do you use public transportation or your own car? … You should choose the dress that is compatible with your activities. If you wear modern style clothing, you must also choose a hairstyle that is compatible so that you look beautiful from head to toe.”

Compared with other Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, the proportion of women wearing traditional dress is very high. But is this bound to change in future? If so, it is a sign that Myanmar women don’t see the beauty of our own traditional costume. There are a variety of things we should imitate from other countries, but imitating fashion styles is wrong.

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