In Myanmar, old gets new again

“Put thanakhar on both cheeks and wear your hair in a bun,” Myanmarese singer Thar Thar advised in a recent hit tune. “You look beautiful in your traditional Myanmar blouse.” It’s not just the song that was a hit – the traditional blouse he mentions is enjoying resurgence in popularity among young ladies, along with other traditional items of clothing.

The clothes typically worn only by middle-aged and elderly women at weddings and on other special occasions have made a comeback in the past two years. Teenagers have taken to traditional styles in a bid to imitate their cultural idols – and Aung San Suu Kyi – though they often create fresh looks by mixing in Western apparel.

“Fashion will always change,” says modelling pioneer Tin Moe Lwin, founder of the Talents & Model Agency. “I’ve always followed the trends, but it’s still best to choose your clothing according to the situation and the place.”

Tin sees young people’s invigorated interest in classical clothes as “a good change”. “They look graceful and pretty when they wear traditional outfits.”

Suu Kyi has had a level of influence on young women’s clothing choices comparable to that of South Korean pop culture. Myanmar’s traditional apparel has become part of their everyday outfits.

“No matter what people say about Western and Korean fashion, Myanmar fashion will never get old for Myanmar women,” says clothing designer Ma Pont, whose name translates as “My Favourite”.

“They look graceful wearing these costumes on special occasions. Many celebrities wear them for ceremonial occasions and, as a result, they’ve become popular among their fans.

“When our beauty queens wear traditional costumes while competing overseas, the whole world is astonished,” Ma Pont says.

Well, says Nan Khin Zay Yar, one of those beauty queens, the traditional apparel “is ‘my favourite’!”

“I always feel more confident wearing it. I feel more graceful. People overseas treat me with respect. When we had foreign beauty queens visiting Myanmar for the SEA Games, they loved wearing the traditional costumes – they felt more comfortable in them too. It’s a style we can be proud of anywhere in the world.”

CL and Dara of the South Korean girl group 2NE1 wore the traditional clothing on a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon while they were in the city to perform. Foreign tourists often buy the clothes at the Bogyoke Market. Local designers invariably draw attention at fashion shows abroad with their outfits of Myanmar silk and cotton.

Designer Ma Myintzu points out, though, that it will be difficult to export these items due to a lack of quality control.

“I do expect local cotton and silks to be marketed overseas, but we still don’t have high-standard quality control. Even if we have the knowledge, we need someone to lead us. If there is someone to take responsibility for that, we designers will be responsible for the designs. Then we’ll able to enter the world market.”


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