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hound-tooth chex

Longyi

[long-yee]
Longyi (Burmese, ; ) is a sheet of cloth. It is approximately 2 m (6½ ft.) long and 80 cm (2½ ft.) wide. The cloth is often sewn into a cylindrical shape. It is worn around the waist, running to the feet. It is held in place by folding fabric over, without a knot. It is also sometimes folded up to the knee for comfort. It is widely worn in Burma, with similar garments found in India, Bangladesh, Juiz de Fora, and Sri Lanka. In the Indian subcontinent, (Bangladesh, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Sri Lanka) it is known variously as a lungi, kaili or saaram.

Design and style

In Burma, longyi worn by males is called pa-so, while those worn by females are called hta-main. They are not strictly speaking unisex attire as the way they are worn as well as the patterns and makeup are different between the two sexes. Men's pasos in ancient times used to be a long piece of 20 cubits called taungshei paso and unsewn into a cylindrical piece as now. They wear the modern paso by making a fold on either side in front and tucking them together at the waist just below the navel. Women, on the other hand, always have a 3 cubit 1 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 the other at the waist. Hemlines do 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 also available ready to wear; htamains 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 with no difference. Women's htamain however has 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 all been made into htamains. Indonesian batik has been very popular for decades; outfits of batik of the same design top and bottom were all the rage in the 1980s.

For ceremonial and special occasions both sexes will wear their best silks; the most elaborate ones are known as a cheik (lit. hook), a beautiful and intricate wave or hound tooth pattern in several colour combinations from the weavers of Amarapura, and worn especially at weddings, almost invariably by the bride and groom in matching colours. Even 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 htamains 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, Kachin longyi, Inle longyi, Zinn Mè (Chiang Mai) longyi, Yaw longyi, Seik Hkun 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 persons; Kaka zin refers to a broad check pattern of black, brown and white worn by Indian teashop owners. Mercerised longyis from India are still popular as the fabric is more durable.

Versatility and convenience

The longyi certainly suits the climate in these parts 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 also versatile in wear. 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 htamain higher by tucking it just under the arms to cover their breasts before removing the blouse; they may be seen using the htamain as a buoy in the river by trapping some air in and secured underneath by the hands. They also use a htamain rolled and coiled as a cushion on top of their heads in order to carry water pots, firewood, baskets and trays; it is the street hawker's customary way of carrying her wares.

Changing is 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. A woman may be seen pulling her htamain up bit by bit as she wades deeper and deeper into a river without getting it wet and then wrap it round her head, and the process is reversed as she returns from the water! 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.

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