What Is the Traditional Clothing Worn in Sri Lanka?

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Sri Lanka doesn’t have an official national costume. However, the sarong and sari are popular items of attire that appear across ethnic groups and regions, linking together the diverse people. The country’s clothing also bears distinct Portuguese influences, seen most predominantly in the Portuguese-derived words for certain clothing items. With independence came a strong interest in traditional indigenous attire, with individual communities developing their own distinct styles.

Different ethnic groups in Sri Lanka drape and decorate the sarong and sari in distinctive ways. Traditionally, Sinhalese men wear sarongs knotted in the front, while Kandyan men prefer to wind a tuppotiya around the waist. Sri Lankan Tamil men typically wear sarongs as an undivided white fabric, and Jaffna Tamil men often dye the fabric pink and wear them as skirts.

These variations occur among women as well, reflecting social status, class, religion and even age. Sinhalese women typically wear the redde and hatte, introduced by the Portuguese.

While the Dutch didn’t have a direct influence on the styles and fashions of Sri Lanka, their colonial presence vastly increased textile production and imports, increasing the variety of styles available. During British rule, the British introduced traditional three-piece suits and layered petticoats for men and women that were ill-suited to the Sri Lankan environment and were very unpopular.