Next stop: Myanmar. This is my first time traveling in Southeast Asia and, having never been to Scotland, my first real introduction to men in skirts.
I knew a guy in college, who was wealthy and well traveled, and wore a sarong of sorts when entertaining at his father’s house in the Hamptons. The irony was not lost on me. One of my mom’s friends, who’s New Age to the point of no age, has been known to wear a wrap or two. But while I applaud the American man who attempts to span cultural divides from the waist down, it always seems like somewhat of an epic fashion fail. A desperation to seem worldly. Or maybe it just feels good to air out that junk.
In Myanmar, the longyi is a floor length wrap worn by both men and women, men folding it twice and tying it with a knot, women folding it once and tucking the excess into the waistline. Upon arriving in Yangon, I was struck by the elegance of the longyi, especially on men. Myanmar, unlike Thailand I am told, has yet to cross over to the trouser in a major way. You will see young people wearing jeans here and there, but in this country, longyi is king. And rightfully so. It lends a regal vibe to all who wear it, whether paired with a button down, or t-shirt and jacket. The patterns and colors are rich and refined, and most footwear is equally lovely: velvet sandals in deep reds, purples, and emerald greens.
Akin to the Italian male kissing their brethren so affectionately on the cheek, there is something about men embracing traditions deemed feminine by North American standards that makes their machismo shine all the brighter.
But let’s get to the real beauty of Myanmar: beyond temples and pagodas, meandering monks and curries aplenty: the women. The most distinguishing element of the women of Myanmar is their daily use of thanaka, a natural sunscreen made from the sap of the Chinese Box tree. Serving both form and function, the look of the cream-hued pigment on the apples of cheeks is stunning. And all the more beautiful when drawn in leaf patterns as seen here.
It’s blush in reverse, and it’s a next level aesthetic adorning the women and children in this magical world of patterns, textures and colors strewn together from piles of second hand pieces sold at local markets and beyond…
Photos: Courtesy of Zoe Lister-Jones