At the time of her ancestors, when Mandalay served as the royal capital, trade was further opened up to the West and East, and shwe chi hto technique become more advanced, sometimes incorporating materials imported from the West.
But the exile of King Thibaw and the royal family created a shortage, and consequently increased demand in the subsequent decades.
So long as young boys and girls follow Buddhist custom and become novices, U Sein Myint said, they will wear shwe chi hto and the art will be preserved.
But U Sein Myint started his shwe chi hto business in 1985 and has been around long enough to know that mass product in recent years has led to lower standards of quality. He says there are only about five businesses left which do shwe chi hto properly.
He should know: One of his wall hangings has been presented to the UN by the Myanmar government and now hangs in the UN building in New York.
Whether enough dedicated artists will remain to continue to export Myanmar’s fine traditions in future is uncertain.
Sometimes it is held in place by folding fabric over without a knot. In other times, it is folded up to the knee for comfort.
Similar clothing are found in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and some parts of the Malay Archipelago, but never is it as widely used as in Myanmar.
Men’s longyi, which is called paso, is generally designed with stripes or checkered, aside from plain colours. The paso may be worn upside down or inside out with no difference. On the other hand Women’s longyi, which is called “htamein” has a black calico band called a htet sintfor the waist and usually have multicoloured and floral patterns.
Longyi has also become a must dress code for all students. From elementary schools to universities, students are required to wear longyi as uniforms. Foreign visitors have expressed fascination about the longyi, which is a part of the country’s living cultural heritage.
The longyi-wearing Myanmar people surely make a strong impression of being nationalistic and simple in their ways. But rapid changes that is happening in the country during the last eight years, the liberalization of the economy that led to uncontrolled entry of foreign goods could eventually swept away the country’s iconic traditional clothes.
But only time will tell whether the longyi and the Myanmar people who have been wearing it for hundreds and hundreds of years could withstand the challenge of the onslaught of globalization that turned the world into a village, wearing the same brands of clothes, eating the same kinds of food and using the same gadgets – robbing it of diversity.