Throughout history there has always been significant difference between the costume of nobles and that of ordinary people. In many countries there were special laws that dictated what could or could not be worn by who. For those who appeared at court requiries were even more specific and more strict. My today's post is about interesting examples of court dress in the 19th century Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Burmese princess or dancing girl, by Felice Beato, c.1890. in elaborate ceremonial costume The British Library
Draped and wrapped garments have been the most common form of clothing for both men and women in all these three countries. So, no surprise that such type of dressing found its way into court costume too. Let's start with Burma...or Myanmar as it was known in the 19th century. Burmese court dress was designed to link earthly people to the divine through impressive, stylized dress. It has a very architectural structure - upward peaks, cloud collars, winged elements - that made robes and headdresses look like temples, homes of gods, and this way tied the courtiers to the heavens.
Minister in Court Dress and Servant, by J. Jackson source
Minister dress, 3rd quarter 19th century. Imported velvet, silk and yet-pya (locally made braid), hand-woven cotton, embroidered or with a supplementary weft weave in floss silk The Victoria and Albert Museum
Men of Burmese court wore a pah-soe, a wraparound cloth covering the lower body, made of silk and decorated with patterns considered appropriate for men, such as checks, zigzags and interlocking shapes. On top of the pah-soe men wore a tight, long-sleeved jacket made of velvet, silk, brocade or satin and trimmed with gold braid and silk brocade Across the chest each wore a salwe, a courtly chain ornament, indicating his official rank. It was composed of chains linked by repousse clasps bearing motifs associated with royalty and the insignia of the ruling dynasty, such as lion or peacock. The number of chains was determined by the status of wearer, with the maximum of 24 worn only by the king and the minimum of three being worn by minor officials. They also wore richly decorated high velvet hats with a broad band embellished with flowers and leaves of gold foil.
Burmese official in military court costume, late 19th century Colgate University Libraries
Military costume ca. 1878-1885. Velvet and silk, gold brocade, applied gold, gold-thread embroidery and silver-gilt sequins. The Victoria and Albert Museum
Ladies of the court wore a hta-mein, a rectangular skirt-like garment that was wrapped high on the waist or over the breasts and folded in front with a slight overlap, revealing a glimpse of the wearer’s leg when in motion. A length of striped silk cloth was usually attached to the hem to form a train around the feet. On top women wore a breast cloth and a jacket.
Burmese lady's court dress, c.1880 The Victoria and Albert Museum
Rana lady source
Now, let me tell you about the court dress of Nepal during the Rana rule. As women's dress was more interesting here then that worn by men I will start with it. Rana women were real masters of draping. On old photos of those years women seem to be dressed in voluminous Victorian ball gowns. But in reality these were not dresses but saris. The ladies first wore voluminous starched cotton pantaloons in layers, one on top of the other, over which were draped embroidered saris in silk, chiffon or lace. It is amazing how they managed to create such an effect.
Rana lady, source
Rana lady source
Each Rana wife and daughter had unique individual tiaras and necklaces designed for them. Tiaras were laden with diamonds and necklaces had nine strands of pearls and gems. Star and moon pins were popular motifs with the Ranas because these were emblems of their ancestral royal houses.
Rana couple source
The Rana men wore elaborate military uniforms. A red outfit glittering with medals, braids and epaulets was designed in the style of the British army uniform. It was worn with a crown, sirpech, studded with large pearls, emeralds and rubies. The plumes used for the sirpech were brought from New Zealand.
Group of Kandyan chiefs, ca. 1890 Rubin Museum of Art
Another masters of draping lived at the Kandyan court of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. The type of dress worn by the Kandyan court men was called mul anduma. The making of the mul anduma was a difficult and also an expensive affair. First, frilled trousers of plain white were put on. Then, from sixty to a hundred and fifty yards (55 - 137 m) of silk or muslin were draped around the waist in such a manner that they looked like a peeled plantain flower, with layer upon layer and the characteristic bulbous swelling. A broad belt with a large buckle held the drapes together. All the layers were gathered above the belt to form the fat knot. The upper part of the dress was a velvet jacket with puffy sleeves decorated with intricate pattern. The look was completed with a velvet richly embroidered pincushion hat with numerous gold ornaments pinned to it. The whole costume looked rather peculiar and strange and quite magnificent at the same time.
Kandyan chief and his wife, 1880
Kandyan man and ladies, 1880 source
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Burmese Design and Architecture By John Falconer
Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion, Vol 4 South Asia and Southeast Asia
Eleven Years in Ceylon by Jonathan Forbes and George Turnour
Royal Nepal Through the Lens of Richard Gordon Matzene by Marcella Sirhandi
The Ranas of Nepal by Prabhakar SJB Rana and Pashupati SJB Rana
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