Sri Lanka, known officially as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, is a captivating island nation nestled in South Asia. Located in the Indian Ocean, it lies southwest of the Bay of Bengal and southeast of the Arabian Sea. The Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait separate it from the Indian subcontinent. Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte serves as its legislative capital, while Colombo stands as its largest city and dynamic commercial hub.
Unveiling the Richness of Sri Lankan Traditional Dress
Traditional costumes provide a fascinating glimpse into a country’s history and way of life. Sri Lankan traditional attire, which includes sarees for women and sarongs for men, reflects the harmonious fusion of Asian and European influences. Evolving across different regions and time periods, Sri Lankan garments exemplify exquisite craftsmanship and artistic expression.
The Textile & Apparel Industry in Sri Lanka: A Historical Perspective
The Sri Lankan textile and clothing industry had humble beginnings in the early 1950s. Initially, manufacturers focused on producing popular garments catering primarily to local demand. However, by the end of the 1950s, the economic landscape shifted, leading to restrictions on imports and the adoption of import substitution policies. The private sector was given opportunities to venture into a wide range of consumer goods industries, including textiles and readymade garments. Although raw materials for the garment industry were imported, Sri Lanka’s readymade garments began making their mark in export markets in the late 1960s. As a result, the industry witnessed significant growth and emerged as a key player in Sri Lanka’s economy.
A Tale of Growth: Sri Lanka’s Clothing Industry
The clothing industry in Sri Lanka boomed after the late 1970s, fueled by two major factors. Firstly, market-oriented liberal economic policies introduced in 1977 identified the private sector as the catalyst for growth, with a strong emphasis on export-led industries. Secondly, the Multi Fibre Arrangement (MFA) played a crucial role in the industry’s expansion. Sri Lanka, benefiting from quota hopping investments, witnessed the relocation of garment production facilities from both Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) in East Asia and Europe. This influx of investment allowed the industry to flourish, with firms from Germany and the UK seeking lower production costs in Sri Lanka.
Unraveling the History of Sri Lankan Traditional Dress
Sri Lanka boasts a rich heritage of handmade woven looms and batik designs, which contribute significantly to the country’s traditional dress. Delving into Sri Lanka’s traditional dress necessitates exploring its indigenous inhabitants, the Veddas. These hunter-gatherers donned a simple garment known as span cloth, made from plain-woven calico. Functionality and suitability to the climate and environment defined their attire. Women wore a piece of calico tied around their waist, resembling a Malay sarong that extended to their ankles. Additional cloth was sometimes used to cover their upper bodies.
European influence, particularly from the Portuguese and the Dutch, left an indelible mark on Sri Lankan clothing. During the 16th to 18th centuries, Sinhalese nobility adopted the magnificent sleeves, lace trim, and frills introduced by these colonial powers. The attire also incorporated elements influenced by Indian fashion during the Mughal period, such as tying the sarong in a curvy trouser-like fashion.
Exploring Sri Lankan Traditional Costume
Saree – The Epitome of Sri Lankan Femininity
The saree, a quintessential women’s garment, reigns supreme in Sri Lanka. The traditional Kandyan saree (osaria) holds prominence and is worn by women for various occasions. Many women wear sarees daily, while others don this attire as part of their work uniform or when attending special events. Vibrant colors, intricate designs, and ornate embellishments define traditional sarees worn for official functions and ceremonies.
Sri Lankan women flaunt sarees in different styles, with the Kandyan style being particularly popular in the hill region, where it originated. A complete Kandyan saree ensemble consists of a full blouse and a 6-8 meter long saree that impeccably covers the midriff and is partly tucked at the front. Women adorn their shoulders with a scarf or cloth, skillfully draped and secured in the skirt.
Sarees can be dyed in solid colors, embroidered, or printed with patterns like batik. Modern variations often feature midriff-baring designs, with the saree’s final edge neatly pleated rather than flowing freely. Women complement their sarees with delicate jewelry and elegant updo hairstyles.
Lama Sariya: A Graceful Attire
The clothing choices of Sri Lankan women vary depending on age and marital status. Younger girls often wear Lama Sariya, a unique half-sari ensemble. It consists of a fitted jacket adorned with soft frills around the neck and a draping bottom half wrapped around the waist. The cloth reaches the ankles, featuring a wide frill at the side seam, exuding elegance and charm. White Lama Sariya is reserved for religious events, while colorful Lama Saris steal the spotlight at weddings, particularly when worn by flower girls and little maids who look absolutely adorable in this beautiful costume.
Married and older women often opt for wrap-around garments with exquisite prints, pairing them with tight-fitting, short-sleeved jackets or blouses tucked in at the front.
Redde and Hatte: Exuding Traditional Splendor
Redde, a two-and-a-half-meter-long cloth, adorns the waist, while Hatte, a delicate linen blouse with a simple neckline (round or V-shaped), completes the ensemble. When combined, Redde and Hatte create a smart and comfortable outfit commonly worn during weddings. Official or religious events call for vibrant, colorful clothing adorned with embellishments and unique materials.
Muslim women in Sri Lanka typically wear the traditional burkha, a black garment that covers the entire body, leaving only a slight opening for the eyes. Some opt for a delicate mesh covering instead. This attire serves the purpose of concealing the entire body except the hands. Gujarati drapes are commonly embraced by Sri Lankan Muslim women.
Sri Lanka shares many traditional rituals and dress styles with its neighboring country, India. The similar climate between the two nations influences their clothing choices. Sri Lankans, like their Indian counterparts, drape light and alluring saris, accentuating their ensembles with exquisite jewelry and elaborate updo hairstyles befitting their beautiful traditional attire.
Embracing Sarongs: The Traditional Attire for Sri Lankan Men
Sarongs, a staple attire in many South Asian countries, are also widely worn by Sri Lankan men. Sarongs, long pieces of cloth wrapped around the waist, can be seen on individuals from various walks of life, including tuk-tuk drivers, fishermen, cooks, and businessmen who now opt for modern versions with pockets.
In many regions, men combine sarongs with long-sleeved shirts. There are multiple ways to wear a sarong, with some tying a knot in front, others wrapping it like a skirt, and some tucking the end between their legs, creating a trouser-like appearance.
At home, men often prefer dhotis or Panchas, long pieces of cloth wrapped around the body. However, these garments are rarely worn outside and are associated with individuals from lower socioeconomic classes.
For boys, the traditional costume known as Jathika Anduma stands out. This ensemble consists of a long-sleeved blouse and a long sarong reaching down to the ankles. The shirt remains untucked, and the entire outfit includes a neatly folded wrap resembling a scarf, which can be worn around the neck. Jathika Anduma garments are usually light-colored or white, often chosen for religious occasions. While pale gold and cream colors feature prominently in weddings.
Sri Lankan men have various ways to tie their clothing, and the attire is crafted from different materials depending on weather conditions and the occasion.
To explore Sri Lanka’s clothing and immerse yourself in its vibrant culture, DHPL Travels offers a range of exciting travel experiences. Plan your Sri Lankan adventure today!
Note: This article draws its information from the following references: https://www.holidify.com/pages/dresses-of-sri-lanka-2521.html, http://nationalclothing.org/asia/23-sri-lanka/21-traditional-clothing-of-sri-lanka.html, and https://www.srilankalocaltours.com/sri-lankan-traditional-dress-costume/