Padaung women and footwear in Thailand

Back in December 2013, I wrote about footwear in Thailand. I have visited Thailand again since writing that post, so I thought I would write another post about footwear in Thailand.

The majority of people in Thailand are Buddhist. Over 90% of Thai people identify as Theravada Buddhists. So it is a common sight to see Buddhist monks in Thailand. Additionally, it is desirable for Thai men to spend time being a monk at some point in their life. It is common for Thai men to be temporarily ordained, so they can be a monk for a few weeks or a few months, and return to secular life after that.

In Thailand, Buddhist monks are identified by their shaved heads and robes, usually in a saffron or maroon colour. The robes are simple, an imitation of Buddha’s dress. The humble robes are meant to represent the monk’s disinterest in worldly possessions in the pursuit of enlightenment. The usual footwear for monks are slippers or sandals, but when they are out collecting alms, monks will go barefoot.

This colour co-ordinated Buddhist monk wears saffron robes with matching socks and hat.

This colour co-ordinated Buddhist monk wears sandals, saffron robes with matching socks and hat.

In my last trip to Thailand, I went to Chiang Mai in the north west of Thailand, near the border with Myanmar (Burma). I was most interested in the hill tribes in this area. There are many different hill tribes in this region, each with their own culture. The tribe that I was most interested in are the Padaung people. The Padaung people are known by many names. They are also known as Kayan Lahwi, Karen and Karenni. Other less flattering names for the Padaung people are ‘long-neck women’ and ‘giraffe women.’ I am calling them Padaung because I asked a tribeswoman what her tribe is called, and she told me ‘Padaung.’

The Padaung people are most easily identifiable by the brass neck rings worn by the women. These heavy neck rings push the collarbones and ribs down, giving the impression of a long neck. Padaung girls start wearing these brass neck rings from around the age of 5. As the girls grow, the length of the brass coil is increased gradually. For young girls, the weight of the brass coils is about 2 – 5kg (4 – 11 pounds). For older women who have continued to add coils to their neck, the weight of the brass rings can be as much as 10kg (22 pounds).

A Padaung woman with neck rings weaves on a loom.

A Padaung woman wearing neck rings weaves on a loom.

When I was at the village, I tried on half size neck rings that weighed about 2kg . This is considered child size for Padaung women! It was extremely uncomfortable for me; the rings dug into my collar bones and made it difficult to turn my head. I had to take them off after 5 minutes. I don’t know how Padaung women can wear these neck rings for life,and I wonder how they wash their necks!

I think what surprised me during this visit to the village was that young girls were currently wearing neck rings. I had the mistaken belief that this was something only worn by older women of the tribe, and out of fashion among the young. I met two Padaung girls, who each told me they were 10 years old, and both were already wearing the neck rings of their tribe. Neck rings are seen as a symbol of beauty, status and cultural identity.

This 10 -year-old Padaung girl wears brass neck rings, silver bracelets, brass leg coils, footless socks and slippers, all traditional dress of her tribe.

This 10 -year-old Padaung girl wears brass neck rings, silver bracelets, brass leg coils, footless socks and slippers – all traditional dress of her tribe.

In addition to neck rings, Padaung women also wear coils on their arms and legs. Understandably it is the neck rings that have gotten the most attention because they are so different. Rings on the arms are worn from wrist to elbow, and brass coils on the legs can extend from ankle to knee. Some women also wear cloth coverings, which look like legwarmers or footless socks, on their legs. On their feet, Padaung women generally wear slippers or sandals.

For me personally, I hope that wearing the brass rings is truly a sign of cultural identity, and not just because it’s a means to earn the tourist dollar.

How to wear jeggings when you don’t look like a supermodel

I have come very late to the jeggings trend. Jeggings were a huge trend in 2010 and 2011, but it’s waning now. Jeggings come from the words jeans + leggings.

I was given a pair at the height of the jeggings trend, but when I tried them on, I found them very unflattering, accentuating every bulge. I’ve never worn them again, apart from that one time just to try them on. So I had the mistaken belief that only people who are stick-thin, like fashion models, can wear this trend.

I have since learnt that there are 2 types of jeggings. The first type is made of stretchy leggings material while the second type is made of denim or actual jeans material. It was the former type that I first tried on and found unflattering, but I can work with the latter type.

Jeggings can be unforgiving of all kinds of issues like ‘camel toe’ problems in front and rear end problems at the back, but you can hide them. Wear jeggings with long tops that are long enough to cover areas you feel self-conscious. For a dressier look, pair jeggings with a short, sheer dress.

Shih Yen wears jeggings with a short, sheer dress and L.A. gear shoes.

The good thing about jeggings is that they can make legs look longer and thinner. Wear jeggings with high heels if you want to give the illusion of even longer legs. Knee-high boots are very flattering when worn over jeggings. Jeggings also look good with ballet flats. If skin tight is not your thing (because let’s face it – skin tight anything is a difficult style to pull off), you could buy jeggings that are one size bigger than your usual style. When worn, these slightly big jeggings will look more like skinny jeans instead of skin tight jeans.

I wasn’t a fan of jeggings at the start and I don’t like the elastic waistband on jeggings. I think elastic waistbands on non-exercise wear should only be worn by senior citizens or people aged over 65! But I have given jeggings a chance and I am now the (slightly surprised) owner of 3 pairs of jeggings in different colours and sizes.

How to wear legwarmers

I was a bit too young to remember the times in the 1980s when exercise-wear was ‘in’, when headbands, leotards, legwarmers and tights in fluorescent colours were the height of fashion.

Legwarmers are like foot-less socks. They were originally used by dancers to keep their muscles warm. It’s easier for a dancer to injure themselves dancing with cold muscles. Legwarmers were a big craze in the 1980s, but they may be making a small comeback. Legwarmers have been seen on the runway recently at Dunedin iD Fashion Week, showcasing winter 2012 collections in New Zealand. Legwarmers also seem to be trending in Japan and Korea.

Shih Yen recreates a look from the 1980s with LA Gear sneakers and legwarmers. Legwarmers by Golf Punk

So here are some tips for how to wear legwarmers. Wear your legwarmers just below the knee. You can push them down a bit to create some folds in the legwarmers, but you don’t want them to sit too much below the knee. Personally, I think that legwarmers are paired best with ballet flats and a short skirt or dress. But you could also wear them with sneakers, reminiscent of the 1980s. If you want to wear them with jeans, they work best worn over skinny jeans. Have fun!