Woman's sleeveless dress

Karen, late 19th century AD
From Burma (Myanmar)

This woman's dress was made by one of the Karen people from the hills of east central Burma. Clothing traditions are one of many ways in which we can identify the ethnic groups and sub-groups in the hills of Burma and in neighbouring Thailand. However, styles and patterns are often adapted according, for example, to social status.

The white decorations on this dress are made with the hard seeds of a leafy grass known as 'Job's tears' (Coix lacryma-jobi), which are used to decorate a variety of clothing. The dress also has appliqué decoration and red silk embroidery. The cut of the garment is extremely simple, with two narrow strips of indigo-dyed cotton sewn together, with a gap left in the seams for the arms and a further hole for the neck.

The dress came to The British Museum after the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900. At the end of the nineteenth and early twentieth century various countries and colonial governments held large international exhibitions where they displayed the variety of cultures represented in the territories that they administered. This dress was displayed in the British India section at the Paris Exhibition.

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More information


C.F. Keyes (ed.), Ethnic adaptation and identity (Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1979)

H.I. Marshall, The Karen people of Burma: a s (Ohio State University, 1922)


Museum number

Ethno 1901.3-18.16


Gift of the Committee of the Indian Section, Paris Exposition Universelle, 1900


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