While strolling through the different markets and little shops in Laos, one cannot help but notice the amount of colourful fabrics in innumerable varieties which are used to sew the traditional Laotian skirt – the sinh. Since a sinh is part of the school uniform for both female students and female teachers, the girls in our team decided to find some fabric on the market in order to get a sinh for ourselves and integrate our outer appearance into this part of Laotian culture.
Traditionally, women in Laos and Thailand wear the sinh. While it has become a piece of clothing mainly worn at official and special occasions in Thailand, the sinh remains more of an everyday garment for present-day Laotian women. Nevertheless, one might rather see young Laotian women wearing the traditional skirt in rural areas than in the urban centres. Also, combining it with a Western-style shirt is more common than wearing the entire traditional outfit with a special blouse. The latter is regarded as very traditional and remains for official and special occasions.
Traditionally, the fabric of the skirt is either made of silk or cotton or a combination of both and woven on a loom by the wearer herself. Although mass-production and synthetic fibres have found their way into the market, it is still common for Laotian girls and women, especially in rural areas, to weave their sinhs themselves or at least add their own twist by embroidering certain patterns and motifs onto the fabrics. The designs and patterns of the skirt distinguish various ethnic groups. A handmade sinh can therefore identify its wearer in different ways, especially regarding her regional background as well as her belonging to and identification with a specific ethnic group.
We found the fabrics for our first traditional skirts on a market in Vientiane. Back in Ban Sikeud, a local seamstress helped us with measuring and fitting the pattern to our Western bodies. Also, she seamed the fabric up for us. After only three days we could pick up our sinhs. As a special memento Franziska and I also received fabrics for sinhs from two teachers we worked with. These very personal gifts were something truly special for us and we enjoyed wearing the skirts in school and on special occasions like the baci.
Text by L. Kringe
Photos by L. Kringe & I. Martin