Featured Object: Unmarried Girl's Dress overview image

Featured Object: Unmarried Girl's Dress

  • Post Date8/11/2016
  • AuthorKristine Mirate, volunteer
  • Reading Time3 minute read

The Karen people, a tribal group in Burma and Thailand, are divided into 2 groups, the Pwo and Sgaw, and most of them are located in Thailand. Pwo and Sgaw also refer to the 2 main languages spoken by the Karen people.

Legend says that the Karen people came from the “Thibi Kawbi” land, which many speculate as Tibet and the Gobi Desert. The Karen made their way to Thailand in the 18th century, where they settled in the mountains and set up villages. The Thai government labeled the Karen as part of the “Hill Tribe” and they were taught to speak Thai. Many of the Karen people also speak their own native languages.


Another traditional practice among the Karen is the weaving and wearing of white dresses by unmarried girls and women. At the age of 10, girls are taught to weave and stitch their dresses. Sgaw girls use simple designs: a white dress and a red band. The band may also be decorated with yellow and green geometric designs. The dress in the Museum’s collection has characteristics similar to the Sgaw, with 2 red bands across the waist and the edge of the dress, each intertwined with yellow and green thread. Pwo girls, on the other hand, use more decoration. Along with the red band, there are patterns of red diamonds at the bottom of the dresses, and the shoulders are sometimes decorated with red fibers woven through the cloth.

Karen girls embellish their outfits with jewelry such as earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. If they have high status they wear more jewelry, which might also improve their marriage prospects.

Unmarried women wear their hair cut short or tied in a low bun. They also wear head coverings of 2 styles: a white or red turban with a long fringe, and a pink or white rectangular cloth draped towards the shoulders and tied with a colorful headband. When a woman is married, she starts to wear a colorful sarong and a sleeveless shirt.

  • closeup of pattern