In the early 1960s, before the army overthrew the civilian government, Burma maintained good ties with Japan. Prime Minister Ikeda visited Burma in the fall of 1961, and then in January 1962 the Toyo Rayon Company held a “Toray Rayon Fair” at the Rangoon city hall.
Today when we buy clothes, many people prefer to buy clothes made of natural fibers, like cotton. However, in the 1960s, however, synthetic or semi-synthetic fibers, like nylon and rayon, looked to many like they would be the materials of the future.
And the Toyo Rayon Company – “the leading manufacturer of man-made fiber in Japan” – was leading the charge toward that synthetic future.
The advertisements here all mention different garment manufacturers, such as the Zan Ben Seint Co. and Han Tha Aye Ltd. But what unites them all is that they were all using synthetic materials, such as nylon, produced by the Toyo Rayon Company.
This company was founded in 1926, and a year later it started to produce rayon yarn. During World War II it produced materials to support the war effort. Then after the war it imported technology from Du Pont to produce nylon.
So synthetic fiber clothing was not new in the 1960s. And the outfits which the women are wearing in these advertisements might look quite different from what their hip counterparts were wearing in Tokyo at the time.
But in fact the style of clothing that these women are wearing is a kind of modern style which emerged in Burma in the twentieth century. Chie Ikeya has recently written a wonderful book which examines the emergence of “new women” in twentieth century Burma and their new style of dress.
Like so many other places around the world, a small elite group of women in Burma gained an education, became “modern” and set a path of change which would ultimately affect the lives of many of their compatriots.
From looking at these advertisements, it looks like in the early 1960s women were still moving forward down that path, and thanks to the Toyo Rayon Company, their lives were getting even better.
They were no longer living in a colony, but in an independent nation. And as befit the citizens of a nation that was developing and moving towards the future, women in Burma could enjoy what development had to offer.
And what was that? Nylon! “Elegant, Durable, Light,” “smooth, cool, and agreeable to the touch.”
The feel of synthetic fibers against one’s skin – that’s the true feel of modernity. And in the early 1960s, Burmese women had the chance to feel it.