The origins of meri blouse


THE cultural traditions and ethnicity of a country’s inhabitants as well as the climate and geographical features of a region largely determine what people wear. Each country is recognized by their national and traditional dress.
The sari is the main article of clothing worn by most women in India. It is a long piece of silk, cotton or synthetic cloth that is wrapped around the body. Saris tend to come in bright colours and are often embroided.
Italian people often wear classic fitting clothing, such as A-line dresses, button down shirts and pencil skirts and pantsuits for women. The traditional Scottish women’s dress is usually a long tartan skirt with an airside, which is a long tartan garment worn over a dress that can be wrapped around the shoulders and worn over the head.
For women in Papua New Guinea, the ‘meri blouse’ is commonly accepted as the national dress for women. It can be worn on its own or over a simple apron loincloth (laplap) or skirt. It was the main attire for women in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Nowadays however, many Papua New Guineans wear modern European clothes, including shirts, pants, boots and mass produced shirts, dresses and skirts.
The meri blouse was promoted by the missionaries who first arrived in PNG in the late 1870s and 1880s. Women then pretty much lived in villages or hamlets and were bare breasted and donned only grasskirts. The blouse was part of the lesson in modesty.
These days, the meri blouse comes in different trends and styles. It is a piece of attire that most Papua New Guinean women adore and re-create to suit their fashion taste.
It can be constructed into form-fitting outfits or can be left loose for the many more that don’t care too much about keeping in shape.
It can be worn at both formal and informal occasions and they can be embellished in all kinds of ways to allow the wearer to make her own fashion statement.
Personally, I find this national dress admirable. It is undoubtedly cooler than tighter-fitting attire and is relatively easy and cheap to make.
Depending on the climate overseas, some women wear them when they are travelling out of the country and for a Papua New Guinean who is travelling or living overseas, the sight of someone in a meri blouse definitely means they are a wantok.
The sewing of meri blouses was once the pride of Tolai women from East New Britain, but these days women, and men, everywhere are sewing them according to their different preferences.
With the introduction of new types of sewing machines that can change stitches and embroider as well, styles have changed dramatically from its early years.
There is always a special meri blouse, or blouses, that a girl or woman would only wear to church. Those for everyday wear or gardening are set apart from these special ones.
Modern fashion has greatly influenced the female population especially the younger ones. Cheap and quality clothes from the second hand shops now mean they can keep up with modern times with less money.
With the onset of internet and other medias, they prefer to wear what their favourite overseas actor or singer is wearing and don’t care too much for the kolos. In fact, many find the meri blouse frumpy and old-fashioned.
For the moment though, this humble dress pattern will remain the national dress for PNG women.
Maybe Toana Day, where all Papua New Guineans dressed in national gear on a specific day of the week, should be revived so that patriotism is instilled in the hearst and minds of our younger generations.