MONGOLIAN CLOTHES

BEAUTY AND HYGIENE IN MONGOLIA

Mongolian women tend to be very buxom. Mongol men traditionally wore tattoos. Fierce winds are what gives Mongolians their ruddy complexion. After years of cold, old people develop of a web of capillaries on the their faces.

Mongolians are fond of bright colors. The robes are often bright colored and have a silky sheen and are trimmed with a bright color of contrasting shades and colorful edging. Theroux wrote: "Mongolians wore mittens and boots; in this brown country they favored bright colors—it was not unusual to see an old man with a red hat and a purple frock coat, and blue trousers stuck into his multi-colored boots."

Men used to wear their hair pulled back in a braid. Women wore theirs in two braids covered with velvet. The braids were worn in front of the shoulders and silver and coral ornaments were woven into them. Young girls wore multi braids joined at the temple with red thread.

In the old days upper class women wore elaborate headdresses and sculpted the hair in Star-Wars-like designs with hardened mutton fat and tied their hair with jewelry pieces made of silver, turquoise and coral. During festivals, even some nomads wore their hair in massive headdresses, decorated with silver and coral, or tied their hair with large bows. A family’s wealth was often measured by precious stones and metals in a woman’s hair.

For nomads, bathes are taken with a bucket or in a river. In the winter nomads have traditionally gone without bathing. Some large ger camps have a bathhouse. Rock salt is used in massages.

Mongolian Clothes

Mongolian clothing has traditionally been made to be strong, warm, durable and comfortable and flexible when riding on a horse or sitting on the floor of a yurt. Both men and women wear dels (caftan-like, ankle-length padded silk robes lined with sheepskin for the winter and tied around the waist with a sashlike belt) in the winter and a terlig (thinly-lined coat similar to a del) in the summer.

To common eyes, Mongolian dress seems very simple, no more than a robe and a pair of boots. In fact, Mongolian clothing and personal adornments are rather complicated and colorful. They vary in forms and materials according to different regions, ages, status of marriage, and distinguish between splendid attire and common costume. In general, Mongolian dresses and personal adornments mainly include: ornaments, robes, belts and boots. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

In the cities most people wear Western clothes and don traditional clothes for festivals and special events. On the steppe you can find people who wear traditional clothes for everyday use. Many people have several dels. Elaborate ones made from nice fabrics for dress up occasions and everyday ones that are okay to get dirty. Different clans, tribes and ethnic groups often have distinguishing markers or fashion styles on their dels that all Mongolians recognize.

Mongolians have traditionally worn wool in the winter and cotton in the summer. Wool is also used to make saddle bags, bridles and ropes. Leather and fur are used to make various parts of clothing. These days most Mongolians wear Western clothes. In the winter, they wear Russian-style fur hat and padded jacket.

Dels are designed for horseback riding, keeping riders warm while not constraining them. They have high collars that can be buttoned or unbuttoned. The left side buttons close over the right side. The edges of the coat and sleeves are sometimes trimmed with velvet of another beautiful fabric. Sometimes a long sash or leather belt adorned with silver or copper ornaments is tied around the waist. Under theirs dels, Mongolians generally wear baggy trousers and a shirt

In the winter Mongolians wear sheepskin coats and cloaks with wool facing inward. Shepherds in some parts of Central Asia, have traditionally worn a loose hooded felt cape, called a kepenek that keeps them dry in the heaviest of downpours. "Without a kepenek I couldn't last half a day in the rain," a shepherd once said. "With one, I can stay out until I need to go home." Kepeneks are used throughout Central Asia as a tent and blanket as well coat and they are said to be so stiff and sturdy they stand on their own.

Mongolian Robes

Dels (Mongolia robes) are designed for horseback riding, keeping riders warm while not constraining them. They have high collars that can be buttoned or unbuttoned. The left side buttons close over the right side. Sometimes a long sash or leather belt adorned with silver or copper ornaments is tied around the waist. Under theirs dels, Mongolians generally wear baggy trousers and a shirt. In the winter Mongolians wear sheepskin coats and cloaks with wool facing inward. Shepherds in some parts of Central Asia, have traditionally worn a loose hooded felt cape, called a kepenek that keeps them dry in the heaviest of downpours. "Without a kepenek I couldn't last half a day in the rain," a shepherd once said. "With one, I can stay out until I need to go home." Kepeneks are used throughout Central Asia as a tent and blanket as well coat and they are said to be so stiff and sturdy they stand on their own.

According to Chinatravel.com: The del is perhaps the most practical article of clothing of a Mongolian man of the steppe. Besides being the main garment (heavy jackets and the like may serve as outer garments over the deel), the deel can serve as a makeshift tent, a blanket and a screen, or mask, to hide behind, and it's long sleeves can be rolled down as gloves to provide further protection against the sun, wind, or rain, etc. There are summer deel and winter deel, just as deel come in various lengths and in various materials, ranging from leather (skin with or without fur) to cloth. The skin may stem from the lamb, goat, wolf, fox, otter, marten, or from the snow weasel, to name the most common. Cloth deel are generally either of a mixture predominantly consisting of cotton, of rayon, or of pure silk. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

In pasturing areas in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, Mongolians wear lined robes in spring, unlined robes in summer, and fur robes as well as cotton robes in winter. Men's robes are usually loose, while women's are rather tight to show their figures. The characteristics of the Mongolian robe are that it has big and long sleeves and the edge of the robe, the cuffs and necklines are decorated with silks, satins, laces and patterns of "screwed intestines", "flaky clouds" or furs of tigers, snow leopards, otters and martens and so on. In addition to being keeping out the cold in winter, theses robes can guard against mosquitoes and biting insects in summer (believed me there can a lot of mosquitos and flies in Mongolia in the summer). When traveling, they can serve as quilts at night. Mongolians in the area of Ordos like wearing a waistcoat of various lengths outside the robes. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Mongolian Sashes

Sashes and belts are an indispensable part of Mongolian attire. Generally speaking, the belt is made from cotton cloth as well as silks and satins and are three or four meters in length. The color often goes with the robe. A tightly-pulled belt can help keep out wind and cold, and keep the waist and ribs stable and vertical when riding a horse and holding the reins. In addition, it can be a decorative ornament. When a man sashes a belt, he often lifts his robe a bit, which is suitable for for riding. On the belt are hung three objects that are always with him: the Mongolian knife, steel for flint and a tobacco pouch. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

According to Chinatravel.com: The Mongolian's sash is another highly utilitarian item that serves a number of purposes, like all Mongolian attire. A woman's sash is shorter and folded more narrowly than a man's sash, and in some localities a woman ceases to wear a sash at all after she marries, wearing instead a tight-fitting silk vest over the deel, elaborately embroidered and sometimes studded with precious stones. A man's sash, which is generally cinched tightly at the waist, is much longer and is folded into a broad band that can serve as a corset, protecting the wearer's internal organs from excessive jostling while riding. It also serves as a place to stash the indispensible knife and to attach various accessory pouches. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

“In addition to serving as a place to stash a knife and to fasten pouches, the sash, given the characteristic manner in which a deel is cut, serves as the bottom of a "pouch" that is formed by the sash and the wrap-around portion of the del above the sash, which offers a vent, or opening, on the wearer's right-hand side, similar to the hand-warmer "kangaroo" pocket on a sweater, but here, a single-vented pocket. \=/

Mongolian Footwear

Men and women wear Mongol gutal (embroidered leather knee boots with thick soles and upturned toes). There are several explanations as to why the boots are made in this way. Some say they give riders confidence that they won’t slip from the stirrups. Other says that Buddhism is the reason: the upturned toes are said to be less likely to kill insects than conventional footwear. In the winter felt is placed in them for extra warmth. Traditional flat felt boots are made for horseback riding. They are sometimes uncomfortable for walking. For day to use many men like to wear heavy, durable Russian army boots.

According to Chinatravel.com: Traditional Mongolian boots also serve several purposes related to life on the steppe: they reduce the incidence of snake and insect bite, and they reduce chafing during the many hours spent on horseback. The choice of boot type, or style, depends on the season. Traditional Mongolian boots are generally made of leather, though sometimes they are made of cloth. As Mongolian society develops and the division of labor intensifies, the old method of Mongolian boot-making may give way to more modern, mass-production methods, which itself may well dictate boot styles to a large extent, since the more complicated the method of production, the more expensive the end product. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Cloth boots are often made of thick cloth or canvas. They are designed to be light and feel soft. Leather boots are largely made of cowhide, horsehide or donkey hide. This kind of boots are tough , waterproof and good at keeping out the cold. There are generally three types of leather boots: those whose tip curls upwards, those whose tip curl horizontally and those whose tips do not curl t all, which are suitable for walking in the desert, dry pasture and wet pasture, respectively. Mongolian boots display exquisite workmanship with many fine decorative embroideries and patterns cut and pasted on the uppers and legs of the boots. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Mongolian Headgear

Headgear is often an indicator of where someone is from. Mongolia men sometimes don loovus (pointed hats) on feast days or weddings or other important occasions. These have traditionally been made of wolf or fox skin and are said offer good protection in the cold and wind. Other types of men’s hat include the janjin malgai and toortsog. Women often wrap their heads in a kerchief.

Women usually wear scarves. A scarf is usually several zhangs long (one zhang is about 3.3 meters in length). They come in a multitude of colors and are made of fabric, flax, silk or thin silk. Young Mongolian women like to tie the scarf on the head, and then coil up a little knot on the right, letting the fringe come down. Married women use the scarf to wrap up the back of the top of the head by tying a circle around it, leaving no fringe. On formal occasions, they must wear caps with embroidered designs of red phoenix facing the sun or two dragons playing with a bead. At the crown of the cap are red fringe and shining gems.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

It is said that the custom dates of women wearing scarves dates back to Genghis Khan times. When Genghis Khan unified the Mongol tribes, he ordered that everyone should wear a scarf to symbolize there was a part of the Mongol flag on their head and express pride to be Mongols. On their wedding day, Mongolian women wear graceful and luxuriant ornaments that go with their splendid attire. The headwear in Ordos is most typical of this kind of Mongolian headwear. Translated as "fillets", this kind of headware is mainly composed of "pendants" and "hair covers" and is typically worn in pairs: one on each side of the head. It is not only made with masterly craftsmanship, but is also decorated with hundreds of corals, dozens of silver chains, pearl clusters, and many silver loops, silver sheet, and carnelian. When it is worn, the fillet looks like a pearl-decorated curtain hanging before the face. A pair of fillet weighs three to four jins (one jin equals half a kilogram), and some can weigh as much as ten jins. It is said that only flocks of fine horses or hundreds of fine camels were not enough to barter for a top-grade pair of fillet.

Buriat men and women have traditionally worn headgear made from sewn fabric or fur from beavers, otters, fox or other animals. In Inner Mongolia, people wear a variety of headgear including turbans, round felt hats decorated with colored beads or astrakan or felt hats with brims. Cowboy hats are also popular as they are in Tibet. Turkish style berets and Russian style fur caps are also worn.

Today, the Mongolian's hat is more often than not a mass-produced item, perhaps even imported, with the quality accordingly. The hat has always been the most special item of a Mongolian's attire. One does not leave one's hat lying about where it risks being crushed, but places it on a high perch precisely to avoid such mishaps. Such is the importance that has traditionally been attached to headdress in Mongolian culture that a hat must be worn when meeting or greeting non-family members, when entering a ger (though one may be invited to remove the hat once inside), or when in the street, where it is considered indecorous to go bareheaded.[Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Mongolian Ornaments and Hairstyles

Mongolian ornaments can be classified into five types: headwear, necklaces, waist decorations and hand decorations. Headwear, which consist mostly has scarves, hats, hair rings, plait clamps, plait covers, hairpins, hair clasps, earrings, eardrops, is the most decorative part in Mongolian ornaments.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Men used to wear their hair pulled back in a braid. Women wore theirs in two braids covered with velvet. The braids were worn in front of the shoulders and silver and coral ornaments were woven into them. Young girls wore multi braids joined at the temple with red thread. Today, some girls wear their hair parted in the middle, embellished with two large beads and agate, coral and green jade ornaments.

In the old days upper class women wore elaborate headdresses and sculpted the hair in bizarre horn-like designs with hardened mutton fat and tied their hair with jewelry pieces made of silver, turquoise and coral. The French artists working on the second set of Star Wars films modeled some of the costumes worn by Queen Amidala (the Natalie Portman character) after some of the more showy examples of a Mongolian female dress. During festivals, even some nomads wore their hair in massive headdresses, decorated with silver and coral, or tied their hair with large bows. A family’s wealth was often measured by precious stones and metals in a woman’s hair.

Mongolian Men Clothes and Accessories

Men on the steppe often wear a bus (an embroidered waistbelt), and sometimes carry daggers or swords with silver ornaments. On the right side of the belt men have traditionally carried a tobacco pouch with tobacco, a snuffbox, a knife in a sheath and steel for starting fires. Pipes were carried in the boots. The steel, tinder and flint for starting fires were carried in a special sack, often beautifully embroidered and even adorned with silver plates. In the old days steel was so highly valued for starting fires it could be exchanged for a horse.

According to Chinatravel.com: The traditional accoutrements of the Mongolian male are: the Mongolian knife, a silver drinking bowl, an eating set consisting of a knife-and-chopsticks arrangement in its own sheath (in the spirit of the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife, it may also include a toothpick, an ear scratcher (!), and a tweezer), a flint-and-steel fire-making kit (usually a leather pouch containing the flintstone, and with a sturdy piece of steel along its base for striking the flint, making the pouch in effect a mini leather mitten ending in a firmly-attached piece of steel), silver rings, a snuffbox (today, usually a bottle), a tobacco pipe, a tobacco pouch, a pipe-cleaning hook, and a hada pouch (hada being narrow strips of silk or cotton used as a greeting gift, and though the hada itself is not of great intrinsic value, its symbolic value in this tradition-rich nomadic culture - where everything must be carried not only in or on the horseman's caftan, but carried so as not to interfere with the horseman's free movement - is immeasurable). The sophistication of these accoutrements and their workmanship ranges from the strictly utilitarian and inexpensive to the outright lavishly artistic and exorbitant, and invariably functions as a status symbol. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Mongolian Women’s Clothes and Accessories

Traditionally-dressed Women wear trousers or shorts under their dels, which are similar to those of Mongolia men. The sleeves, cuffs and collars are made of colored fabric. Especially valued as raw materials are Chinese silks and brocades. The hems of the coats are sometimes decorated with the fur of otters or some other animal. Over their coats, married women have traditionally worn a sleeveless jacket ( uuzha). Western Buryats wear just a jacket. Eastern Buryats wear a gathered skirt. Like their coats, sleeveless jackets have a lining and a slit down the front from the collar to the hem.

There are certain proprieties and particularities for sashing belts in Ordos and other areas. For example, unmarried women sash a girdle and leave the fringe behind. Once they get married, they become "Busiguihun" (Mongolian for a "person who does not sash a belt"), instead, they wear tight waistcoats to distinguish themselves from maidens. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

According to Chinatravel.com: The jewelry traditionally worn by Mongolian women include the use of precious metals (gold & silver), pearls, coral, agate, green jade, amber, turquoise, and lapis lazuli as well as other precious and semi-precious stones. Typical women's jewelry include hair pins, ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets (including Xileboqi back-and-headdress bracelets made of finely-worked silver and coral, and worn on the head and/ or the back), rings, and the special silver decorations called Bole that hang on either side of a woman's vest (they are in fact an artistic refinement - a symbolic replacement - of the utilitarian gadgets that in former times hung from a married woman's vest, after marriage had forced her to abandon the sash to which she had formerly attached them). The simpler items of adornment might be worn as part of one's everyday dress, while the more elaborate ones are only worn during festivals and on other auspicious occasions. The quality of materials and workmanship of the female's accoutrements, as with those of a male, serves as a status symbol. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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