Ethnic dress of the Tibetans

Recently I've bought a book by Marion H. Duncan "Customs and superstitions of Tibetans". The author spent twelve years in the Eastern Tibet, between the years from 1921 to 1936, as a missionary, traveller and explorer. He gives interesting personal glimpses of Tibetan life including marriage, festivals, customs, religion. I have written a post about traditional Tibetan costume but still I think a few small excerpts from the book describing ethnic dress of the Tibetans would be interesting to read. So many years have passed since that time but the costume has not changed that much as you can see from the photos taken at Bouddhanath this year during Losar festival.

"In the uplands the average person of either sex has one garment to wear the year round - a heavy sheepskin cloak with the skinny side out. When warm one slips the arms out of the sleeves and ties them around one's middle which leaves the upper part of the body bare. Then during the sudden coldness of winds, rain, hail, or shade it is easy to cover up and keep healthy. The cloak is a versatile garment serving three purposes - as day clothing, night clothing and as baggage carrier. It is made slightly longer than the wearer with sleeves also longer than the arms. During the day it is shortened at the belt to hang around the knees for men and the ankles for women. It is let down at night with the arms out of the sleeves which gives sufficient covering.
As a rule, colour and texture of clothing is strictly regulated by the rank of the individual regardless of wealth. The higher the social rank the less exposure of the body. The wealthier the individual and the more important the social occasion, regardless of the weather, the greater the number of pieces of clothing worn.

Boots are the second most important article of apparel. The sole is soft yellow yak-skin, with black yak-skin leather for the uppers and terminating in a pointed turned-up toe. Blocks of green velvet and red curduroy cloth form the sides with the tops in red broadcloth. Braids of red, blue and green silk threads are sewn in the centre of the front from toe to ankle. Such boots are the commonest type for men but also sometimes are worn by women. Some styles are ankle some knee high.
Bright red is the universal colour of the striped belts although the women may have intricately designed black ones. The belts being ten to twelve feet long encircle the waist several times. Men's belts, about six inches wide, are twisted around the waist like a rope and supports flint and dagger on the side. The women have a friend hold the outer end while they smoothly wind themselves round and round inside their eight inch wide silk or cotton belt with great care. The women also wear a separate jewelled silver belt to support flint case and toiletries.

Men of rank wear continuosly and poor men at festivals, a shirt of raw silk or if this is not obtainable, a white cotton-cloth one. Women, however, demand shirts of all the brilliant colours, wearing as many as six on festival days, one over the other, each of a different hue. The long silk sleeves are turned up to show the colours.
The women share with priests the wearing of a skirt-vest. Ladies of means have them of black silk and the poor of dark red wool, often patterned and always pleated into numerous folds. While the skirt section is voluminous the upper or vest part is sleeve-less. To dress up, this gown is topped by an apron of silk embroidered with dragons and tied at the waist. Another dress apron is of narrow silk bands of different colours for the rich and for the poor one just as beautiful but of many-hued bands of finely woven wool cloth.
Hats on the men and jewelry on the women indicate the tribe or the district of the wearer. Tibetan hats vary from broad-brimmed, very low-crowned grey felt roughly matted, to a red fox skin wound around the head with the fluffy tail dangling on one side.

Women dress their hair in many ways and as the hair holds much of the jewelry the style may signify her tribe. It is a task of several hours to dress the hair and it is not done oftener than necessary.
Men and boys carry a sword in their belts. The sword will vary in length and quality but few have less than a foot-long blade and some are nearer three feet. Some swords have a sharp point to thrust as well as to cut."


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