When I was on holidays in Vietnam I felt it would be such a pity to be there and not to try wearing something Vietnamese. Alas, the choice was not that big. Their traditional dress, ao dai, was not available in a ready-made variant and I was just too lazy to be bothered ordering it at the tailor's. So, the only other thing left was their traditional palm-leaf hat, nón lá. Especially considering that it cost almost nothing and was available literally at every corner.
This conical is a symbol of nation, the item that can be easily recognized at any part of the world as Vietnamese. These hats have been made by peasants from time immemorial. The popularity of it can be explained by the availability of the palm leaves and bamboo from which the hats are made from, by the simplicity of the construction techniques and by the multi-functionality of the hat itself. It not only offered protection from the sun and rain. It could serve, for example, as a fan, as a basket to hold things when shopping or as a water container for drinking. However the shape of a hat and the material it was made from depended on the owner's social position: different kinds of hats have been made for soldiers, mandarins, monks and even for kings.
Vietnamese Soldiers in conical hats statues at Khai Dinh Emperor's Mausoleum, Hue, Vietnam. Photo source
Besides, this simple conical hat plays important role in tradition of worshipping Holy Mothers. The Holy Mothers are worshipped in small temples and shrines that are sometimes built behind a pagoda. They symbolise the universe's four worlds: Heaven, Earth, Water, and Mountains and Forests. On the ceilings of the temples and shrines dedicated to the Holy Mothers hand many conical paper hats of four colours representing the four Mothers: red for Heaven, white for Water, yellow for Earth and green for Mountains and Forests.
Kate Moss by Bruce Weber for Vogue US June 1996. Photo source
What are my personal impressions of wearing this hat? I can say that it is the best choice of a head cover to wear in such climate: it is light and being made of natural material it gives perfect protection from the scorching tropical sun without making your head sweating underneath.
I wore it during our excursions to the ancient town of Hoi An and to the jungles of My Son, I wore it on the beach. Perhaps I didn't look that glamorous in it but still I felt gracefull enough and comfy. And yes, very Vietnamese.
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