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Full information of Garments of Mongolia

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

Until the 20th century Mongolian clothing for both men and women was based on a long caftan, or deel (Buriat, degel; Kalmyk, lawshg), fastened under the right shoulder and bound by men with a belt or cloth sash. (Since married women did not wear a sash [büs], adult women came to be called büsgüi, meaning “beltless.”)


traditional Mongolian Queen clothes

Fastenings were made of knots or metal buttons hooked into loops. Often an over caftan or waistcoat was worn over the deel. Underneath the deel Mongols always wore trousers. From the 16th century, dress became more elaborate and distinctive until the revolutionary movements of the 20th century again promoted a simple style.

The Mongols did not weave, and so native materials were restricted to furs, leather, and felt. Mongolian women did, however, skillfully sew clothes from imported fabrics, particularly cotton, silk, and especially silk brocade. During the empire period they sewed with threads of wound tendons, but later with cotton and silk thread.

Traditional Mongolian clothes - couple

Linings in the winter were of silk stuffing for the very rich or cotton stuffing, fine raw wool, or sheep- and goatskins for the ordinary Mongols. Trimmings were of sable, ermine, squirrel, fox, and other furs. Traditionally, the Mongols did not wash their clothes or bodies, as it was feared that polluting the water would anger the dragons that control the water cycle and bring thunderstorms. Except for holidays, clothes were not changed until they fell apart.

The smell attached to these constantly worn unwashed clothes was seen as a precious memento of the wearer. Thus, a gift of clothes actually worn by a khan and carrying his smell was a high honor.

CLOTHING IN THE MONGOL EMPIRE

In the empire the caftan most often had a collar slanting from the neck to the underarm, like a bathrobe. Some men’s caftans, as seen in a portrait of ÖGEDEI KHAN, had a square collar.

The skirt of the caftan was usually sewn on separately with ruffles. Frequently, the caftan was tied with both a thin leather belt passing below the belly and a broad sash covering the belly.

Traditional Mongolian clothes - Lord and Queen

Upon marriage women no longer wore their sashes and wore a very full caftan with a slanting collar, sometimes with a short-sleeved jacket opening down the front. While most women wore caftans overlapping on their right, they sometimes wore caftans overlapping on their left.

Women’s caftans often were decorated with a thick border of brocade along the overlapping collar. Great ladies wore caftans with very full sleeves and a train held by servants. Materials varied greatly according to the status of the wearer.

traditional Mongolian clothes - ethnic groups

The most favored materials in the summer were Middle Eastern silk and gold brocades called nashish (from Arabic nasij) and nakh. Middle Eastern brocade weavers were deported to China in settlements to supply the needs of the Mongol court in the east.

Valuable furs, especially sable and ermine, were worn in winter. Oneprince, NOQAI (d. 1299), even proudly wore dog skins as a sign of his adherence to old Mongol ways.

In winter the underlayers were made of skin with the fur inmost, while with the outer layer the fur faced out, at least on the upper part. During the great assemblies (QURILTAI) the khans bestowed on their courtiers clothing of set colors.

Tradtional Mongolia clothes - ethnic groups

Such court clothes were called jisün, “color,” from the designation of a special color for each day. During the WHITE MONTH all present wore white silk, while in the great summer quriltais all those attending wore a different color each day. Unauthorized use of these jisün robes was strictly punished.

SIXTEENTH TO TWENTIETH CENTURIES

By the late 16th century the Mongol nobility wore over the caftan a long sleeveless or short-sleeved overcaftan buttoned down the center of the chest and open below the waist. A detachable tippet (zaam) of brocade or fur attached to the caftan was worn around the neck.

Only sashes, never leather belts, were now worn by men and unmarried girls. The sleeves for men and women were narrow and ended in distinctive horse-hoof cuffs.

This style was also used among the rising Manchus and with a little modification became the basis for QING DYNASTY (1636–1912) court dress, worn by the Mongolian nobility at audiences with the Qing emperor. The court deel, or caftan, was embroidered with dragons and clouds and at the lower border with the world mountain, Sümber (Mt. Meru in Sanskrit), surrounded by waves and diagonal lines in colors symbolizing the five directions.

The court overcaftan (Mongolian, uuj) was long-sleeved for lords and sleeveless for ladies. It was plainer in appearance but also embroidered with dragons. The form and number of dragons were governed by sumptuary laws.

Lords wore large rosaries as necklaces. Like the Chinese, Mongols saw fastening caftans on the right as a sign of civilization.

When the KHALKHA were debating in 1689 whether to rely on the Russians or the Manchu Qing dynasty, the FIRST JIBZUNDAMBA KHUTUGTU noted that since the czar was not Buddhist and “moreover the edge of his garment is wrongly turned, it is not acceptable,” while the “garment of the emperor of the Manchus is like the garment of a god.

”In later Qing-era regional dress among the Mongols, the distinctions of status, sex, and region became striking. Outside court men no longer wore the sleeved overcaftan over the deel, only a sleeveless waistcoat (Mongolian, khantaaz; Buriat, khantuuza) overlapping and buttoning to their right.

Women also frequently wore the waistcoat, or khantaaz, over the deel, either alone or under an uuj. Among women the sleeveless uuj was restricted to the wives of the TAIJI (nobility). The increasingly elaborate brocade used to border women’s deel, uuj, and khantaaz accentuated the differences of the sexes.

Regional distinctions among Mongol dress became very clear in this period. The KALMYKS and the OIRATS of western Mongolia, such as the Dörböd, Bayad, and Uriyangkhai, shared a distinctive broad-shouldered uuj, and the Oirats of western Mongolia retained the flat tippet, or collar, on the shoulders.

Among most of the Mongols proper (Khalkha and INNER MONGOLIANS) and BURIATS, the tippet changed into a distinctive standing collar sewn to the deel. Among the ÜJÜMÜCHIN and Kheshigten of Inner Mongolia and among the Kalmyks, it formed a folded-down collar. While the caftan was usually made of one piece among the Mongols and Oirats, in the Buriat women’s degel the upper part was always made separately from the pleated skirt and lower sleeves.

Facings of colored cloth or brocade highlighted the seams between the upper part and the skirt and between the lower and upper sleeves. The overlap of Buriat men’s caftans was bordered by colored bands.



Buriat women’s degels had puffy shoulders, an innovation adopted in greatly exaggerated form in Khalkha. The Buriats were also the only Mongolian peoples still to use leather belts.

Among the KHORCHIN, Daurs, and other eastern Inner Mongolians, women’s caftans were modeled on Manchu styles, with wide sleeves and no horse-hoof cuffs. These robes were decorated with less brocade and more flower embroidery.

Accessories were hung either from the sash (men) or from long cords attached to loops sewed onto the armpits of the uuj (women). Men’s accessories included a knife, sometimes with chopsticks, a flint and striker, and a cloth pouch holding a snuff bottle. Women’s accessories, usually hung from a metal wheel, butterfly, or similar object, included pouches for aromatic herbs, nail cleaners, tweezers, toothpicks, and earpicks. Women also sometimes attached colored scarves to the armpits of the uuj.

Pockets were not necessary, as the caftan’s loose fit and the tight sash created ample area in the chest.

TRADTIONAL MONGOLIAN FOOTWEAR

Traditional boots among the Mongols were similar to those elsewhere in East Asia, with no heel and no distinction of right and left. Whether made of leather, cotton, or silk, the boots were sewn out of multilayered flat soles and separate uppers and legs, each divided into right and left sides.



The preferred color scheme was dark legs and uppers, with light soles and light leather strips along the seams. Boots were worn over cotton or felt stockings depending on the weather.

While boots in the empire period were sometimes pointed or slightly upturned, the distinctive Mongolian riding boots with their highly upturned “pig-snout” front first appear in the 16th century, although they may have existed earlier.

Painted leather appliqués enlivened these boots both for men and women. Court-dress boots were made of cloth, not leather, and did not have the upturned front. Buriat boots also did not have the upturned front.

In eastern Inner Mongolia women wore Chinese-styleembroidered cloth shoes. By the 19th century Chinese craftsmen in HÖHHOT and elsewhere made most of the Mongolian boots following local preferences.

HAIRSTYLES AND HEADGEAR

In Inner Asia men’s hair was partly shaven and partly braided. In the empire period Mongol men shaved most of the top of the head, leaving only a small forelock.

The hair was grown long and tied in braids, often hooked up behind the ears. The Manchu Qing dynasty imposed on Mongol men their own style of shaving the front half of the head and putting the hair in a single braid down the back.



The most common men’s winter hat in the empire was a skin “falcon” hat with the brim short and upturned in front and covering the neck in back. Similar to this was a kind of helmet with a brim projecting all around, a knob on the top, and a hanging flap of leather protecting the neck.

The summer hat was conical and made of wood with tassels hanging down from the pointed top. By the 16th century the men’s winter hat was perfectly circular, with the brim raised in the back as well.

Tassels were often attached to the center of the crown, and a strip of cloth was always hung from the top down the wearer’s back. In the Qing dynasty the winter hat with the upturned circular brim and the bamboo conical hat became the official court winter and summer hats.

As such, they were surmounted by buttons of various semiprecious stones according to the wearer’s rank. Instead of a cloth strip peacock feathers were attached to the top of the court hat.

Informal variants of the winter hat with the upturned brim were made with differing widths of the brim and height and steepness of the crown. Another type of hat, today called the jangjin malgai, or “general’s hat,” from General Sükhebaatar, has a bell-shaped crown and a brim in four folded-up flaps.

The Khori Buriats wore a pointed hat sewn from two roughly diamond-shaped pieces with the bottom point functioning as earflaps to be tied under the chin or behind the head. In the empire period married women wore the distinctive high BOQTA hat, described with admiration by travelers from every county.

The hair was kept in a bun under the boqta. By the end of the 16th century the boqta was no longer worn, and the hair was now kept in two braids down the front of the chest. Women wore hats similar in style to those of men.

From the 17th century JEWELRY worn on the head became very expensive and complicated. Among the western Buriats and Kalmyks, however, braids were worn under a cylindrical skullcap (khalwng, in Kalmyk). Among Kalmyk women skullcaps were lavishly decorated with gold thread embroidery and brocade and capped with tufts of silk thread.

MODERN CHANGES

By 1900 Mongolian clothing and jewelry, particularly in Khalkha, had become very elaborate. The high-brimmed hat, the great horns of artificial hair, the high, padded shoulders, the horse-hoof cuffs, and the upturned boots of married women constituted the “five prides” of Khalkha.



With the 1921 REVOLUTION youths began to criticize these and the old Qing court dress as linked to feudal customs. In 1922 members of the Revolutionary Youth League began stopping women in the streets and cutting off their high shoulders, cuffs, and jewelry and confiscating men’s hats with rank buttons and peacock feathers.

The campaign soon caused widespread disaffection and was repudiated by the government. Nevertheless, by 1924 the traditional dress attacked by the youth had, in fact, almost completely disappeared. The caftan was retained, but with no cuffs, uuj, or khantaaz, and no brocade. Instead cavalry boots, cigarettes (rather than a pipe), a fedora or peaked cap for men, and bobbed hair for women were adopted.

Women also began to wear the sash after marriage. From around 1929 to 1940 Soviet-style military uniform or suits and ties gradually replaced this modernized Mongolian costume among Mongolia’s leaders.

In Inner Mongolia similar changes occurred from the 1930s to the 1950s (see REVOLUTIONARY PERIOD). Today the modern-form deel is worn in Mongolia proper by both sexes in the countryside, particularly in the winter, and for ethnic and ceremonial occasions in the cities.



Newscasters, for example, wear the deel around the White Month and NAADAM celebrations. A long-sleeved jacket, or khürem, with traditional styling is popular with young men. In Inner Mongolia deels are worn daily only in the HULUN BUIR and SHILIIN GOL steppe. In Mongolia the “general’s hat” with a cloth knot on the peak is commonly worn, but in Inner Mongolia men wear European-style headgear and rural women wrap their heads in turbans.

Further reading

Thomas T. Allsen, Commodity and Exchange in the Mongol Empire: A Cultural History of Islamic Textiles (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Henny Harald Hansen, Mongol Costumes (London:

Thames and Hudson, 1993).

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