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Colorful Tibetan costumes
Posted: March-18-2009Adjust font size:

(Source: China Tibet Information Center)

Tibetan clothing reflects features of Tibet's unique environment, history and culture. Tibetans live on a high and cold plateau surrounded by snow-covered mountains. Much of Tibetan dress has been passed down from ancient times. Economic and cultural exchanges that have been transpiring for generations are reflected in changes in Tibetan clothing.

Tibetan costume often depends on geographic area and economic status. In cold northern Tibet, herdsmen usually wear fur robes. In Shannan Prefecture, where the climate is warmer, farmers often wear tweed (a kind of wool produced in Tibetan rural areas). People in Lhasa wear silk clothing is summer and fur robes in winter. In ancient times, honored heroes wore tiger skins and cowards were forced to wear fox skins as punishment.

Farmers' Clothing

Farmers in Gyangze and Gonggar counties usually wear quba, long white tweed robes with round collars and buttons down the right side. The robes' collars, cuffs, and bottoms are rimmed with red, yellow and blue cross pattern borders. The robes are pulled over the head and bunched at the waist with a belt. Daily use items such as wooden bowls, zamba bags, butter boxes and even children and pet animals can be stored in the bunched portion above the waist. The lower part of the robes hang below the knees. When going to sleep, the wearer unfastens the belt and uses the quba as a quilt.

Farmers like to wear white, red or blue long sleeve shirts made of cotton or silk. In spring and winter, farmers wear black tweed coats, also known as duiduo. In summer and during the busy season, farmers only wear the left sleeve of their quba and casually drape the right over their shoulder Sometimes farmers fasten both sleeves about their waist. At noon, when the sunshine is most intense, farmers like to bare their upper bodies and bask in the sun. When farmers meet distinguished guests or worship Buddha in temples, they put on their sleeves to show respect.

Farmers usually wear caps made of wool or felt. But during festivals, they wear tstring jinge, a cap decorated with golden thread and borders that features four fur ear-like decorations. The gold threads glitter in the sun, making the cap look very beautiful. Tibetan farmers are also very fond of Indian Hats. Males like to wear large golden earrings on their right ear, symbolizing fortune. Tibetan boots are called sumba. The black tweed boots with oxhide soles are embroidered with all kinds of patterns. Sumba are both warm and beautiful. Today, most tibetans choose to wear rubber overshoes or leather shoes instead—only a few old farmers continue to wear sumba.

Herdsmen's Clothing in Northern Tibet

Herdsmen's clothing is very different from that of farmers. Herdsmen wear fur robes all year round because the weather in northern Tibet is very cold in both summer and winter. The smooth side of the fur robe is turned outside, and the robe's front, back, and cuffs are embroidered with large patterns. Wealthy people often make covers for their robes using wool or satin and rim the robes with the fur of otter, lynx or marten.

Most young herdsmen like to tie up their thick black hair with red woolen yarn to create the "hero's hairstyle." In winter, herdsmen wear caps made of fox skins. In summer, they wear felt caps with red tassels.

Herdsmen often tie silver Buddhism boxes about their waists, inside which are sacred religious articles such as icons and scriptures. By so doing, they believe that they can be with Buddha in every minute. Cartridge clips, steel (for flint) and fire stone are hung about the waist in exquisite leather containers. Women's Attire

Tibetan women are beautiful and know how to dress themselves up. Peasant girls living along the Yarlung Zangbo River wear sleeveless black tweed robes with red, white or green shirts inside. They wear colorful tweed aprons about their waists and sumba boots on their feet. Their black hair is braided with colorful silk threads and then coiled on the top of their heads, making them look fresh, beautiful and gentle.

Shepherdess attire has strong grassland characteristics. They wrap smooth leather robe around their strong and healthy bodies. The robes are rimmed with black, red and green borders. Shepherdesses hang silver and bronze tools, which are also ornaments, such as steel (for flint), fire stone, whips and knives. Shepherdesses like to wear their hair in countless thin and long braids that are decorated with coral, shells, turquoise and silver coins. In summer, when beautiful shepherdesses walk across the grassland in their best clothes, the pendants on their clothes emit pleasant sounds.

The attire of women in Lhasa is unique. Lhasa women's robes are often made of dark satin, serge or tweed. In summer, they wear sleeveless robes with colorful silk shirts underneath and tightly fasten belts about their waists to show off their beautiful figures. In spring and autumn, they wear robes with sleeves. And in winter, they wear fur robes that go down to their feet. To dress up, women wear beautiful head ornaments made of coral and turquoise called bazhu, gold or silver earrings inlaid with turquoise, silver bracelets on their left wrists, and white conch bracelets on their right wrists. Tibetans believe that the white conch can lead a person to paradise if one wears it all his or her life. Women who pour wine during festive ceremonies and who participate in Tibetan drama and operas hangbeeswax beads silver monstrances from their necks.

Modern women in Lhasa, especially young women, prefer simpler, more practical clothing and accessories. Some have developed new fashion styles based on the traditional attire.

Lama's and Nun's Apparel

Clothing articles for Tibetan monks include a waistcoat and a red monk skirt. They wrap dark red kasaya, twice the body's length, obliquely about their shoulders. When monks pray, they wear a red cloak made of wool, which is called dagang in Tibetan. After the monks are promoted to Gexi (the highest academic degree of Tibetan Buddhism), their waistcoats are rimmed with satin borders, and they hang satin water bags about their waists, in which is a small bottle for mouth-rinsing. Monks who are responsible for blowing suona horn and monastic bugle may also wear these things as ornaments.

Monks of different sects can be distinguished by their coronary caps. For example, senior monks of the Ningma Sect wear lotus caps shaped like thrones. It was said that such caps were once worn by Padmasambhava, a senior Indian monk who had come to preach his religion in Tibet. Monks of the Sakya Sect wear heart-shaped caps called the "sakya cap." The golden-rimmed red caps, which were also said to be granted by an emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, but were later changed to yellow caps by Tsong-kha-pa. Although monks' attire is determined by rigid rules, nuns' attire is determined mostly by their financial situation. Their waistcoats may be rimmed with satin, but their skirts and kasaya are usually made of tweed. Sometimes they patch a piece of satin on their shoes to represent their different status. Along with the fast development of society, monk's and nun's clothes have been undergoing changes. Now it is not unusual to see Buddhist monks and nuns wear sport shoes and watches.

Source: China Tibet Information CenterEditor: Lydia
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