Tibetan Clothing and Diverse Tibetan Dress Culture

A French couple in Tibetan clothing

Tibetans are one of the oldest ethnic groups in China and South Asia. As the indigenous people of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, they've not only left previous cultural heritage including literature, music, dance, painting, sculpture, architectural art, etc. but also passed down the splendid Tibetan folk culture from generation to generation. Tibetans are an integration of the indigenous people of the Tibetan Plateau and a part of the ancient Qiang ethnic people. Staying on the roof of the world with high terrain, cold climate, and harsh natural conditions, Tibetan people live by livestock husbandry and agriculture. All these ecological environment and lifestyle determine their clothing form. The basic clothing features of the Tibetan ancestors are heavy and warm, fat waist, and long sleeve robes. According to historical data, as early as the 11th century BC, the basic characteristics of modern Tibetan clothing had come into being. Tibetan clothing culture is rich in connotation and diversity, with certain structural features, differences in levels and regions, and some specific rules.

Three Types Of Tibetan Clothing For Men

Tibetan clothing for men

1. Le Gui (labor dress)

As the climate changes throughout the year, so does the labor clothing.

In spring and summer, Tibetan people generally wear inside a short shirt of cotton or white silk inlay brocade, with large left and a small right front part, and wear a robe sewn by cotton and wool with round collar and wide sleeves (called Chu Ba in Tibetan). Then use a colorful belt (about 2 meters long, about 20cm wide seven-color striped wool long belt) to tie Chu Ba in the waist. The two sleeves are crossed and tied at the back of the waist, forming a bag at the waist for carrying things. The trousers are wide around the waist, crotch, and bottom. And the boots are short and the hat is felt.

In autumn and winter, the labor clothes are all made of leather or artificial fleece. Chu Ba is also made of wool or sheepskin. Wear a leather cap with ear protectors, and high boots or self-made leather shoes.

2. Zhui Gui (formal dress)

Zhui Form is a kind of Tibetan festival dress and ceremonial clothing. The materials are expensive and the workmanship is exquisite. The formal dress is normally divided into two parts: undergarment and outer robe. 

The undergarment is long sleeves, symmetrical front, and high collar. The front and collar are inlaid with gold or silver edge. Most people choose silk. The colors are generally white, purple, and light yellow. Some people choose patterned satin fabrics in various colors instead. The outer robe is made of brocade printed with the round Chinese "寿" word pattern, Lotus, and other floral patterns. The style is the same as the undergarment, but sleeveless.

Use Chu Ba's collar, cuffs, hem or braid with otter skin, leopard skin, and tiger skin for decoration. The width of the border is usually thirteen inches, the narrowest is five inches, and some have to use white fur on the border (Yong Zhongrenmu in Tibetan, symbolizes sturdiness and eternity).

The last step is to interlock the traditional floral brocade with the edge. In this way, Chu Ba's entire hem is almost covered with trim. The trousers are all made of white fluorescent silk. Footwear is Tibetan high boots with leather uppers. Men’s jewelry mainly includes Gawu (a small shrine, usually made into a small box for wearing on the neck), obliquely inserted waist knife, Chuba back hem with beautiful wave-shaped tail folds, hanging a silver knife with dragon-inlaid, Tibetan boots, etc. If you imagine such a picture, a handsome Khamba man comes alive, as well as his sturdy temperament.

3. Zha Gui (warrior dress)

Wear a fox fur hat on head and a long sword on the waist, dress in a woolen Chu Ba and hang an amulet on the neck, which shows the masculine beauty of the warrior’s heroic vigor.

Tibetan Clothing For Women

women dress

Tibetan clothing is also mainly reflected in women's dress during festivals, major events in life, and ceremonies. It is well known that Tibetan festival dresses are richer and grander than usual. On the other hand, there's a great difference between adult etiquette and women's clothing before and after marriage, which is also a major feature of Tibetan clothing.

When the Tibetan girls in the Qinghai agriculture area reach the age of fifteen or seventeen, they need to change their childhood braids set to adult braids set. This is their Adult Ceremony, and the date should be a chosen auspicious day. First of all, ask monks to hold religious ceremonies, then the adult women help the girls dress up, worship Buddhas, ancestors, and parents. At this time, the female families sing worshiping songs for ancestors. At the age of fifteen, Haixi Tibetan girls must wear the "Marlton" (hair set), which is made of cloth or satin and decorated with many silver shields and corals. Guoluo Tibetan newly-married women are required to wear long-sleeved gowns with a rainbow-like stitch around the cuff of sleeves, and ornate vests. Similarly, Tianzhu Tibetan unmarried women's hair hoods are much shorter than married women's hair hoods, while Tibetan women in Aba Prefecture only began to braid after 16 years old. Unmarried girls in Zhuoni, Gansu, braid three plaits, however, married women here braid in the middle of the head and plait their hair from the waist down, not braid on both sides.

Features Of Traditional Tibetan Clothing And Accessories

The basic characteristics of Tibet traditional dress are that the Tibetan robe must also be worn with an inner garment, right front part, a large waist, a pair of wide and long sleeves. Collars, garment front, cuffs, hem, etc. are mostly trimmed with fine fur, Tibet wool, or colored cloth. In order to adapt to the mobility of livestock production, it gradually formed the feature of the big front, belt tied on the waist, and outstanding space (similar to a bag) in front of the chest. When going out, this space is convenient to store butter, Zanba, tea, rice bowl, and even babies. In Tibetan areas, there are sometimes four seasons of climate change within a day. During the daytime, taking off one sleeve or two sleeves and tying them around the waist is easy to work. When sleeping at night, unwrap belt, take off two sleeves, make it as a warm sleeping bag. So Tibetan clothing is really multi-purpose.

The basic features of Tibetan clothing determine a series of clothing accessories. It is not convenient to walk in a straight and fat Tibetan robe, and the belt becomes an indispensable item. Tibetan belts were first woven by hand, usually using cotton, silk, wool, and other materials. Later, the pattern of the belt became complicated. Women's belts in Zhazha Township, Cuomei County, Shannan prefecture, also embellish the Han style waist decoration embroidered with the Han word "寿". When girding the waist, first tie the robe with a silk belt, fold the hip robe back, then turn down and flatten the upper part of the robe, and expose the pattern. At last, tie the leather belt on the silk belt. Wealthy people are more particular about it, with agate or turquoise embedded in the belt, or inlaid with silver or gold.

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