Celebrating the Hmong (Mong) New Year: Traditional Tribal Outfits

When we were in Thailand earlier this year, I did a series of posts on the Hmong New Year we attended.  I know there is not much out there on the Internet about the Hmong New Year as it is traditionally celebrated – we certainly tried to learn more before we went but came up with almost nothing! So I realized I had a couple more topics to explore on the subject and thought I would share them now.

One thing that really fascinates me when I visit other cultures is the kind of clothing they wear. The Hmong people still make their own clothing.  They sew it by hand and it takes approximately one entire year to sew a ceremonial outfit.  Of course, most Hmong people today do not wear their traditional outfits every day.  Most Hmong people today wear cheap Western t-shirts and pants or simple skirts for their everyday clothing and only put on their  ceremonial outfits for special occasions or performances. One day in the year when all the Hmong people will wear their ceremonial outfits is on the Hmong New Year.

Because each person makes their own clothing, it is common to see some very elaborate costumes.  People use their clothing as a way of self-expression.  Of course, in the Western world, we also say that our clothing helps show our personalities, but it is much more true in cases where the individual has made their own clothing!  Some girls will make their outfits to match so everyone knows they are best friends, or they will try to out-do each other with how fancy they can make their outfits.

However individual the costumes may be, there are still some traditions governing the style of clothing.  Women all wear skirts that come past their knees and tops or jackets with high round collars and sleeves ending past the elbows.  In fact, traditional Hmong outfits meet all the Jewish modesty (tzniut) requirements!  Most Hmong women also cover their hair, although they have different ways of doing it.  Some wear scarves, while others wear elaborate headdresses.  Even young girls may cover their hair.

The men also wear very modest clothing.  Men will generally wear a similar long-sleeved top as the women do, although with a different cut and often not as highly decorated (although not always!).   Men wear pants that come to their mid-calves or ankles. Often they wear a kind of belt with a hanging piece that covers the upper separation in the legs.  They are very modest, too!

Another feature of Hmong traditional tribal outfits is that they wear their wealth.  The Hmong people do not have banks in which to store their money.  The Thai government does not give citizenship to all the Hill Tribes living there, so some of them may even have a hard time opening a bank account even if they can travel back and forth to a city (which is often a slow journey and many Hmong people do not have vehicles).  Therefore, most Hmong people still store their wealth the same way their ancestors did: in the form of jewelry.  They make silver bracelets and necklaces and sometimes even headdresses.  The women wear earrings and nose rings as well.  Most of the time they do not wear all this jewelry (it would be very heavy and bulky!) but they do put it all on for the Hmong New Year.

The Hmong New Year seems to be a time for a bit of showing off.  The people wear their fanciest ceremonial outfits and display all their wealth.  However, the actual clothing itself is quite modest and does not show too much skin, nor is it tight and form fitting.

Check out the gallery below for a variety of examples of different Hmong traditional tribal outfits!


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