Mongolian Traditional Clothing
Introduction and brief explanations on Mongolian Traditional Clothing by L. Sonomtseren
Editor B. Sodnom
The national dress of the Mongols has a rich history and an artistic tradition of many centuries. It is closely connected with the way of life of the Mongolian people, with the specific features of their economic system and with the natural conditions of the country. The costumes must meet the most different situations of life, whether, for example, somebody is riding on horseback over the steppe, whether he is sitting at home in his yurt (felt tent), or whether he is dancing at a national festival. The different conditions of climate, too, influence the kind of dresses worn; thus costumes have been developed that are intended for the different seasons of the year. In summer the Mongols wear a light coat or frock, the "Törlök", in autumn and winter a wadded coat, the "Khovontei Dööl", or a lambskin coat, the "Khurgan Dotortoi Dööl", in winter a sheepskin dress reminding of a fur coat, the "Tsagaan Nökhi Dööl".
The age of the wearer, too, is reflected by the dress. The costumes of elderly people are, as a rule, modest and plain, while young people prefer gay, stylish clothes. The female dress shows differences between the attire of the girls and of married women. The costumes of the latter are decorated and adorned more splendidly.
From remote times the Mongols have worn coats with oblique braid, the "Tashuu Öngertei Dööl", and a coat with straight border, which reminds of a long waistcoat, the "Sadgai Öngertei Dööl". This is confirmed by the costumes from the Hun era, found during excavations in the burial-mounds of Noin Ula. The design of the garments, the combination of colours as well as the decorative ornaments speak of an old culture of the Mongolian people. The materials of which the dresses are made, reveal a connection of the Mongolian culture with the cultures of the neighboring countries of the East. But, at the same time, the contribution of the Mongols themselves to the art of costumes can be clearly recognized: the national-original character of Mongolian dress. Later, the "Durbölzhin Öngertei Dööl" with rectangular border became very popular. In the course of adaptation to the ever-changing social and economic conditions the national costumes underwent further changes, the ancient traditions, however, have been retained in a refined manner. And up to the present time, the Mongols are wearing the coat with the oblique border, the "Tashuu Öngertei", and the coat with the rectangular border, the "Durbölzhin Öngertei Dööl".
The materials from which the dresses were sewn were either produced by the Mongols themselves, such as "leather, wool, and fur", or they were imported from abroad. Nobody knows when the Mongols started to produce textile fabrics on their own, but it is an established fact that they have been making dresses of silk, cotton fabric, woollen material, and brocades for a very long time already. Some of the fabrics were, especially in the times of the Huns, introduced from other countries of the East. It is self-understood that the garments for the different seasons were made also of different materials. The lining for the winter dresses consisted of sheepskin, goatskin, or wolf's fur, of the pelts of corsacs, lynxes, wolverines, racoons, foxes, and sables. The winter fur coat might have consisted simply of sheepskin, but sometimes it was covered outside with fabric, such as cotton cloth, tussore, silk, brocade, and satin.
Often the white sheepskin was dyed yellow or green and provided with ornaments. For summer clothes the materials mentioned above were used, but also woollen cloth and velvet. As linings, thin fabrics were used. As a rule, the dresses were richly adorned. The national artisans created jewelry and ornaments of gold, silver, corals, pearls, and precious stones.
When studying the national costumes the history of a people, the history of its culture and civilization can be seen as though it were materialized. The making of dresses has always been considered an art. There were many genuine masters whose "golden hands" were famous, the garments having been sewn not only by women, but also by men. A tailor had to have comprehensive knowledge and the most different faculties. He was simultaneously an artist and embroiderer, he was able to glue, quilt, and stuff with wadding, he knew the symbolism of the ornaments used on the dresses, the symbolism of the colors and their combination. The symbolism of dress is altogether of great interest. Thus, for example, the heavenward directed peak of a cap resting on a cupola-shaped base symbolizes prosperity and happiness. The eyelet at the upper part of the Sampin of the cap symbolizes the moon, the knot of the Sampin means simplicity and strength, while the lower part of the Sampin, which is called Tav, represents the sun. Below the Tav four strips have their origin, which represent home and family, while 32 narrow strips of lace symbolize the beams of the sun. With most caps the Sampin and the lace strips are of the same color, usually red or brown.
Embroidery in different styles is also widely applied for adorning the garments: back-stitching, stem-stitching, etc. Of old tradition are the ornaments on the dresses, each garment displaying a definite and strictly observed type of ornament which, as already said before, has a symbolism entirely of its own. Interesting is the colour scale of Mongolian costume. The national costumes were chiefly brown and dark blue.
As is well known, Mongolia is inhabited by various national groups, such as the Khalka, Buryat, Dörbet, Torgut, Barga, Dariganga, Uzumchin, Bayit, Uryankhaits, Khoton, and Mingat groups, the Sakhchins, Darkhats, Ölöts, and Kazakhs. Of course, the national peculiarities will be reflected by the clothes. The differences between the dresses of the various national groups refer to the design, the color, the style, and the ornaments. Different are, for example, the borders of the coats, the style of the waistcoats worn over the coats, the trimmings at the edges of the borders, the adornments and ornaments. In the costume of the Khalkha blue and brown are the predominant colors, while the dress of the Buryats shows blue and that of the Khotons clark shades as the chief colors. Almost all nationalities use black velvet for trimming the border and, moreover, a thin strip of black velvet at the extreme edge of the border. However, the style of these trimmings is not uniform: sometimes they are cut rectangular and sometimes not. The women's waistcoats, "Uuzh", are generally similar to each other, but even their design will differ in detail. Both the Khalkha and the Mingat women are wearing dresses with sleeves full of pleats, but with the Khalkha women the quilted seams on the pleats are arranged horizontally, while with the Mingat women these seams extend vertically. A few men wear coats with slashes as the women do. The differences between the national costumes of the women refer to the ornaments as well.
A few words ought to be said also regarding the coiffure, an important part of the female toilet. The coiffure of the Khalkha and Mingat women is somewhat "wing-shaped"; the hair is plaited into two braids widening at the temples in the form of wings, the width of the wings being greater with the Khalkha women and smaller with the Mingat women, with whom also the ornaments are more modest. Very peculiar is the hair-dress of the Bargas and Darigangas. The women of some national groups don't wear pins in the hair, but instead of them the "Khadlaga".
The Uzumchins and Darigangas are fond of coral ornaments, while the Khalkhas prefer gold ornarments, silver ornaments, and pearls.
Nor does the headdress lack multifariousness. Almost every nationality has a headdress of its own, differing in design, style, and color from those of the other national groups, and also the ornaments are different, so that there are many kinds of Mongolian caps. In western Mongolia caps of the "Tortsog", "Yuden", and "Zharantai" kinds are widely used, which differ from the headdress of the Khalkhas and Buryats. The Mongols also wear different kinds of boots; the "Naamal Ultai Gutal" are boots with glued-on soles; furthermore we have the "Sholkhotoi Gutal" and the "Khanchin Gutal", the different national groups having different types of lootwear, too. Whereas the Torgut Mongols are wearing boots of the "Tookhuu Gutal" type, the boots of the Buryats are called "Ulsan Gutal". After the National Revolution national costumes changed substantially, they became simpler and more modest.
Studies of the history of dress and costume, their variations and kinds with the various national groups within the framework of one nation will contribute to better understanding the process of cultural evolution, in particular of folk art, and are a valuable aid to ethnographic researches. On the basis of the rich traditions of Mongolian costume the contemporary masters and folk artists are making use of the heritage that has come down to us from many centuries, and are creating new models of national costume.
State Publishing-House Ulan Bator 1967