When traveling in the northeastern grasslands of China, you often run across Mongols dressed in colorful costumes and adornments. The effect is quite impressive, especially when you watch a group of Mongolian horsemen thunder past on their mounts, their robes flowing behind them. From a distance, these robes might appear savage and rough-hewn. Upon closer inspection, however, you will be probably be amazed by the exquisite workmanship and complicated stitchery. You might ask: How can such a rural people create such beautiful and complicated clothing? Well, the answer is: The Mongols have had a lot of practice. The history of Mongolian costume can be dated all the way back to prehistoric times, when Mongolian people first began using animal skins, fur, bones and feathers to make clothes and ornaments for themselves.
As you are probably aware, many Mongols today still reside on the cold Mongolian Plateau, practicing a traditional nomadic lifestyle. They are a rugged people, living on the backs of horses, carving out livings from the harsh countryside by herding and sheparding. Naturally, their clothes must be cold-proof, weather-proof and easy for riding; as a result robes, waistcoats, boots and fur hats developed into the Mongolian clothing of choice. A bulk of Mongols today are distributed across vast lands, living in different groups, each with its own characteristic lifestyle, natural environment and dressing-style, but all of the costumes are of a style typically recognized as Mongolian - observe the image of the robe on the left: A good example of traditional Mongolian dress.
Generally, a Mongolian costume consists of a long robe with different kinds of elaborate patterns embroidered on it. Waistbands also play an important role in Mongolian clothing custom. Waistbands, like robes, are often made of silk (occasionally cotton), originally introduced to Mongolian culture via the Silk Road. Here, the style of clothing differentiates between Mongolian women and men: Women's clothes are usually red, blue and pink and Mongolian men, similar to traditional Tibetan costume, often hang knives, snuffboxes and other ornaments from around their waists. Mongolian boots are very soft, very delicate, with many elaborate designs on them. Hat-wearing is an old tradition among Mongols - as old as horse riding. Mongol's hats are often decorated with agates, jade, coral, pearls and other jewelry, all of which lend beauty and enchantment to the Mongolian costume.
The embroidery work on traditional Mongolian clothes is a rare and valuable technique in the treasury of world arts. Perhaps you think Mongolian women from the grasslands are only suited to be Shepards; their rough fingers only good for grasping the manes of horses. Can you imagine their long, nimble fingers are equally skilled at fine embroidery? Indeed, Mongolian women often learn traditional embroidering in their childhoods and are taught to make full use of their imaginations in order to create all kind of delicate designs. These embroideries will be used on hats, headdresses, collars, cuffs, boots, purses, etc. Different designs have different symbolic meanings, which fully reflect the artistic value of the embroidery-work.
Mongols have been living on vast and beautiful grasslands for centuries. Their costumes, adornments and embroidery fully reflect their unique and colorful culture. One of the most famous examples of traditional Mongolian costume is the elaborate wrestling garments worn by Mongolia wrestlers (right), which are known worldwide for their high artistic value. If you are traveling in Inner Mongolia, Qinghai, Gansu and other places where Mongols live, don't miss the opportunity to observe these exquisite Mongolian costumes up close. Their fine stitching and ornamental style reveal as much about Mongolian culture as Mongols themselves.