Mongolian Dress

In joining the SCA, the boyfriend and I were trying to determine persona.  This is a fairly common ritual for those who think they may be around for the long haul, and most people have a general idea of where they want to go with their character creation.  Vikings are common, as are 14th and 15 century knights, Elizabethan nobles, even Ottoman and Arabian persona are fairly well represented.  Less represented, at least in the West Kingdom, are Mongolians.  And the boyfriend, wanting to not follow the crowd, decided he wanted to be Mongolian.  And the more I learned about the Great Kahn (Genghis), the more on board I became with the idea.  To learn why I have nothing but mad respect for the "Barbarian Hoards" led by Genghis Kahn, I highly recommend Genghis Kahn and the Making of the Modern World, by Jack Weatherford.

But this blog, this site in general, is more interested in textiles.  And in this case, what DID the Mongolians wear?  When the average Mongolian rolled out of bed in the morning, how did he or she dress?  So I set out to find out.  And let me tell you, this was not easy.  Mongolia, while not specifically insular, is not as mainstream as say, Samurai, The Black Prince, or even Sulieman.  But, in researching Mongolian Fashion, I did find some VERY interesting pop culture references.

Seems familiar…

Seems familiar…

It’s almost like I’ve seen this look somewhere before…

Like, maybe in a galaxy far, far away…

Like, maybe in a galaxy far, far away…

So Mongolia, while not traditionally mainstream, clearly has some influence on Hollywood beyond Netflix.

But that still leaves the question of Mongolian Clothing.  Generally speaking, men and women wore much the same thing.  There were differences in Armor and decor, but the style and cut of Mongolian clothing is uniquely suited to the harsh life on the Mongolian plateaus, which makes unisex style garments eminently practical.

So for starters, both wore pants.  Both men and women were accomplished equestrians, and side saddle was literally unheard of in Genghis Kahn's Mongolia.  And while women could ride in carts, generally, transport by cart was for the sick and elderly.  Everyone else rode or walked.  And since Mongolian winters are brutally cold, with temperatures routinely reaching to -4 to -45 Fahrenheit (-20 to -45 Celsius), pants were a necessity to keep from freezing your lower extremities.

Mongolian warriors would wear a silk undershirt because it was believed to assist in removing arrows that might successfully penetrate armor.  Women would not have necessarily needed such an undershirt, in that there is no evidence they actually went to war with the men.  Not to say they didn't, but there is no evidence to that effect.  Also not to say they didn't wear undershirts.  Mongolia, as shown above, is COLD.  Layers would be the order of the say, even in Summer.  So while no extant garments have been found, it is not unreasonable to assume undershirts were worn.

The Deel is the garment worn by both men and women for which Mongolia is known.  Originally made of hemp, as Mongolian culture progressed it came to be made of wool, cotton, and eventually silk.  Of course the reason for this is that Genghis Kahn basically hi-jacked the Silk Road and all tithes and taxes thereof, usually in the form of silk, spices, and livestock, made it's way back to the heart of the Mongolian Empire, resulting in vast wealth for the Mongolians.  And Silk became a staple of their wardrobe, useful not just in deflecting arrows, but for high fashion in Mongolia.  If the Deel was insufficient for warmth, more layers in the form of vests or additional coats might be added.  But generally speaking, the Deel, carefully woven and lined, provided all the protection Mongolians needed from the rapidly changing climate in Mongolia.

Over the Deel is a long sash, wrapped several times around the waist.  The sash wrapped allows for a pocket to form in the Deel, in which anything from small items to small livestock can be kept, depending on the needs of the moment.

Boots are stiff, heavy leather, turned up at the toe.  Several explanations have been given for the design.  My favorite ties back to the Shamanic tradition of Mongolia.  Tradition says that if the toe is not turned up, it might gouge mother earth, so that the turned up toe is respectful to her, to avoid injury.

And finally, the hats.  Discover Mongolia says there are 400 styles of hat worn in Mongolia, and lists some of the reasons and styles found.  But my favorite example of Mongolian style bleeding over to the west was from Contemporary (to Genghis Kahn) fashion, when women in Europe adopted the Boqta in to the Hennin.

Overall, Mongolian costume is beautifully crafted, as it has to be well made to withstand the harsh conditions of a high desert lifestyle. And it is perfectly suited for it’s environments, and played it’s part in fashion history. Khublai Khan, direct descendant of the great khan himself, sat the throne in China starting in 1279 C.E., founding the Yuan Dynasty. The Yuan dynasty lent the cut of the Mongolian deel to Chinese fashion, and eventually codified it in to the official Dragon Robes of imperial China. This codification of imperial emblems lasted until the collapse of the Qing dynasty in revolutionary China in the early 20th Century. How’s that for a fashion legacy?