Over the last 100 years the world has changed so much. Before, each country, each region, and nearly each town/tribe all wore different styles of clothing all for different reasons. Some was for the weather, others was because some colors were cheaper than others so it was a show of class, and it was all beautiful. Today, very few communities around the world still wear their traditional clothing on a regular basis. Many people appeal to the “westernized” outfit like jeans and a t-shirt (what I wear, like, every day). These are the peoples of different cultures and countries around the world that still wear their traditional clothing.
In Pakistan both the traditional sari and shalwar kameez is worn. The shalwar kameez is more common among everyone in the country, including the Punjabi. Muslim and Hindu practicing people usually wear saris and saris are worn in cities more commonly than anywhere else. These outfits are cotton lightly draped around the person’s body which are warm in the winter and are cool in the summer. Other countries also wear a sari with India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
Indonesia is a series of islands that has dozens if not hundreds of different cultures that all wear different traditional and “westernized” outfits. Lets focus on the kebaya. Now the kebaya is also worn in Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Myanmar, parts of Thailand, Cambodia, and parts of the Philippines. It’s almost always floral and usually worn with a sarong, made out of silk, cotton, or polyester. It’s the traditional outfit of Indonesia but is mostly worn by the Javanese, Balinese, and Sundanese. There are traditionally 3 parts of the outfit, the blouse (kebaya), the brooch (because the original and traditional kebaya has no buttons), and sarong or skirt. It’s made modern by many different styles today and it’s common to see among the people.
Maasai of Kenya
The Maasai aren’t just in Kenya, many are in Tanzania as well. Before the 1960s it was common to wear animal skins that were dyed in different colors (red is a favorite). Today they wear cloth, still wearing all sorts of colors and patterns. Both men and women wear flowery patterns. The most common outfit is a kanga, a one piece. Wearing beaded jewelry is also common and each color has a different meaning. White means peace, and red means warrior/brave, for a couple of examples. Before European contact the beads were made out of many materials, clay, seeds, bone, etc. Today the beads are mostly made out of glass. Head shaving is also a right of passage for both genders. Even though they use modern materials, it seems like the traditional styles of the Maasai aren’t going anywhere.
Herero of Namibia
I know as soon as I saw this clothes I thought, “These don’t look very traditional at all, it kind of looks like old European fashion.” That’s exactly what the Herero wear today. In the 1800s German missionaries settled in what is now Namibia and like in other areas of the world decided they had to “civilize these savages” and didn’t approve of people being nearly naked. Among Herero women today it’s still acceptable to wear Victorian styles of dresses. The bigger the dress the better. 3-4 petticoats are worn on a regular basis. Although this practice may be disappearing, as younger ladies only wear this dress on special occasions. The headdress is usually styled like a horn, since cattle are so important to the Herero.
Sami of Sapmi
The Sami live in what is now northern Norway, Swedish, Finland, and Russia. Frozen might have shown you Kristof, who wore all black, but what the Sami wear is the exact opposite of that! Bright colors, intricate patterns, all in different styles is exactly what they wear. It’s called a gakti, and is worn from ceremonies, working, and herding reindeer. Traditionally the gakti was made out of reindeer leather, but today it’s usually made from cotton, wool, or silk. The colors, patterns, and jewelry worn tell where the person is from, if they’re married or not, and can even be specific to the family. Even with new materials being made to wear their traditional clothing, it looks like the Sami are sticking to their bright colors for generations to come.
In the small country just south of China men and women still wear their traditional clothing. For men it’s called a gho. For women it’s called kira. The men’s outfit is a knee length robe that’s tied at the waist. Sometimes (like for celebration) kabney. It’s a silk scarf that stays on the left shoulder down to the right hip. The gho is actually required for men in Bhutan to wear if they work in the government or in schools. The women’s kira is an ankle length dress, clipped at the shoulders with brooches and usually has something to tie around the waist. Certain jackets and blouses are usually worn with this outfit called toego and wonju. Because Bhutan still requires this traditional clothing to be worn, I don’t think it’s going anywhere anytime soon.
In northeastern India is Nagaland. Several different tribes from called Angami, Ao, Chakhesang, Chang, Kachari, Kuki, Lotha, Phom, Pochury, Rengma, Sangtam, Sumi, Yimchunger, and Zeme-Liangmai. Each tribe has it’s own traditional clothes they still wear. However, some have decided to move toward more western outfits and only wear their traditional clothing for ceremonies (like the Chang). Shawls tend to me the most common piece of clothing, however each tribe has different patterns that use different colors. They all have different meanings. It’s difficult to find much information about any of these tribes, so I have to say Nagaland in India might be a great place to visit off the beaten path.
It might not be as common today as it used to be, however in Hue it’s still seen on a regular basis and in smaller towns throughout the country. It is unisex, but today mostly women wear this. When places tend to have a uniform (school teachers, bank staff, restaurants, flight attendants, etc.) this is the outfit you will see. When we usually think of traditional outfits we tend to think of conservative and covering everything. While the ao dai does cover everything, the material can be as thin and transparent as someone wants, making it be quite promiscuous. It can also be made to fit as tight and form fitting to show off the body’s natural curves. In recent years it’s no longer deemed politically controversial, so it might be making a comeback throughout the country.
Most of the traditional clothing is quite similar in Sardinia, however each town and region does have it’s own design and meaning. In the past each color combination, pattern, and style meant the line of work someone was in, if they were married, their social status, etc. but in the middle of the 20th century things began to change. Many materials could be used such as wool, linen, or silk. There are several different components of the outfit from the headgear, the jacket, trousers, or skirt. Today mostly the elderly still wear this traditional outfit on a regular basis, the rest of the population wanes more toward westernized fashion. It may soon disappear.
We’ve all heard of the kimono (which actually means “thing to wear” in Japanese) but there are several different styles of it, and there are several other clothes that are traditional to Japan. There is the women’s kimono and the men’s kimono. The women’s has 12 different components and is difficult to put on without help. There are licensed professional kimono dressers for this purpose. There must be a dozen of different styles and pattern choices all meaning different things for different occasions. The men’s is much simpler, usually being 5 pieces. Today the men’s kimono is usually darker in color (blues, black, and greens) but are sometimes lighter in color for more casual events. Today kimonos are usually used just for ceremonial purposes, however there are still people (usually the older generations) that still wear them on a regular basis.
While on the Faroe Islands the traditional clothing is mostly used for ceremonies, festive days, and traditional dancing events, it is making a comeback into the day to day lives. In the tv show The Killing one of the main characters wears Faroese sweaters, which as made them more in demand than in the past. Young people of the nation are bringing back the traditional outfit with both patterns and bright colors they didn’t previously wear. Today it is a handicraft and brings families together and keeps the culture alive while people study abroad.
Maya of Guatemala
The Mayans have been made quite famous since back in 2012 their supposed calendar ended therefore was the “end of the world” (last I’ve heard it actually ends in several hundreds of years, so, new end of the world?). The Maya have lived in what is now Guatemala and Mexico and other parts of Central America for thousands of years. Today they still wear brightly colored yarns into different styles of capes, shirts, blouses, dresses, and huipiles. Each village has it’s own distinctive pattern, making it easy to tell where the wearer is from. Because the Maya have endured for thousands of years, I believe their traditional clothing is here to stay.
The country of Mongolia is known for it’s nomadic people. The traditional clothing that has been worn for centuries is called a deel. It’s usually made from silk, cotton, wool, or brocade. Outside of major cities it is still worn daily, in urban areas usually the elderly wear it or for festivals only. The long dress is usually worn passed the knee and it’s tied together on the sides. A silk wrap is worn around the waist. There Isn’t much that distinguishes women’s clothing and men’s. Throughout history each tribe had it’s own pattern, although overall the outfits did tend to look similar. Because in urban areas the deel is no longer worn regularly, the future of this beautiful traditional outfit is uncertain.
Before European contact the people of Tahiti wore tapa cloth that was from dried pandanus leaves, coconut fibers, and breadfruit bark. Both men and women usually wore this around their waist, leaving everything above that exposed. When the missionaries came, they of course did not like that. Today more westernized clothing is worn, however a new type of material was introduced. Men and women today of Tahiti wear sarongs (which are also seen across Southeast Asia and other parts of the Pacific). While showcasing their traditional dance the old traditional styles are still worn.
Inuit of Canada
Often called First Nations, they lived in what is now Canada for thousands of years before Europeans ever came. They also live in what is now Greenland, Alaska, and Russia. Due to the artic tundra being so cold, icy, and wintery most of the year the Inuit perfected being able to keep warm. In the past and even today many of the traditional clothes were made of seal skins and caribou skins. The amauti is commonly worn today, also known as a parka, to keep warm and is usually for women (and specially catered to help with breast feeding sometimes). The mukluk is boots that are worn, usually out of animal skins. The tuilik is made for going out on the water in the kayak and is water tight. Even though some of the materials were replaced from animal skin, because of the cold climate it looks like the traditional Inuit outfit isn’t going anywhere.
Mosuo of China
You may or may not have heard of the Mosuo of China. They’re a tribe of 40,000 people, but they’re best known for their unusual marriages and are sometimes called the last matriarch tribe in the world. Both men and women in this tribe still wear their traditional clothing, the only time they tend not to is when they’re working in the fields (which is up to the women). The women wear black headdresses usually decorated with pearls. They also wear long pleaded skirts and animal hide boots. The way of life for the women of Mosuo has been criticized in recent years. Before the 1980s it took several days to reach the outside world and they had no electricity. Today they have electricity and a resort is being built to bring on my tourists. The culture and traditional dress of these people is unknown for the future.
Hmong of China
The Hmong aren’t just in China, they’re also in Vietnam and Thailand. Years ago many moved to countries like Germany, France, Australia, and the United States. There are several different tribes of the Hmong such as the Black Hmong, White Hmong, Flower Hmong, etc. Most wear bright colors with different patterns distinguishing each from the other. The Black Hmong for example wear mostly darker clothes with colorful embroidery around the edges (sleeves, collars, etc.). The Flower Hmong wear brighter colors and have beaded fringe. Because the Hmong have their own language and prominent culture that has lasted for thousands of years, I believe their culture will stand to endure for centuries to come and their traditional clothing isn’t going anywhere.
The people of Madagascar can be seen wearing what they call a lamba. On men it’s more traditional to see it outside of urban areas and on the elderly. It’s much more common for women to wear a lamba today. In the past it was all that was worn but today it’s usually worn over western clothing. When there is a ceremony or funeral to go to. It has many different uses besides wearing, such as protection from the sun, protection from the wind or dust, a blanket, carrying a child, a covering when bathing or going swimming. While the people of Madagascar embrace a more westernized outfit, it’s hard to say how much longer the lamba will be used.
Around Polynesia a common outfit worn by both men and women is the pareo. It’s similar to a sarong and is commonly worn by women going to the beach in tropical areas. Today it’s used to help feel more modest, sun protection, and to look stylish. In the past both men and women wore them but today it’s more common for women to wear them either on the Cook Islands, to Hawaii, or just at home wherever they are in the world.
What a finish. You’re probably thinking, “Really? America? I don’t think so.” While the United States doesn’t have a traditional outfit day or festival where we all wear 1 outfit, there are still items many Americans wear that we don’t realize other countries don’t. Flannel is a common one worn in northern states in the winter to keep warn and can come in any pattern, not just plaid. Cowboy boots and hats in the southwest is also still seen on occasion. Knickerbockers were warn until the mid 20th century by young boys, passed down from the traditional Dutch wear. Lets not forget the Amish and Mennonite traditional outfits who originally came from German Switzerland but today they’re only in North America.