SO last weeks online dress debacle ( as bewildering as it was from afar) actually reminded me that I haven’t talked that much about traditional clothes or even Mongolian sense of fashion on this blog… Lets Third Goal this up! ***
To understand traditional Mongolian clothes, you have to understand Mongolian cultures roots in nomadism. Mongolian culture, reaching all the way back to the time of Chingiss Khan to around 1990, was incredibly utilitarian. Due to nomadic culture, living on the move and lack of resources, everything, even the clothes, needed to be incredibly warm, useful and practical. This led to the traditional Mongolian Deel ( rhymes will “Adele” or a Dell), which is a design commonly found among Central Asian tribes (varying in lengths and materials). Its basically a long overcoat that buttons along one side and use a light silk scarf to tie it up along the waist. For a long time there wasn’t much modification in materials other then cotton and felt. In fact the school uniform for most Mongolians up untill 20 years ago were deels. I have seen grainy pictures of students with deels under intimidating portraits of Lenin meeting Sukhbaatar (Mongolian National Hero).
Of course there are variations upon the deel, mostly dependent on the season. Most of the year there are spring and autumn deels which have long sleeves, and tend to be made out of fancier fabrics such as silks. On the other hand, winter deels are thick rugs that are incredibly heavy and warm. I’m pretty sure my winter deel is about an inch thick and weighs several kilos. Think of a reverse snuggie that actually keeps you warm. Mine was relatively cheap, mostly made out of cotton. If I had splurged I could have bought a silk winter deel with a cashmere inset. Or a “with hair” deel, as its called. Of course, because a deel isn’t quite warm enough, there are special vests and jackets that you can wear over said deel.
Of course then there are summer or fashion deels. These are silk dresses that reminiscent of deels yet I imagine are relatively new on the traditional Mongolian fashion scene. People get very creative with them, and I have seen a large variety; apparently a fashion deel is a deel as long as it is made out of silk. Our host families made us deels over our initial training summer, and you can see the variety.
I now have two fashion deels and a winter deel. I am tempted to splurge on what my English teacher called a “smart deel”. One with long sleeves, made of silk and a thinner material. When in Mongolia …right ? Also my Mongolian friends love for their traditional clothes and sheer pride has admittedly transferred over to me. I love having occasions to wear my deel , mostly in the positive reactions I receive people walking around town. ” Oh you’re wearing a Mongolian Deel! Isn’t it warm! Excellent!”. Of course for those that are older, there is a pleasure in seeing a foreigner wearing their traditional dress. Seeing their own children and young people eschew traditional clothes for ‘western clothes’ , Michael Jordan jerseys and Korean prep school uniforms, it’s a nice switch. There is always a fear , especially with older Mongolians I talk to , that with their small population and remoteness, Mongolian culture will slowly disappear. How ever there is such a pride and stalwart nationalism, that I doubt they have anything to fear.
Meanwhile , its been a slow week in the western mountains of Mongolia. While its officially spring by the Mongolian calendar , its far from being warm, and spring breezes have made the walk to school a little bit more painful in the mornings. I also had my first winter sickness this week, so I have taken it easily, sipping tea throughout my workday, and sleeping a lot. Next week I have decided is when I will hound people about projects and work. Just need to muster the energy to do so 😛
Hope this finds you warm – V.
*** Third Goal refers to one of the three Peace Corps goals, which is to bring your host countrys culture back to Mongolia. For your info, First Goal is to provide trained individuals in host countries of need. Second Goal is helping expose / explain aspect of American culture to host country nationals.