Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textiles as Cultural Expressions: Proceedings of the 11th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–27, 2008, Honolulu, Hawaii


Copyright 2008 by the author.


Ethnic Dress: Reflecting Ancestral Roots

Unknown to the vast majority of the world, many people in northern Vietnam continue to wear a distinctive costume that speaks of their ties to a unique ancestral past, ancient beliefs, and time honored cultural traditions. While ninety per cent of Vietnam’s population of 84 million is from the majority group known as Viet Kinh, Vietnam is in actuality a fascinating composite of fifty four ethnic groups. Approximately thirty of the minority groups live in northern Vietnam. Varying in size from two hundred to half a million, these groups are minute in comparison to the Viet Kinh population, yet the rich cultural diversity in this region continues to be expressed in a multitude of distinctive group costumes that are worn daily. (Fig. 1) This surprising divergence from the advanced technology and globalization of the 21st century is a vivid contrast to the homogenous modern, western-style clothing or the adapted national costumes that is sweeping across many parts of the world.

Who Are These People?

This paper is based on field studies conducted in 1999, 2005, 2006, and 2007 in remote areas of the northernmost provinces of Vietnam--Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Lao Cai, Lai Chau, and Tuyen Quan. Most of these regions lie along the borderline of northern Vietnam and southwest China. Some remain restricted to outsiders, requiring special entry permits. A general overview of the ethnic groups in northern Vietnam will be followed by a discussion of my field experiences with the Lolo, Hmong, and Yao.