Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


This paper discusses the concepts of fashion and tradition as they relate to the process of cultural authentication. Historically, in the context of Laos and Thailand, Hmong textiles were used to create distinctive ensembles worn as everyday dress. They were handwoven and embroidered by women, and specific patterns or color combinations in the cloth denoted membership in regional language groups. Today, Hmong ethnic textiles are used in the United States to express ethnic identity and display cultural heritage in a more general context, worn instead at festive occasions such as Hmong New Year. Significant changes in “traditional” Hmong textiles have occurred as successive generations of Hmong Americans incorporate design elements, aesthetic aspects, and materials from contemporary American fashions.

Two major agents of transformation, adaptation and design change are Hmong American teenagers and, more recently, textile and apparel producers in China and Thailand. Hmong American teenagers have complained that the older-style layers of textiles are heavy, bulky, and too time-consuming to make or wear in their rapid-paced, busy American lifestyle. Newer styles incorporate fewer layers of cloth, lightweight machineproduced fabrics, plastic beads, more body-fitting styles, and fashionable American accessories. Within in the past three years it is possible to purchase ready-made textiles and create traditional-looking ensembles “off the rack” at Hmong New Year. These textiles are made of mass-produced, machine-embroidered, synthetic fabrics, and many are sold pre-formed such as “traditional” wrapped turbans produced as easy-to-wear hats. These transformations in traditional Hmong textiles allow for rapid response to American fashion trends.