Story and Photos: Tran Tan Vinh

The traditional outfits of the White Hmong are striking fashion creations.

The Hmong ethnicity consists of a great variety of local communities, such as the Black Hmong, Rouge Hmong, Floral Hmong and White Hmong, who reside across the Northern highlands. The identification and classification of these Hmong communities are mainly based on their clothing. Hmong outfits are reputed for their sophistication and elegance and are considered among the finest of all the ethnic minorities in Vietnam.

A White Hmong woman wearing a headband in Ha Giang

Against the boundless green of their mountain villages, White Hmong women walking in the mist to their homes or going with friends to the marketplace make a striking sight.  Their white linen or cotton skirts are frilled and sprinkled with refined decorative prints. Belts are tied lengthwise to shape the waist, while headbands are a white band of simple patterns. Their caps are studded with delicate hemlines and adorned with rhombic patterns and tassels that rival those of a tiara.

Shirts of the White Hmong people on the rugged highlands of Ha Giang are exquisitely designed in bold colors, particularly dark green, and studded with glistening beads. The V-shaped collar is joined with rectangular patchwork in the rear and covered in decorative prints. The two sleeves are embroidered with horizontal stripes of varying colors running from the armpits to the wrists.

Meanwhile, shirts of White Hmong women in Lang Son are comprised of four flaps, a deep chest cut without buttons, collar hems and a knot on the chest, which are all decorated with contrasting colors. Skirts are frilled and loose and open like fabric blossoms once spread. They are woven and folded to fit their waistline and are decorated with white or dark green prints. Leg stockings are black and indigo.

Aprons are sprinkled with decorative prints to adorn the White Hmong skirt

White Hmong people in Cao Bang don short black shirts that reach their waistline. The two front flaps are narrowed at the navel and knotted on the outside. Broad white skirts run from the belly sown to the calves and are woven into even frills from the waistband and tied with fabric laces at both ends. Skirts are washed and dried, at which point they are spread like folding fans. Wearers also don two aprons which hang loose on their waist in the back and in the front and move rhythmically with each step.

White Hmong natives in Sin Ho District, Lai Chau preserve traditional costumes which are slightly different than their counterparts in the Northern highlands. Their headbands are pointed and slanted forwards and shirts feature deep necklines with the collar turned down behind the nape. Sleeves are banded with decorative patchwork in circular patterns from the arms to the wrists. White, frilled skirts are made of flax bark, which goes through a painstaking process to be used as a fabric. It is covered with aprons in both back and front, while stockings cover the calves.

The traditional outfits of White Hmong women are no less than works of art. Each White Hmong community has its own variations but all share in common the white frilled skirt. Accessories of their costumes, including the shirt, scarf, apron and stocking are elaborately crafted down to every single detail. Against the clean white of the skirt, swatches of flamboyant decorative prints add charm to this most marvelous fashion heritage of the highlands.