Printer Friendly Version

Miao Festival Outfit

Colorful socks, leg wrappings, and modern footwear complete a festival outfit.

Baby carriers are used at festivals and in everyday life. Carrier designs give mothers an opportunity to show off their skill and unique style.

To display their family’s wealth, young women may wear an enormous amount of silver jewelry with their festival outfits.

key idea
All Dressed Up

Although Miao festival garments differ from village to village, all share some basics. Typically, a long-sleeved jacket is worn with a full, pleated, wrap-around skirt. Aprons are often tied around the skirt in both front and back. Trousers, leg wraps, or brightly colored socks cover the wearer’s legs. Accessories may include decorative sashes, belts, streamers, bags, and shawls.

An important part of traditional outfits is a baby carrier, used to transport and protect young children. The carrier is worn on the mother’s back, and ties crisscrossed over her shoulders keep the child secure. The carrier symbolizes the bond between mother and child. Even before a woman is married, she may make and wear a carrier to announce her desire to one day become a wife and mother.

Layers and layers of silver jewelry are worn with festival attire. Families spare no expense, covering their daughters with all the silver they can afford. Besides enhancing a woman’s beauty, the jewelry shows her family’s wealth. Sometimes the neck rings, headdresses, earrings, necklaces, hair combs, bracelets, sash hangings, and talismans are so heavy that a woman needs help to walk!

Miao women also wear their hair in elaborate styles specific to their villages. Usually, they tie their hair up in a variety of buns and knots, held in place with wooden or silver combs. The Long-Horned Miao wear large wooden combs that support extremely long hair extensions—sometimes seven feet! Traditionally the extensions contained ancestors’ hair, but today they are made from synthetic hair, yarn, and horsehair.

Photos by Dan Dennehy, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Hairstyles can be quite elaborate—and heavy! Here a young Long-Horn Miao woman is wrapping several feet of hair around a large wooden comb.
November 2008