Wednesday, October 13, 2010

CYL: Mongolian Modes

Sain baina uu?! In today's edition of Clothing You'll Love, we're going to the windswept land of Mongolia.

Steampunk Mongolians, you cock your head and look at me like I'm crazy. But I assure you that in this country of steppes, horsemen, and remote wilderness there are some real gems of inspiration.

Painting of a woman in traditional clothes
Read on to learn more about deels, khurim, and some very fuzzy hats... but first, a little history. 

Mongolia during the Age of Steam
Up until 1911, when it declared independence, Mongolia was under the control of the Qing dynasty of China. However life (and the fashions) had continued as they had for generations, particularly in Outer Mongolia where the bureaucracy of the Imperial government was far less pronounced. 
In the cities, particularly amongst gentry, Chinese styling was very much in vogue- evident in pictures of the time showing clothes with Chinese decorative motifs.  

You've got yourself a deel!
(Forgive me for the horrible pun.) The deel was (and in many rural areas of Mongolia, still is) the basic garment of fashion. In its roughest form a deel is a long, loose jacket that overlaps (always to the right!) in the front and tied with a sash- typically made of wool, cotton, or silk. Formal deels were made of fine, colorful cloth (often earsplitting- there was only one culture who made the Ottomans scream in agony from color over-exposure, and that was the Mongolians) and tailored fairly close to the body. 
A working person's or winter deel was often padded with sheepskin or fur and sometimes even made out of hide or leather. Since the shape is fairly broad and the materials often warm, deel are often used as impromptu blankets.
Characteristics of some deel may or may not include: mandarin collars, leather trim, high collars, 3-5 buttons or similar fastenings, short sleeves, rounded necklines, bib-style overflaps along the front, and accented side-panels.

Men at a modern archery contest wearing many styles of deel.
 Working Mongolian Attire
The overall scope of traditional Mongolian dress for rural folk is remarkable in its practicality. As said earlier, the working and herding classes wore plainer deel made from stouter materials, usually over loose trousers (which both genders wore, although women often put skirts on over these) and a basic tunic. The sash which held the deel shut not only served as a fastener, but also as a brace for the torso during long days of hard riding. A tightly-wound sash could also serve as protection for the vital organs in the middriff. The khurim was a padded jacket similar to a deel and was worn over everything in cold or inclement weather.
Before 1921 and the spread of the Soviets into Mongolia, rural folk wore short boots with slightly turned up toes (a fashion borrowed from Vajrayana/Tibetan Buddhist monks not wanting to disturb the ground or small creatures within). In the winter these boots were often lined in fur or sheepskin.
Mongolian hats are iconic in their size and fuzziness. They're traditionally conical with furry flaps that can be tied up or down under the person's chin to keep their ears warm. Sometimes the lining material is a particularly shaggy variety of sheep or goat fur.

Unidentified Mongolian man- 1900

In stark contrast, court dress was highly ostentatious and colorful- particularly for women. The deels were often layered and cut closer to the body than their peasant counter-parts, in addition to being made in a myriad of shades of silk. Court women also wore sleeveless coats (or surcotes) that were often heavily appliqued or trimmed with designs and full, long skirts (a Chinese trend) underneath.

Mongolian court lady wearing an ugalz
 One of the most iconic things about Mongolian court dress were the headdresses the ladies wore- some being so outlandish and grand that they inspired the costumes seen on Queen Amidala in The Phantom Menace (actually, I think they toned them down a bit...). The 'horned' headdress seen in many extant pictures is called an ugalz, and was a combination hairpiece and headdress.

So why should you masquerade in Mongolian? Here's the top 5:
5. Mongolian outfits in general are rarely done, so very fresh and new to peoples' eyes.
4. Just like with most Turkish garments, Mongolian clothing is made with predominately rectangular construction, meaning that they're very simple to size and produce.
3. The ugalz and other court headdresses are begging to be steampunked out. I've developed a design with working lanterns hanging from mine (someday this is going to happen!). But just imagine the metalwork or even moving parts one could adapt into such an outrageous piece.
2. The khurim would make a wonderful alternative to a duster coat.
1. Deel are PERFECT for many of the basic steampunk tropes. Imagine it: a fur-lined, suede deel for a pilot? A silk one for a businessman or diplomat? One with multiple pockets and sleeveless for a doctor or inventor?

Here are a few more ideas of how you can integrate Mongolian dress into your steampunk kit:
- Deels, deels, deels! There are so many different cuts and weights of this all-purpose coat that there's a style to suit any steamsona. Working class deels in particular would look good on airship personnel and pirates, drifters and wanderers, Weird West characters, and engineers.
- Fuzzy mongolian hats- not only a statement, but also very functional. A gunner or traveler would be well-suited to one.
- Turned-toe Mongolian boots look nice mixed with western garments or tucked into trousers.
- Sleeveless surcoats worn by noble ladies would look lovely layered with a traditional European dress.

Thank you for joining me for this tour of Mongolian clothing- until next time, world travelers!

Woman wearing traditional court dress

Independence fighters- 1911

Dondogdulam- the last Queen mother of Mongolia- 1911

Local lords of West Mongolia- 1900s

Steampunk interpretation of a Mongolian hat by Laohats (link below)

Helpful links: - (PDF file) The Gobi Home Companion, which is chock full of information about Mongolian dress, including free patterns! - A free Deel pattern, courtesy of Lady Collette de Paris of the SCA. - Lao hats, makers of Mongolian and other fuzzy hats, some even from recycled materials. - A wonderful blog featuring many wonderful photos of native Mongolians from the early 1900s.


  1. wait.. is that padme amidala (4th pic down)? haha. i can see the inspiration from it though.

  2. Wow. Even just throwing a few of those elements into a travelers outfit would be cool. Thanks for the brain candy!

  3. Wonderful! Very glad I discovered this place :D would love to see something on Celtic Steampunks!

  4. ummm not its the other way around...Padme amidala's dress was inspired from traditional clothing..

  5. the whole of the Nabooian dress was inspired by Tibet

  6. Fascinating and most educational thanks.

  7. i wrote the 1st post and mistyped. what i ment to say is that i can see the where the costumers got the inspiration for the amidala costume.

  8. yet another wonderful post! Keep up the good work!

    Also, if you can find a copy of it, the Folkwear Book of Ethnic Clothing is a wonderful resource for the costumer.

  9. I just found your blog and love it! I just got into steampunk and was wondering if it only was European Victorian era clothes. Now I must try this (Mongolian steampunk pirate = win)! Can't wait for your next post!

  10. feedingtimeatthezooOctober 14, 2010 at 10:33 PM

    Have been thinking of ways to incorporate saris from my collection into steampunk and other costumes without having to cut them up, so seeing your eastern influences posts is giving me LOTS of ideas! Thanks :)

  11. When considering the clash of Western cultures and Mongolia in the (rough) Age of Steam, one should never forget the Bloody White Baron, Roman Ungern von Sternberg. This was a wonderful article, and I actually own a deel which I've been using in steampunk costumes for some time...they really are quite wonderful garments.

  12. Now what I want to see, in addition to a Mongolian-inspired costume, is a steamed-up archery set. How cool would a gear-powered horsebow be? Super cool. Extra points for getting a picture with a horse in it.

  13. Mongolian music is awesome, too.

  14. Yes! I remember in high school chorale singing a Mongolian song called 'Naiman Sharag' (the Chestnut Horses). I was the only one who could make heads or tails of the pronunciation, so I had to teach it to the class.

    The Mongolian language is so robust and tonal when it's sung.

  15. Those shoes... the ones with the tip that points up at an angle... what are they called? *expresses his desire for a pair by salivating on his keyboard.*

  16. Mongolian boots are called Gutal. There are plain and very beautifully decorated Gutal.
    Awesome job! Sent you an e-mail with more information (and inspiration?) regarding baqtaq, a personal obession of mine. Keep up the great work!!!

  17. nethunt (a) TwitterJuly 11, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    Thnx for the article. Could anyone guide me a bit further and info with these three black&white ugalz?

    The photo seems to be taken in utter Southern Mongolia, dunno if there is any relevance. I haven't seen any other b&w ugalz. maybe they are just for tourists :)

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