Diverse natural conditions on the vast Tibetan Plateau have produced a clothing culture that goes back over millennia. There are three main types of garment – that worn by herdsmen, farmers and aristocrats -- which define occupation and social status.
Tibetan herdswomen [Wu Xinhua/World Knowledge Publishing House]
As Tibetan herdsmen live mainly in the high-altitude northern grasslands under a harsh climate of freezing temperatures and sandstorms their clothes mainly function to keep out the cold and wind. Herdsmen wear large, heavy robes made from sheep hide, sometimes with a velveteen trim on the sleeves, draped over the right shoulder leaving the arm exposed. These robes, which also serve as blankets, were formerly worn with a broadsword, short sword and firelock, weapons that are nowadays purely decorative symbols of wealth. Women on the grasslands also wear hide robes, trimmed with black velveteen at the neckline, cuffs and hem and decorated with red, blue and green velveteen stripes.
Tibetan women farmers[Wu Xinhua/World Knowledge Publishing House]
Tibetan farmers wear long robes with a tall standing collar and an open placket to the right. Their footwear is that of leather zomba shoes, handmade out of cowhide and woolen or cotton fabric. They otherwise go barefoot. Both men and women wear braids that they sometimes wrap around their head and neck.
Women in garments formerly the reserve of Tibetan aristocrats nowadays worn on festive occasions[Wu Xinhua/World Knowledge Publishing House]
Tibetan aristocrat apparel dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when King Songtzen Gambo of Tibet married Princess Wencheng. The Han princess brought to Tibet gifts of colorful fabric and silk for the Tibetan aristocracy. Before the peaceful liberation of Tibet in 1951, aristocrats wore garments of high-quality silk, otter, lynx and fox fur and also imported wool serge. The style and colors of government officials' garments, especially their hats, denoted their rank. Strict class boundaries also dictated styles of seat cushions and horse harnesses. High-born women wore jewelry according to the rank of their husbands. Only those married to officials of a rank higher than municipal level could wear pearl jewelry. Those with spouses of a lower rank had to be content with adorning themselves in coral ornaments, other than at festivals, ceremonies or banquets when they could wear their finest, most extravagant baubles.
(Source: tibettour.org / Translated by womenofchina.cn)