Inspiring travel stories from the steppe...
Young people in Mongolia favour western style clothes, while older Mongolians still wear the traditional deel (pronounced del) at and away from work. In the countryside, most people also prefer deel and boots as they’re more practical. In winter, young, and old, city and urban dwellers wear cashmere and fur to keep warm.
The deel is a loose, calf-length, tunic made from a single piece of material. It has long sleeves, a high collar and buttons on the right shoulder. The three right shoulder buttons are either silver balls or narrow strips of cloth tied into intricate knots. A deel is worn with a brightly coloured sash and has the same cut whether worn by men or women, although male deels are wider and made of more sombre colours than their female counterparts. Each of Mongolia’s ethnic groups boasts its own deel style, distinguished by cut, colour and trim; despite being obvious to Mongolians, these differences typically go unnoticed by foreigners.
Generally, there are three different types of deel, each worn during a particular season. The dan deel is made of light, thin, brightly coloured material and is only worn by women, only during the late spring and summer. The terleg possesses slightly more padding and is worn by both men and women, while the winter deel is a seriously padded tunic, lined with sheepskin or layers of raw cotton.
Gutuls are knee-high, heelless boots, made from thick, stiff leather, and decorated with leather appliqué. The gutuls’ toes are upturned and several explanations have been offered for this unconventional style. One of the most plausible explanations is a religious motive. Lamas were traditionally forbidden from disturbing “the earth’s blessed sleep” i.e. kicking soil as they walked, so, the story goes, gutuls were designed to prevent devout Buddhist practitioners from disturbing the earth as they walked. Another explanation is that the unturned tip prevents a rider’s feet from slipping out of the stirrups. Whatever the historical rationale, it’s also true that gutuls are so thick and rigid that they would be almost impossible to walk in if they were flat. These hefty boots are still worn by some in Ulaanbaatar and by many people in the countryside.
With regards to hats, fur-trimmed hats, mostly made of sable, maintain their popularity in urban Mongolia. This piece of headgear, a staple of male and female winter attire, has two flaps, which can be tied to the top of the hat, or lowered to cover the wearer’s ears.