There is a very distinctive piece of garment which makes Tibetan traditional dresses unique from those in other parts of Asia. While visiting Tibet, I noticed younger generations in Lhasa wore Western clothing but for the most part older generations, of both women and men, still wore the traditional Tibetan dress called chuba.
The chuba, also known as chupa, is Tibet’s national dress. The traditional chuba originated in Tibet as a practical piece of clothing which was used to protect against the high altitude cold temperatures of the Himalayas.
The traditional Tibetan chuba varies in style and material depending on the region. Nomads and Khampas (people from Kham) in Tibet make their chubas of sheepskin, hand-sewn and tanned in butter with the fleece on the inside. In Lhasa, Tibetans’ chubas are made of wool in dark colors and consist of three pieces; in contrast to the chubas worn by the nomads and Khampas which have more elaborate garments.
The traditional chuba is a warm, ankle-length robe that is tied around the waist by a long sash, sort of a wrap dress. The chuba is worn over a blouse. Chubas from eastern Tibet in particular have elongated sleeves which hang almost to the ground and sometimes tied around the waist. Chubas are pocket-less and held together with a waist band, with room in the front that serves as an “inside pocket” or inner pouch to store necessities such as food items, money belts, amulets, personal things, and even an infant in the bosom. For women, the Tibetan chuba is topped off with a colorful striped, woven wool apron called a pangden (Bangdian). Traditionally, the pandgden was worn only by married women. The single women would not wear this apron on top of their chuba. However, that is no longer the norm as many women today wear the pandgden regardless of their marital status.
In some regions of Tibet, the traditional Tibetan dress consists of a hat (cap) made of fur for man and women. Although cowboy hats are popular in summer and fur hats are common in winter.
The following image is what a Lhasa chuba looks like; notice the difference between this one and the traditional style. These chubas also feature the pandgden or colorful apron.
It should be noted that Tibetan chubas are not restricted to only older generations. The younger generations of Tibetans, those living inside as well as those outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, have embraced the chuba as well. For young Tibetans chubas are a way of preserving their unique culture, apart from the rest of China. Even in the fashion world, chubas have become an inspiration for Tibetan and non-Tibetan fashion designers alike.
The following pictures show chubas worn in a more contemporary style.
Whether worn by a young Tibetan woman living in the countryside of Tibet or while serving as an inspiration to create new designs for an upcoming fashion show, the Tibetan chuba is here to stay. The chuba is a perfect example of how traditional customs have the capacity to remain relevant even in a fast changing world where ancient cultural traditions and customs are rapidly “dying out” by being labeled as old and antiquated.
The chuba has become a part of the Tibetan identity. It serves a reminder that Tibetan culture is resilient and enduring. It is also a tangible link today that anchors Tibet solidly to their ancient roots and their history.
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