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Who wears folk costumes today?

Kimonos, Hanbok, Kilts, Ao Dai, Lederhosen, Dirndl, Kaftan, Sari: these are all familiar names for traditional costumes worldwide. Traditional costumes originated from many factors, such as weather, geography, culture, customs, and religion. These costumes represent the culture, the national quintessence, and the present and past cohesion. Each country has many different folk costumes, which help contribute to a diverse folk clothing collection worldwide. Some are even so entrenched in the national psyche that they have become national costumes.

Currently, there is no accurate scientific estimate of exact number of folk costumes worldwide. It is also challenging to determine when the first folk costume was made. While the earliest clothing traces to about 170,000 years ago, folk costumes, that have been discovered by researchers, are much more recent (UF Study, 2010). For example, the Kimono of Japanese was first found during the Heian period (794-1185) (Adkins, ca. 2012, p.117) or Vietnamese Ao Dai was a reformation of the Giao Linh shirt in the 17th century, while the Lederhosen and Dirndl originated as the garb of the working peasantry of the 18th Century (History Lederhosen Dirndl, n.d.).

Figure 1: Male and Female Couple Avatars Wearing Traditional Clothes Around the World

Who wears folk costumes today?

While many folk clothes were once every day clothing, albeit clothing that varied from culture to culture and community to community. In more recent years, outfit was no longer popular in many parts of the world and was replaced by modern fashion. However, many countries still preserve folk costumes in various forms.

Germans, for instance, no longer wear traditional costumes in daily life, but they use them on festive days. Oktoberfest, a particularly famous beer festival, usually occurs in Bavaria in late September and early October. Dirndl and Lederhosen, the German-speaking areas' folk clothing, suddenly become common on the streets. Not only locals but tourists from all over the world also flock here to mingle with the crowds with traditional costumes. Specifically, Dirndl for women, and Lederhosen for men have been famous in Germany, Austria and neighboring regions since the 16th century. A Dirndl composes a dress, an apron and a cropped blouse, which is worn under the bodice and covers the shoulders and upper arms. Besides, the bodice is tight while the skirt is cut wider and gathered at the waist, falling in pleats (Trachten-Guide, n.d). Lederhosen is a short or knee-length leather breech used as typical workwear across Central Europe.

Figure 2. Oktoberfest in Munich, 2022

In Vietnam, Ao Dai is a type of clothing designed with long skirts over the knees and hugging the body. This attire is also the leading national traditional clothing in Vietnam. Although not commonly used as everyday wear, today, Ao Dai is the uniform in many high schools for girls and female teachers. This way gives the new generation a connection to previous generations. Vietnamese people also wear Ao Dai on important days such as weddings, traditional New Year's Day, or beauty contests. In addition to the Kinh ethnic group, which makes up the majority, there are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam (Ethnic Groups, Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, n.d.), and many ethnic groups wear traditional costumes as their primary daily wear. Characteristically in the Northwest, Vietnam has several ethnic groups such as Thai, Tay, Meo, and H'Mong. These ethnic groups often live in high mountains, have their own languages, and still wear traditional clothing daily, thus preserving their cultural identity and also helping the folk costumes live on for future generations and bringing a unique cultural feature to the northern mountains of Vietnam.

Figure 3. Ao Dai – Vietnamese folk costume

Interestingly, when the modern style covers many communities, the trend of retrospective folk costumes has emerged and brings outstanding value. While standard traditional clothes are not as popular as before, young creators tend to simplify traditional costumes as a fashion trend. In Korea, traditionally, women's Hanbok consists of many layers, such as the Jeogori on the top (a short blouse or jacket), Chima (a full wrap-around skirt) and undergarments. In particular, the lower part of the skirt is designed with a flowing skirt. Due to this, it makes it difficult for daily activities. Instead, the young generation brings Hanbok to modern fashion by stylising and simplifying it. The new stylised versions have created a "hot trend" that was popular among young Koreans and throughout neighbouring Asian countries in 2015 (Korean Youth Are In Love With Stylized Hanbok, 2015).

Figure 4: The Hanbok in Korea with traditional and modern versions

On the other hand, in Saudi Arabia, the traditional dress of women is the Abaya. Abaya is traditional Muslim clothing women wear instead of regular clothes when out of the house. Abaya is usually black and has always been the high-neck, long-sleeve and ankle-length variety with a fabric draped from the shoulders or head. Depending on the social and religious environment, the Abaya can vary from a simple, baggy dress to a fashionable and extravagant gown. It is not only a mandatory dress code of this country but also a habit passed down from generation to generation of Saudi women. Abaya is considered an essential cover-up for Saudi women when they need to leave the house. According to a study by the Canadian Center of Science and Education, the conclusion was reached that despite global political debates about Muslim women's dress, Saudi women are not debating their commitment to this style of dress (C.A. DeCoursey, 2017). Young Saudi women are optimistic about the Abaya and take it, as usual, valuing its design flexibility. They believe "the Abaya's propriety is a matter of social ethics, individual rights, insisting on respectful treatment when treated objectionably by some men, and cultural identity more than religious obligation" (C.A. DeCoursey, 2017).

Additionally, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, said in an interview with US broadcaster CBS:

The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men. This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya or a black head cover. The decision is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire she chooses to wear (O'Donnell, 2018).

Therefore, as long as they respect the country's modesty requirement, Saudi women have the right to choose the clothes they want to wear.

Figure 5. Abaya in Saudi Arabia

To conclude, folk costumes are a valuable heritage and are imbued with the culture of each nation and each community. The national costumes, primarily, are selected based on folk costumes through many historical periods. Even though folk costumes are no longer used as casual, each country has a method to preserve this type of costume and use it in many forms, such as festivals, traditional days, national holidays or traditional weddings. Moreover, folk costumes are an essential component of culture, bringing great spiritual value to each person, each community, each country and each continent.

Bibliographical References

Adkins, M. (ca. 2012, January). Shibusa: Extracting Beauty (P. Dickens, Ed.). Huddersfield, United Kingdom.

C.A. DeCoursey. (2017, March 7). Attitudes of Professional Muslim Women in Saudi Arabia regarding Wearing the Abaya.

Giới trẻ Hàn đồng loạt mê mẩn hanbok cách điệu. (2015, July 28). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

History Lederhosen Dirndl. (n.d.). Frankenmuth Bavarian Specialties. Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

O’Donnell, N. (2018, March 20). Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi crown prince 60 Minutes Interview with Norah O’Donnell. CBS News. Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

Trachten-Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2022, from

UF study of lice DNA shows humans first wore clothes 170,000 years ago - News - University of Florida. (n.d.-b). Retrieved October 6, 2022, from

Visual Sources


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Bui Le Hoang Yen

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