Feb. 9 is the first day of Losar (Tibetan New Year) and seven-year-old Yangjen and her sister Dekyi wake up early. The sisters, who live in Lhasa’s Bahelin Community, are celebrating Losar in accordance with Tibetan customs by wearing new clothes.
Yangjen puts on the Tibetan robe made a few days ago on Lhasa’s Beijing Road with the large red satin embroidered with the five blessings and longevity pattern. Coupled with a string of coral beads on her head, she looks just like a Tibetan princess.
Her sister Dekyi wears a different kind of dress: a fur jacket, a black skirt with a pair of neat leggings and a pair of red Martin boots on her feet. She looks like a beautiful little fashion model.
With improvements to women’s status and lifestyle changes, Tibetan women’s clothing is experiencing a new mix of traditional and modern styles.
Ao Hui runs a women’s clothes shop on Lhasa’s Qingnian Road. She said, “During Losar, many girls will buy at least two sets of new clothes: one traditional Tibetan and one modern.”
In Old Tibet, women weren’t able to choose their own clothes. Clothes are a sign of distinction between high and low classes. As a common woman, even if you are relatively wealthy you still can’t wear clothes that aristocratic women wear in public, such as silk clothes; and serf class women have no rights at all in terms of what they can wear.
"Today, Tibetan women can freely choose what they wear in their quest for beauty,” said Wangmo, a scholar at Tibet University.
As more and more Tibetan women enter the workplace, modern dress has become the preferred choice for professional women.
Tsangjo Dolma, a researcher at the Tibet Academy of Social Sciences, said that Old Tibet didn’t have female staff or officials; women were just a means of having children in the family. Following democratic reform, women’s career paths in Tibet have become wider and wider as they have gained access to education and the right to political participation.
Data released from the Tibet Autonomous Region Women’s Federation Ninth Conference shows that the number of women in the workplace has reached 707,000, which makes up 37.1 percent of total employment.
Traditional Tibetan clothing is experiencing a new lease of life in the wake of popularity for a modern lifestyle.
Tashi, a Tibetan clothes designer, has established a clothes brand that integrates modern design with aesthetic elements from traditional Tibetan design.
Tashi believes that traditional Tibetan dress culture itself is tolerant to diversity. Today’s Tibetan clothing is made up from integrating outside elements, such as Persian and Mongolian clothing as well as Indian monk clothing.
"I hope to spread the diverse cultural heritage of traditional Tibetan clothing to a wider audience. It still has life in this day and age," said Tashi.
66-year-old Trandruk has the same confidence in the future of traditional Tibetan clothing: “In recent years there has been an increase in young girls wearing Tibetan clothing again.”