Vietnam is a culturally diversified nation with 54 ethnic groups with multiple customs and traditions. Each group has its own unique costume character, that adds more colour to Vietnamese culture…
1. The Thai
Being the second largest ethnic group in Vietnam, the Thai’s brocade is very well-known for its unique, colourful and durable motifs. In recent decades, Thai men have adopted the Kinh’s style of dress, while Thai women retain their traditional clothes including short vests, long skirts, scarves and ornaments. The Black Thai are concentrated in Son La and southern Lai Chau Provinces whilst the White Thai are found predominantly in northern Lai Chau and Lao Cai provinces. The traditional costume of the Thai generally comprises a coloured blouse (often green, blue, pink or purple) with a distinctive row of silver buttons down the front, a long black skirt and usually an intricately embroidered and very distinctive black headscarf. Travelers will encounter many Thai people in Mai Chau village near Hoa Binh but they only wear their traditional costume when performing dances for tourists.
2. The Nung
Nung communities are found today mainly in Cao Bang and Lang Son provinces, but they are also settled in parts of Lao Cai, Ha Giang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, Thai Nguyen and Ha Bac provinces. The traditional clothing of the Nung people for both sexes comprises a plain indigo vest and trousers often decorated with a coloured belt and won with a black turban covered by a white or coloured scarf. However, there are a number of variations in costume. The Nung An sub-ethnicity are settled exclusively in the region north east of Cao Bang. Their distinctive costume is based on a plain black tunic and black pantaloons. The tunic is buttoned at the right shoulder with thin bands of alternate blue/white and/or multicoloured embroidery at the collar. At the cuffs there are bands of multicoloured blue at the front and white with black patterns at the rear. Around the waist there is often a belt made of white material with black patterns, similar to that used on the cuffs. The ensemble is usually worn with a white or occasionally blue headscarf, though on occasions a turban of white material is wound around the head and a blue scarf worn on top of it. The Nung Phan Sinh of Lang Son province are mainly settled in the Cao Loc region, east of town. The costume consists of plain black trousers and a plain shirt which buttons under the right armpit, both edged with thin bands of white or floral material. a small white turban embroidered with vertical black and white, or coloured stripes is also worn.
3. The Giay
The Giay are quite widely spread and can be seen not only around Sapa but also in Lai Chau near Tam Duong and in the Dong Van and Yen Minh districts of Ha Giang Province. The traditional woman’s costume in Lao Cai and Lai Chau Provinces consists of black trousers and a coloured shirt (light or dark pink, light or dark blue, green or white) decorated with a wide band of different coloured material which stretches around the collar and down to a clasp under the right armpit. The ensemble is generally worn with the ubiquitous pattered headscarf seen everywhere.
4. The Lu
The Lu are a long established ethnicity of the Tay-Thai language group. Their population of just under 4,000 makes them the 40th largest group in Vietnam. Their traditional black and silver coloured clothing is one of the most striking in northern Vietnam, featuring a distinctive black scarf with a silver striped pattern and colourful tassels. The smiling women will also often show you a fine row of blackened teeth. They are now mainly concentrated between Sin Ho and Binh Lu in Lai Chau province.
5. The Tu Di
The Tu Di are one of two groups of the Bo Y ethnic minority. The other group – the Bo Y themselves, are settled in the Quan Ba District of Ha Giang Province. The Tu Di women of Muong Khuong have adopted a style of dress similar to their Phi La neighbours and now wear black trousers and a shirt of black and blue material with a distinctive front panel, decorated with pieces of coloured material, patches of embroidery and silver chains: the shirt buttons under the right armpit and has concentric rings of coloured material around the upper sleeves and cuffs. The hair is tied in a chignon at the top of the head and covered by a black turban and embroidery.
6. The Pa Di
The Pa Di are a sub-ethnicity of the Tay exclusively settled in the Muong Khuong District of Lao Cai. They are instantly recognisable by their distinctive headgear which comprises a studded decorative headband enclosed in a stiff pyramid shaped black hat. Like their Thu Lao cousins, the Pa Di women also wear a black skirt, a black shirt which buttons under the right armpit and a black apron, but the shirt has a blue border and the shirt features blue and white rings at the lower sleeves and studded decorative patterns at the collar.
7. The Tay
The Tay are the largest single ethnic minority in Vietnam numbering well over 1,200,000. However, they are often difficult to spot because they dress very similarly to modern Viet Kinh. They usually wear costumes with the black trousers and shirt but with the shirt buttoned under the right armpit with rings of distinctive blue material here and at the lower sleeves.