Indigo clothes of the Tay

Indigo is a dominant color of clothes of many Vietnamese ethnic groups.

Indigo clothes of the Tay
Tay men and women in traditional clothes

The Tay in the northern region say that the tradition of using the indigo plant to dye fabric is derived from a folktale of the faithful love of a young couple.

Ever since, indigo, adeep midnight blue, represents faithfulness and deep sincerity.

The Tay folktale says that in olden times, aggressors invaded the Tay community. Men set off to fight the invaders. A young couple had to part.

The young woman waited many years for the man, but he didn’t come back. She left her house for the battlefield to find him, but died on the way of exhaustion. Respected for her bravery and faithfulness, the villagers buried her in the forest.

One day from her grave grew a strange plant which had a special aroma. It’s the indigo plant. Since then the Tay use the indigo to dye cotton fabric and make clothes.

“We can differentiate the Tay women by their indigo clothes. She wears a short blouse inside a long shirt. The indigo shirt is plain with few embroidered patterns but is elegant and conveys the characteristics of Tay women, who are gentle and modest,” said Nguyen Quang Hanh, a cultural researcher in Ha Giang province where a majority of the Tay live.

Indigo clothes of the Tay
Traditional indigo clothes of the Tay

A Tay woman often wears a headscarf, blouse, pants, a waistband, and an apron. The headscarf covers her long hair. The long shirt is tight to her body and lingers to her calves.

Time has swept away many cultural values of the Tay, including the craft of indigo dyeing. Hoa Thi Nhan, one of a few Tay women in Cao Bang, has kept the trade alive.

“When I was about 20 years old, I learned the craft of dying. It’s hard work and I know only 3 women keeping on with the craft. Young people don’t want to do it. The authority has encouraged us to promote the craft to preserve our tradition,” said Nhan.

Mrs. Nhan said very few people can dye indigo and they are all of the older generation. The Tay still wear indigo clothes but they now buy ready-made clothes in the market. They don’t dye fabric at home any more.

In the past, the Tay were famous among ethnic groups for their dyeing techniques. Tay women could weave colorful threads on indigo fabric to make unique brocade cloths. Dyeing and weaving were considered criteria to appraise women’s dexterity and diligence. VOV5