Sokendai Review of Cultural and Social Studies


The Process of Ethnic Dress-making
as Ready-made Production:
Changing aspects of Miao dress in Yunnan, China


(The Graduate University for Advanced Studies,
Doctoral Program in School of Cultural and Social Studies)

Key words:

Miao/Hmong, ethnic dress, ready-made, change

The purpose of this article is to examine the process and characteristics of the shift to ready-mades among the Miao (who call themselves Hmong) in Yunnan and to discuss, through the phenomenon of ready-made production, what has been inherited or what has changed in Miao dresses and their living environment. Miao people, who live in Wenshan Autonomous Prefecture of Yunnan, traditionally make their dresses by themselves and wear them daily. Since the 1990s, however, Miao dress-making has been experiencing major changes due to the rising use of ready-made production. Before the 1980s, the main material of Miao dresses was hemp, and they were made by women at home. The home-made dresses have characteristics which do not step out of traditional style, beyond some variations in detail depending on the creator and function -- formal dresses for festivals and daily use are divided according to whether they are old or new.

When factories and individual tailors began producing Miao dresses as commodities after the 1990s, a division of labor and improvements in the efficiency of production resulted. Ready-made dresses became fashionable due to their designs and vivid colors due to the use of chemical dyes. The difference between formal dresses for festivals and daily use now depends on whether they are in fashion or not. Ready-made production has been helping the circulation of traditional clothing among the Hmong in the U.S.A and has been increasing purchasing power among Miao in Wenshan. In both cases, producers meet consumers depending on the discretion of individuals, and their consumers are Miao or Hmong, who have common roots. The reasons the purchase of ready-made dresses has been increasing in Wenshan are for the functionality required by movements in their daily lives, and their values as Miao appear in situations such as weddings or rituals. Thus, Miao people also wear the ready-made dresses.

As the result, it is clear that ready-made production has changed their process of traditional production, design, and dyeing, as well as the way the dresses are worn. And the economic characteristics of Miao fashion, which have been shifting to the use of ready-made dresses, are “mass production” relying on individual discretion, as well as having personal relationships with their tailors. But their fundamental conception of Miao traditional fashion has not changed. Miao people regard this major change not as a separation from tradition, but as its continuation. They wear Miao dresses as Miao.