Setting the Scene
There is a building in our market known fondly among the PCVs in Arvaikheer as “the Labyrinth.” The building houses, you guessed it, a labyrinth made up of various stores home to electronics, second-hand clothes, new shoes, traditional Mongolian food, and дээлs (pronounced dells)… This particular photo shows the beautiful fabrics that represent the modern take on the traditional clothing. In an aisle of the Labyrinth made up entirely of дээл stores, I snapped this photo of the raw material that is later designed into the amazing clothing I now obsessively love to admire and wish to buy in large quantities.
Дээлs are traditional Mongolian robe-like clothes that date back to times when all Mongolians were nomadic (I unfortunately could not find a specific century). Traditionally, there was one design for men and one for women that mostly used a plain tan colored fabric and was made using different thickness materials for the summer and winter. However, as times have changed, the дээлs have seen a modernization with shirts, dresses, and wool дээлs now gracing us with their presence. The clothing now comes in all colors and materials from basic tan fabrics to stretchy red fabrics and even fabrics that glisten so brightly in the sunlight it’s hard to look at them. What has remained throughout the modernization is the use of knotted string that functions as a button, as well as different дээлs for summer and winter. The дээл buttons are not buttons as we know in the US made of plastic, but rather knots that are slipped through a loop and are located at the collar and across the chest towards the right shoulder. Occasionally in modern дээлs, the дээл buttons across the chest are largely ornamental; however, in winter дээлs, which are still worn more for their functionality than their looks, the buttons close the chest flap, keeping cold air out of the дээл. Winter дээлs are made of thick padded materials that are typically lined with sheepskin or cotton, while summer дээлs are made of various thin materials (summer дээлs generally look more modern and have more modernized designs). What impresses me the most about дээлs besides their obvious beauty is the fact that they are still worn commonly, especially in rural areas. From what I have experienced here, Mongolia seems to be a country fiercely dedicated to preserving its traditions. It probably helps that дээлs are extremely functional!