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Life at Norlha Blog

From Pasture to Street; Men's Wear in Tibet

The chuba is the core of Tibetan men (and women)’s dress, a full length cross over robe tied with a sash. The chuba’s shape varies from region to region; larger in Kham and Amdo, more fitted in Central Tibet. It can be sheep lined in winter, light wool in summer, or made of sheep skin in nomadic regions, bordered in felt, brocade or otter fur.

No one exactly knows how old the chuba is; what is certain is that it is rooted in Central Asia, and travelled East and West from there. It adapted its shape and material to the conditions of its wearers, as well for horse riding as for ceremonial use.

The chuba’s look is closely tied to the way it is accessorized; The type of sash and the tying style indicates the age and particular area of the wearer; Young men from Machu wear voluminous chubas tied very low, and the accompanying swagger is part of the look. In Kham, they wore extra wide buray (a raw silk from Assam) wrapped around their legs, which the older generation found preposterous and wasteful. Long sleeves falling knee length are the norm in Kham and Amdo, and unless outside in very cold weather, the left arm emerges and the sleeve is thrown over the shoulder or the whole top part wrapped around the waist. Chubas were usually worn over shirts made of buray, though the ultimate sign of virility in the old days was to be shirtless in a sheep skin chuba leaving the right arm to the elements in the dead of winter. Most nomads in Chang Thang and remote areas in Eastern Tibet wore nothing under their sheepskin chubas. 

In Central Tibet, chubas were made from the varying qualities of hand woven cloth, the finest being the celebrated shema which lasted a lifetime and was accessorized with brocade and fur hats and a large golden earring.

Nowadays, the chuba is still very much the center of Tibetan dress, though in summer men tend to reserve it for occasions such as religious ceremonies, gatherings or weddings, preferring to herd in parkas, now readily available in the market. Winter brings back the chuba to its full, and there are working chubas for the nomads and ceremonial ones made at considerable expense. For more casual occasions, they are mixed and matched with light parkas or stylish Tibetan shirts, accessorized with American cowboy boots, expensive running shoes and broad brimmed hats. Jewelry is essential; large earrings, coral necklaces, saddle rings. In Central Tibet, shirts and ties are sometimes wore under the chuba, which is smaller with sleeves that allow it to be worn in full and where modern fabrics are preferred over traditional ones.

Norlha created a men’s collection made from our signature yak khullu cloth that includes shirts, chubas, both in Eastern and Central style, and hats. Trends are going towards lighter, more comfortable wear, that allows a degree of integration with ongoing trends. 

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