You are what you wear

Hmong words used to refer to Hmong embroidery, needlework, sewing – basically making anything with a needle, thread, and fabric is referred to as ‘ua naav’ or ‘xaws khaub dluag’ or ‘ua paaj ntaub’. In my house, we refer to the act of putting needle and thread to fabric as ‘ua naav’ (pronounced ‘ua naang’ the ‘v’ is silent). When translated it literally means make to wear.

There are many kinds of Hmong embroidery, and many reasons to ‘ua naav’, but the most common is making traditional Hmong clothes hence make to wear.

Traditional Hmong clothes can say a lot about the individual wearing them:

      • It can help others determine which clan you are from and the specific region your family originated from – each Hmong clan has their own style of dress, and each style of dress is different based on the Hmong dialect you speak (Green/Hmoob Leeg or White/Hmoob Dlawb) and the region your family originates from;
      • It can help others determine which dialect you are more likely to speak;
      • Whether your family is wealthy or poor; or
      • Whether you would make a good bride or daughter-in-law – impeccable needlework only exists through patience, commitment, the willingness to learn, and attention to detail. Who wouldn’t want a bride or daughter-in-law with these qualities?

Now-a-days this isn’t very true, because many Hmong mix and match the different clan styles and purchase their Hmong clothes pre-made either by hand by others or by machine. But just a generation ago, my mom and dad’s generation, you were what you wore, and everyone was judged.


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