Mothers dressing daughters

There are many pieces that make up a Hmong outfit. When I was a young girl Hmong wear was big and bulky, very unflattering on shapely bodies. Once us girls were dressed we had gained about two to three inches in our waistlines and probably a good 10 to 15 pounds.

Gone are the days of bulky waistlines and headache inducing headwear though. Many have come up with shortcuts and creative ways to take away the bulkiness by streamlining traditional Hmong clothes.

I have many feelings about this, some good, some bad.

I look back now and am thankful for every inch of waistline gained; every headache endured; every time I wanted to sit, but wasn’t allowed to because I would flatten the pleats in my skirt; all the times I had to wait to go to the bathroom until the Hmong clothes came off; and all the excess weight I carried around every time I was dressed in Hmong clothes (while wearing pumps I might add).

I am appreciative of the memories I have of my mom sitting me on the bed, yanking my hair and pulling it tight into a ponytail, then bun, so that she could create my headdress directly on my head or me spinning in circles over and over again so that she could wrap my waist just right. My mom dressing me in Hmong clothes is one of the few memories I have of her deliberately being so close in proximity to me, which is probably the case for many Hmong women my age. I loved being so close to her, to see the many faces she made as she concentrated to get everything just right, the faces that created every wrinkle, crease and line that made up her beautiful face, to be so near that familiar scent that was my mom.

Then I would wait patiently (sometimes impatiently) for my mom to put each of my sisters together. Going through the same motions for them as she had just done for me. Years ago when we performed Hmong dancing there would be a bunch of moms dressing all of us girls. Or we would show up at some New Year only partially put together and someone else’s mom would finish dressing us. There were so many times one of my cousins would show up at a New Year and my mom being the person she is, would take their headdress apart just to put it together again so that it would be “perfect”. This was a pain, and sometimes embarrassing as a teenager, but this is the way it was and only today do I realize and understand the importance of these rituals (probably not the best choice of words, but in this case it works).

Every one of these moments happened because of hundreds of years of tradition being passed from one generation to the next – mothers dressing their daughters. I do a decent job dressing my teenaged daughter from head to toe in Hmong clothes the way I used to be dressed by my mom, but it surely would never hold up to my mom’s standards. But at least I have some sort of direction; I have the memory of my mom dressing me to guide me.

For my daughter and probably most Hmong girls her age, a headpiece is more of hat than anything else. She thinks you just pop it on your head to finish off the outfit. She would have no clue how to create a headpiece from start to finish on her future daughters. And do you know what the sad thing is? No one of her generation or future generations would even know the difference.


6 thoughts on “Mothers dressing daughters

  1. I read your posts and it brings back so many memories. It makes me wonder how much needlework I would still be doing if i had a daughter of my own 🙂 it makes me want to pick up cross stitch again but I admit I wish mom was close as I wouldnt even know where to start.

  2. I love your post! As an Anglo girl, we had a similar “ritual” (you’re right…it’s a ritual!) between Saturdays and Sundays. Saturday was cleaning day, top to bottom, finished off with the scouring bath of the week to be squeaky clean for Sunday School (church) the next morning. Hair was yanked and rolled onto curlers to be slept on. The next morning, there was more yanking as the desired hairstyle was achieved by my mother. There was similar dressing, and my clothes were made by her until I was about 7 or so…then again when I was 12. Not true…I didn’t have too many layers, though I did know what a scratchy petticoat was… One of the sweet memories of all that, like yours, involves being close to my mom as she tied the bow of my dress. The only way she could make the bow turn out properly was to pull me to her, wrap me in her arms and tie my bow backwards. We need someone like you at the school I work at! We want to encourage our young girls to hold onto that kind of heritage and beautiful arts!!

    • Thank you for sharing your memories! There are so many things that are part of my heritage and culture that I didn’t learn to appreciate until later in life. I am trying to make up for lost time with my blog 🙂

  3. I was just thinking about this today while driving. I thought, what a great idea it is to record my mother (whenever she comes to visit) wrapping on the phuam txoom suab (purple head piece) as a tutorial for me. My thoughts then wandered to how I have taken for granted all the intimate moments of mother and daughter bonding time during getting dressed for the Hmong New Years. Gosh how I miss those days.

  4. I’m so glad that Mom is still teaching me everyday how to sew better. She is always coming up with new patterns for different pieces to an outfit. I’m happy that I still get to learn from her. If I want to sew something all I have to do is ask her to start the prettiest pattern for me 🙂

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