Costumes of the queens and princesses the Nguyen dynasty

Interesting discoveries made through the stories of costumes reserved only for queens and princesses show that the Nguyen dynasty paid special attention to royal costumes, to express the majestic appearance and class order of a feudal dynasty.

In the imperial costume collection of the Nguyen dynasty in the Museum of Hue Royal Antiquities, the majority of costumes are for queens and princesses. What about these costumes? How are they similar or different from each other? We will find the answer comparing ancient documents with the actual artifacts.

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Nguyen Dynasty’s royal costumes are divided into different categories: costumes of kings, costumes of princes, costumes of mandarins and soldiers; and costumes of queens and princesses. There are detailed regulations based on material, colors, patterns and decorative design for each category of costume.

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Cloth used for sewing hats, dresses, belts and shoes for queens and princesses was bought from China. There were also households specializing in weaving to the court’s demand. These products included: brocade and silk. Many villages of traditional weaving handicrafts paid the court by providing their high-quality products instead of paying tax. To finish a queen’s or prince’s costume, workers and textile households had to cooperate with each other.

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In the needlework techniques forc creating these hand- made costumes, there were strict regulations which were in accordance with the positions and their functions.  For instance, the hats of queens were designed with 9 phoenixes; the hats are covered with horse’s hair. The front is decorated with 9 crawling dragons and 9 phoenixes in fine gold. In addition, there is one hair brooch with 12 branches of flowers and butterflies, also a brooch bearing 4 flower blossoms. There are two vines for tightening hair, a circle of 4 Ochna blossoms, a piece of gold behind displaying a phoenix image; 4 tubes of silver fillings and a necklace of 198 small pearls and 231 crystal beads.

Scarves for queens and princesses to cover their foreheads were made of 8 lengths of cerulean silk. These scarves are decorated with 4 pieces of fine gold and 4 silk cords. The hats of the Queen Mother were also designed with 9 phoenixes and a ring of fine gold in the forehead (the ring is similar to that of the queen’s crown, except for the fact that the string of pearl is optional).

Looking at the hats of princesses, they were designed with 7 phoenixes. The hats are covered with horse’s hair, and are decorated with fine gold, 2gold balls, 1 hair pin, an image of 7 phoenixes flying, 2 Ochna blossoms, 4 Daisy blossoms and 27 blossoms of Tonkin Jasmin. There is a ring on the top of the hat, a ring wrapped with fiber, a set of silver brooches, and a necklace of 120 imitation pearls.

Dresses of queens and princesses are different not only in style and size but also in the colors and decorative patterns on them.  The Queen’s gown is made from yellow 8 fiber cloth embroidered with phoenixes and 4 red flowers.  Meanwhile, that of the Queen Mother is embroidered with 5 words in a golden color denoting longevity. The gowns of princesses are made of 8 fiber red cloth embroidered with 5 phoenixes in 5 colors. In some ritual events, the Princesses wore special signature garments made from the rarest and most special materials.

In addition to the hats and , clothes of queens and princesses, there were also dresses to cover the cloth in the front. The dresses of the Queen and Princesses are varied. The dresses of the Queen were woven with 8 strings of white silk. There are flowers and phoenixes in golden colors. Those of the Queen Mother are different in the way that the flowers on the dresses are red;, and there are yellow creepers on them. Inside the dresses is a white silk cloth. The dresses of Princesses are white and woven with a phoenix.

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The Belt is also a very particular item. The belts of the Queen are golden and made of yellow silk. They are decorated with square shapes, 18 carved flowers and 2 golden hooks.  The public belts  are also golden and are decorated with clouds, phoenixes and red flowers.

The last items are shoes and shocks. The shoes of the Queen are woven with red silk embroidered with 2 phoenixes. Those of the Queen Mother are yellow and embroidered with an image of a phoenix, along with pearls and coral. The Princesses’ shoes are made from red cotton, embroidered with phoenixes in 5 different colors and decorated with white threads. The Queen’s socks are white while those of the Queen Mother are white and adorned with red flowers.

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After researching photographic and written sources on the Nguyen Dynasty, we realize that the costumes of the queens and princesses are strictly regulated in terms of color, decorative patterns and even name. However, from the Khai Dinh Dynasty (1916 – 1925) on, those regulations were not obeyed as strictly as previously due to a variety of historic reasons, of which the influence of the West was the most obvious factor for change.

Royal costumes in general and those of the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Princesses in particular are valuable antiquities which help us know more about a past time and life of people in the royal Nguyen Dynasty which contributed towards creating its majestic appearance over a historical period. Also, the collections of costumes at the museum show us the talent and ingenuity of the embroidery artisans in olden times. Nowadays, although there are fewer materials related to the costumes of the Queen, the queen Mother, and the Princesses, they really play an important role in affirming the “dressing culture” of Vietnamese dynasties.

Text: Nguyen Van Tuong. Photo: Nguyen Van Tuong & material photos – Vntravellive