Bhutan in detail

Dress: Gho & Kira

Bhutan's traditional dress is one of the most distinctive and visible aspects of the country. It is compulsory for all Bhutanese to wear national dress in schools, government offices and on formal occasions. Men, women and children wear traditional clothing made from Bhutanese textiles in a variety of colorful patterns.

Men wear a gho, a long robe similar to the Tibetan chuba. The Bhutanese hoist the gho to knee length and hold it in place with a woven cloth belt called a kera. The kera is wound tightly around the waist, and the large pouch formed above it is traditionally used to carry a bowl, money and the makings of doma. One man suggested that the best part of the day was when he was able to loosen his uncomfortably tight belt.

According to tradition, men should carry a small knife called a dozum at the waist. Traditional footwear is knee-high, embroidered leather boots, but these are now worn only at festivals. Most Bhutanese men wear leather shoes, trainers or trekking boots.

Ghos come in a wide variety of patterns, though often they have plaid or striped designs. Flowered patterns are taboo, and solid reds and yellows are avoided because these are colors worn by monks; otherwise patterns have no special significance. Historically, Bhutanese men wore the same thing under their gho that a true Scotsman wears under his kilt, but today it's usually a pair of shorts. In winter it's correct to wear thermal underwear, but it's more often a pair of jeans or a tracksuit. Formality in Thimphu dictates that legs may not be covered until winter has arrived, which is defined as the time that the monks move to Punakha.

Formal occasions, including a visit to the dzong (fort-monastery), require a scarf called a kabney that identifies a person's rank. The kabney has to be put on correctly so it hangs in exactly the right way. In dzongs, and on formal occasions, a dasho or someone in authority carries a long sword called a patang.

Ordinary male citizens wear a kabney of unbleached white silk and each level of official (male or female) wears a different colored kabney: saffron for the king and Je Khenpo; orange for lyonpos; blue for National Council and National Assembly members; red for those with the title Dasho and for senior officials whom the king has recognized; green for judges; white with a central red stripe for dzongdags (district governors); and white with red stripes on the outside for a gup (elected leader of a village).

Women wear a long floor-length dress called a kira. This is a rectangular piece of brightly colored cloth that wraps around the body over a Tibetan-style silk blouse called a wonju. The kira is fastened at the shoulders with elaborate silver hooks called koma and at the waist with a belt that may be of either silver or cloth. Over the top is worn a short, open, jacket-like garment called a toego. Women often wear large amounts of jewelry.

The kira may be made from cotton or silk (usually synthetic these days) and may have a pattern on one or both sides. For everyday wear, women wear a kira made from striped cloth with a double-sided design, and on more formal occasions they wear a kira with an embellished pattern woven into it. The most expensive kiras are kushutaras (brocade dresses), which are made of hand-spun, handwoven Bhutanese cotton, embroidered with various colors and designs in raw silk or cotton thread. Lhuentse is celebrated for its kushutara designs.

When visiting dzongs, women wear a cloth sash called a rachu over their shoulders or simply over their left shoulder in the same manner as men wear a kabney.