Historic headwear

Everyone used to wear one, be it the emperor or a normal citizen. Some hats, such as the turban, are characteristic of each region. There is one that is popular throughout the country, which is the ready-to-wear turban, khan xep, also known as the traditional crown-like hat.

Photos: Le Bich. Text: Thuy Duong on March 09,2015 06:01 PM

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Le Mat village (a snake village in Hanoi’s Long Bien district) festival .

Through many ups and downs, the hundred-year-old village of Giap Nhat in Nam Truc commune in Nam Dinh province, some 60 km south of Hanoi, continues with its ancient trade of making khan xep.

‘We don’t know how the craft originated,’ say the village elders. ‘We saw our forefathers making khan xep when we were children and so also learned the craft.’ The traditional handcraft of Giap Nhat was interrupted during the wars and the subsidised period from 1945 to 1986. ‘After the “doi moi” economic changes in 1986 the whole village returned to the craft,’ they say.

The turban is often a piece of plant-based silk or cloth, wrapped around one’s head in many circles. Regardless how it is wrapped, it must clearly form the shape of the word Nhat or ‘Number One’ or ‘Human’ at the centre of the forehead.

‘The khan xep used to be made from cardboard for a steady shape, then wrapped with satin or silk,’ says Bui Van Linh, 55, a villager from Giap Nhat. ‘But it was easily damaged by rain. The khan xep today is much more durable thanks to its rubber frame.’

According to Mr Linh, the key to making a beautiful turban is keeping the rings round and even. The making of the crown-like headwear has four stages: cutting, measuring, sewing, and wrapping, and are basically the same for men and women.

A traditional men’s turban has seven rings: six main rings and one supporting ring. For women, turbans are made of 12, 15 to 22 rings, or 25 rings. There are some kinds of khan xep that are suitable for both men and women.

Traditional Vietnamese khan xep come in various types and colours appropriate to different occasions. For example, the khan xep worn by the head of traditional officiating who usually performs the main rituals at a village festival is totally different from that worn by others, while the khan xep worn in a séance would not be similar to the one worn during a folk performance of ca tru or quan ho singing. And a bride’s crown-like hat is different from the groom’s at a traditional Vietnamese wedding.

‘We make khan xep all year-round,’ says Vu Dinh Khuc, a 67 year-old craftsman. ‘But we mostly sell them during the festive seasons of lunar January, February and August. Most our village’s products can be found on Hang Quat Street in Hanoi’s Old Quarter area, as well as elsewhere around the country.’

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