Vietnamese conical hats (Nón Lá) are often added as the “finishing touch” to several of the stereotypical Asian cultural costumes sold at halloween shops. Although globalization and cross-cultural dressing has brought the Vietnamese Nón Lá into daily dress practices around Asia, it is an article unique to Vietnamese traditional dress. The Nón Lá is a cultural object that embodies Vietnamese spirit and history, not an accessory to enhance racist perceptions of Asian costume.
There are no precise origins of the Nón Lá, however evidence of its shape can be seen on ancient bronzes dating back to the 3rd century BCE. According to Vietnamese legends, during a long period of torrential rain, a giant goddess descended from the sky wearing a hat so large it shielded the people from the rain. Her hat was made from four large leaves stitched together with bamboo sticks. As a way to honor and emulate the goddess after her departure, the Vietnamese people created the Nón Lá.
The Nón Lá is now a staple in Vietnamese culture and remains a symbol without restrictions to age, sex or status. Women typically wear a broad-brimmed version of the Nón Lá, whereas men wear one with a higher cone and smaller brim. Another variation of the Nón Lá, called a Nón Bai Tho (Poem Leaf Hat), emerged out of the ancient capital, Hue. The Nón Bai Tho is characterized by silhouettes of poems or images that are inserted between the two layers of palm leaf, creating an image only visible against the light. Today, it is also common to see the Nón Lá customized through embroidery and/or painting. Most Nón Lá are still constructed by hand in several of Vietnam’s craft villages, demonstrating the skill and beauty in Vietnamese culture.
Appropriation and Influence
Christian Dior, New Look, 1947
Yves Saint Laurent, Dreams of the Orient, Haute Couture Collection, 1977
Chanel, Pre-Fall Shanghai, 2010
Party City, 2020
Nguyen, Nhi. “A Guide to the Vietnamese Conical Hat.” Vietnam Travel Information. December, 24, 2019. https://www.itourvn.com/blog/a-guide-to-the-vietnamese-conical-hat.
“The Beauty of Vietnamese Conical Hat or Non La.” Vietnam Culture. Accessed August 21, 2020. https://www.vietnam-culture.com/clothing/vietnamese-conical-hat/.
Rajapaksha, Piumi. “Why Do Vietnamese People Wear Conical Hats?” Culture Trip. January 2, 2018. https://theculturetrip.com/asia/vietnam/articles/the-humble-tradition-of-vietnams-conical-hats/.
There is a lack of academic scholarship on this object, please contact us if you have additional sources or can contribute to this topic.