With only around 4000 people the Lu ethnic minority group of Vietnam is one of the lesser known groups in Vietnam. I've always loved their gorgeous outfits which are totally different to those of the Hmong and other groups like the Dao.
The Lu live mainly around the Phong Tho and Sin Ho district of Lai Chau province in Northern Vietnam and migrated to Vietnam with the Thai minority groups over a long period of time sometime between the 9th and 14th century.
Apart from their vibrant and tailored outfits one of the curious customs that sets the Lu apart from other ethnic groups in Vietnam is that the Lu women prefer to have their teeth black! Although not practiced by many Lu women under the age of 30 these days the Lu believe that only wild animals and demons have white teeth, so they apply a special black paste every day to their teeth to avoid being associated with evil. Apparently the dying technique not only has aesthetic meaning, but also works as a sealant and prevents tooth decay! The paste applied every night is made by mixing black-honey shrub with a plant extract called Gum Benzoin Siam for 1 to 2 hours then heating the mixture and apply it to the teeth.
The outfits of the Lu women are stunning pieces of clothing, comprising of a tailored jacket with intricate braiding and brocade teamed with a colourful skirt featuring a detailed band of brocade weaving and colourful braiding. This is topped with a black turban featuring a black and white strip and colorful tassels and on the ends.
The turban headdress of the women is made from indigo dyed cotton and measures around 4 mtrs in length. The middle section is around 30 cm wide and tapers off to a narrow strip at either end. The women like most of the ethnic groups keep their hair very long and in the case of the Lu they wear their hair in a bun to the left wrapping the turban around it.
Lu women wear black indigo cross over tailored jackets which are pieced together using 6 sections which are curved at the hem line. The jacket is decorated from the collar to hem using pieces of hand woven brocade edged with a bright floral braids. Around the waist there is a long patterned cloth of brocade and braid, which is called “meandering stream”. Under this there are many small colorful embroidered triangles. The wrap style jacket is tied at the side using a floral tie. The sleeves of the jacket are long and narrow and are attached with bands on fine embroidered flower motifs and trimmed with a narrow floral braid.
The traditional skirts of the Lu women comprise of 3 different sections, which are sewn together to form a tube skirt. It consists of a plain waistband, the main part of the skirt and the bottom.
The waistband is woven from brown or maroon cotton with no decoration. The skirt’s body is woven from silk and cotton using a complicated very fine tapestry weave techniques - the most common patterns found are of diamonds - this part of the skirt take up to 6 months to weave. The bottom of the skirt is made of indigo dyed cotton with a panel of 8 stripes of bight floral fabric with a centre piece of brocade. The hem in of the skirt has a series of brocade and other braids with a piece of floral cloth acting as a hemline.