We were recently looking through our collection of photos from Nepal to find some truly representative traditional Sherpa clothing. Pema told me about the old days when they would wear fur hats and shoes that were just a patch of leather wrapped around the feet and padded with dried grass. In all of recorded digital history though we couldn’t find anyone in such a quaint outfit, but Pema was proud to share a photo from when he had dressed up in his finest. There he was in a Stetson hat and cowboy boots, along with his chuba and kanam. He insisted that this was a traditional outfit, but we were sure he didn’t understand. To me “traditional” means it has cultural significance, that you wear it on certain occasions, and you wouldn’t be caught dead wearing it under normal circumstances, like when we dress up as pilgrims and Indians in America for Thanksgiving. Or am I the only one that still does that? So we repeated and clarified the question to Pema if he had pictures in traditional clothing. And then we traded incredulous shrugs.
It turns out that the cowboy look has stampeded into the Sherpa cultural identity. US Army cavalry enthusiasts and urban cowboys already know how the hat and boots can accentuate their fine formal wear, and … well actually no, I can’t personally make a match between rustling doggies and black tie apparel. Maybe boot cut dungarees with a dusty plaid shirt and red bandana around the neck, but then I’m sounding like some contrived fashion magazine. In the last 30 to 40 years, coinciding with Nepal opening its borders and the influx of Westerners, some of the older Sherpa traditions have given way to newer adaptations. Apart from the fact that the Stetson and boots can easily cost more than the median Nepali annual income, they are quite practical. I’ll have to ask Pema if he still pads his boots with grass or if he wears socks.customs fashion heritage Nepalese culture Pema Sherpa sherpa culture sherpa customs Sherpa society