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Boots (AMNH)

Meet the Boots (AMNH collection)

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The legs of these lightweight boots are made of layers of cloth, insulated with what appears to be animal hair. The cloth layers are stitched in columns to firmly hold the insulation that is lining the boots in an upright position. The two main, vertical seams of the boots are located in the front and back of each of the boots. There are several horizontal seams connecting the upper leg of the boot to the base of the boot and the base of the boot to sole of the boot. The cowhide layered soles are about 2 cm thick and are connected to the cloth leg that is about 28 cm tall. The width of the boot is about 6 cm wide and 15 cm long. The boots do not have appear to have insoles of any sort, indicating that the foot may have rested directly on the cowhide sole. However, it is possible that there was a some sort of lining inserted at the bottom of the boot to make it more comfortable. The boots have fibrous threads woven through the sole, creating a ridged bottom for traction. Though the legs of the boots appear worn and damaged, the soles are slightly worn and fairly clean.

The legs of the boots are dyed red and, while tan and red floral designs are embroidered around the top part of the blue base of the boots. Discoloration and fading suggest that boots may have been damaged by water, causing the dye to run and to be unevenly absorbed by the cowhide sole.

Like other Tibetan boots, these can be worn on both feet and have the unique, upturned toe. However, the careful stitching and floral embroidery along with the brilliant dyes and barely worn soles indicate that these boots were not intended for every day use by a nomadic Tibetan. Rather, it seems that the short leg, light weight boots were intended for a member of the nobility. Given the small size and delicate trimming, the boot was probably intended for occasional use by a wealthy woman.

See more information about the materials used in making boots

The Sole of the Boot
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The sole of the boot is generally 2-3 cm thick and is sewed from about 5-7 layers of cowhide. The sole of the boot is later attached to the leg of the boot. Traction is provided on the bottom of the sole by weaving a fibrous thread through the layers of cowhide. This uniformly stitched pattern creates a ridged bottom that allows the boot to grip its surface. The sole of the boot is sturdy and very thick, but bendable, offering protection and good ankle support in various terrains. The Tibetan boot is often characterized by the upturned toe. This feature gives added protection and firmness to the head of the foot. The Tibetan boot is devoid of a heel, therefore the cowhide sole functions like a platform, elevating the boot. [10]

Lining and Insulation
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There are two general types of Tibetan boots, short leg and long leg. The short and long leg boots may be made of any material (cloth, canvas, corduroy, velvet, leather and felt) and most Tibetan boots are lined or padded, though some may be unlined. Tibetan boots are often lined or padded with layers of cloth, hay, fur, or hair (from the llama or goat) for insulation. The legs of corduroy boots are made of corduroy and lined on the inside with white cloth, (sometimes edged in red cloth). The legs of cloth boots are made of layers of cloth with goat hair insulation sewn in between the layers. Rockhill notes that, “the leg of the boot is usually lined with a very coarse woolen stuff, and no socks were worn on the feet.” [11] Depending on the material of the boot and the type of boot (short leg or long leg), the boot may be “bound tightly below the knee with a leather thong or long garter of wool.” [12] Garters are about 4.5 ft. long and 1 in. wide, the pattern on the garter is usually narrow, horizontal stripes, but, “some of them are beautifully fine and show great taste in the selection of colors.” [13] Typically, the seam of the boot runs down the back of the leg.

Function and Purpose
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In central Tibet, the boots of men and women are the same and there is no distinction between the boot for the left and right foot. [14,15]Given the uneasy, nomadic lifestyle of many Tibetan tribes, it is possible that the lack of distinction between the boots allows the greatest utility for the footwear. Tibetans who were carrying everything needed to survive in an environment prone to sudden changes of weather needed a compact, versatile boot. Tibetan boots are suited for snow, but are also soft and breathable, so that they are good for walking. Previously discussed elements also contribute to the function of the boot. For example, a pair of long leg, ‘floppy’ felt boots, could be worn with a garter during harsh, cold wind or could be folded down during warmer weather. Similarly the unique, curved, pointed toe of typical Tibetan boots is appropriate for different types of environments. Rockhill once commented, “[Tibetans] can endure exposure without any apparent inconvenience…they put no clothes on children except in the coldest weather, allowing them to move about naked, or with only a pair of boots on." [16] Even to an observer, the versatile boot seems to have a significant presence in the Tibetan way of life.

Form and Style

Tibetan boots are often richly decorated, compensating the simple, nomadic lifestyle. Some boots have elegant flowing lines and patterns where the seams are connected, and some materials for example, cloth and canvas allow for intricately embroidered and dyed designs. Exquisite workmanship and fine, decoratively embroidered patterns are characteristic of these boots. The elaborate designs often continue on the legs of the boots. [17] The extent of adornment on the boot is typically associated with wealth of the boots’ owner. For example, wealthy women frequently wear Chinese velvet boots, whose seams may be covered with colorful and intricate embroidery. [18] The Tibetan boots of “beautiful workmanship were probably obtained by barter.” [19]

According to Rockhill, “the profession in which Tibetans excel is that of dyeing.” Tibetans almost exclusively use vegetable dyes and, “they know how to fix the colors so well that they are practically permanent.” [20]


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[10] The Early History of Felt by B. Laufer P. 8
[11] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 686
[12] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 686
[13] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 686
[14]
[[http://en.tibettour.com.cn/geography/200412006420101601.htm%3C/span%3E%3Cspan|http://en.tibettour.com.cn/geography/200412006420101601.htm<span]] style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">
[15] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 687
[16] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 675
[17] [[http://www.kepu.net.cn/english/nationalityne/mong/200312050055.html%3C/span%3E%3Cspan|http://www.kepu.net.cn/english/nationalityne/mong/200312050055.html<span]] style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: Arial; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New Roman'; mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-ansi-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language: AR-SA">
[18] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 687
[19] 'Daktas'--People with a Tail in the East Bhutanese Himalaya by R. E. Cooper P. 6
[20] Notes on the Ethnology of Tibet by W.W. Rockhill P. 701