An In-Depth Understanding of Vietnam Culture and History through the Image of Conical Hats

Because Vietnam is well-known for its tropical climate with a huge amount of heat intensity and rainfall, conical hats have become an indispensable item to protect people from the sun and the rain. Since ancient times, hats have played a meaningful and aesthetic part in Vietnam cultural history, manifesting themselves in Vietnamese daily life, in many struggles of the country as well as in stories and novels.

The origin of Nón Lá (Palm-Leaf Conical Hats)

The Non La is recognized as a traditional symbol of Vietnam, which bears similarity to other traditional costumes, has a long and fascinating history. The precursor image of Non la was found to be carved on the surface of the famous Ngoc Lu Bronze Drum about 2,500-3,000 years ago.

During the length of Vietnam cultural history, hats have gone through many dramatic changes in variations, styles, and materials. While at first, there was no tool to sew so that hats were plaited, today’s conical stitched hats made their first appearance thanks to the birth of a needle which was during the Iron Age period (around the 3rd century BC).

According to Vietnamese ancestors, conical hats are divided into 3 types: non Muoi (Ten hat), non Nho (Medium hat) and non Sau (Crocodile hat). In general, the hats have a round collar and flat-shaped like a tray. There is a contour in the outer ring, give the hat a gong-shaped look. At the heart of conical hats is a knitted small ring with just enough space to embrace the wearer’s head snuggly. Moreover, hats were also classified into different types based on the social status of its owners such as the elderly type, wealthy type, children type or military type.

Vietnamese girls wearing non la

Vietnamese girls wearing Non La (Source: Google)

A typical and familiar sight that travelers often come across when visiting Vietnam – the land of culture and history – is the image of local women wears Non la in different styles and materials. Travelling through 3 regions North, Central and South, tourists have chances to explore many popular hat-making villages with distinctive colors and characteristics. The two best known are Non la of Chuong Village in Hanoi and Non Bai Tho of Hue – the imperial citadel of Vietnam. The Non Bai Tho – also known as the poem hat – is often decorated in detail with pictures of bamboo trees – the symbol plant of Vietnam – or poetic sentences on the hat’s surface.

The process of creating a perfect conical hat

The process of making Non la

The process of making Non la (Source: Google)

Although Non la gives an impression of a simple product, it requires complicated skills from the artisans. Start from the careful and elaborate selection of palm leaves, which are the major component in making hats – the leaves must be tender, their vein must be green and the color must be a pleasant green. Old leaves are strictly avoided in the hat-making process due to their brittleness.

Furthermore, before using, palm leaves are put under the hot sun a lot of times to dry and maintain a long-lasting color. After drying, an appropriate amount of sulfur is added onto the leaves to create a white color. The whiter the leaf is, the higher the price is because white leaves are specially used for the most beautiful and delicate hats. Finally, leaves are ironed flat by heat in order not to become curly and remove the torn ones.

Apart from preparing leaves, the brim, which is made from dry and flexible sticks, also plays an important part in providing the hat an aesthetic value. Under the skillful hands of the artists, each stick is split, round-sharpened and bent in the shape of small circles, making a stable frame for the hat.

the sturdy frame of non la

The sturdy frame of Non la (Source: Google)

Next comes the step of arranging leaves on the ready-frame. Each layer of leaves is put onto one another in a neat and attentive way and make sure not to leave any open gaps. Afterwards, the artisans, using a type of very thin thread and a needle, start to sew the hat with a rhythmic and graceful movement so that when removing the frame, the hat will become a strong united body.

For those who haven’t touched a needle yet, this task is expected to bring many difficulties, mostly being poked at the fingertips by the sharp needles. However, for the professional artists, it is rare to see the needles touch their hands or even leave a scratch even though their movements are surprisingly quick.

The position of Non la in Vietnam cultural and daily life

The elegant beauty of a Vietnamese lady with Non la

The elegant beauty of a Vietnamese lady with Non la (Source: Google)

There is no doubt about the useful function of conical hats. From the South to the North, Non la is not only an unseparated and familiar item to protect from the heated sun, but it also can turn into a convenient handheld fan during hot summer days.

Nowadays, Non la has succeeded in becoming a lovely accessory, promoting the irresistible charm, feminine and elegance of Vietnamese women. In addition, Non la secures a valuable position in Vietnam cultural history through art, poetry, painting, dance art or contemporary art.

Non la (Conical hats) has contributed greatly to the introduction of Vietnam history, culture and values to the world and honored to be a timeless symbol of Vietnamese people

Tuong Vi


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