The Royal Kingdom of Nepal, a landlocked area with the highest mountains of the world, extends from the Gangetic plains to the Himalayas. The country's climate ranges from alpine cold, to hot and arid, to hot and humid. The country has many different ethnic groups, but they fall into two main divisions. In the mountains are found peoples of Tibetan origin, while people of Indo-Aryan origin live mostly at lower elevations.
Early references to clothing in ancient texts indicate that the various peoples of Nepal had diverse clothing traditions from ancient times and that some of those traditions persist to the present day. The earliest reference to Nepalese textiles is in Kautalya's Arthashastra (250 b.c.e.). It refers to black blankets stitched together from eight pieces. These continue to be used as a wrap by the people. Historic dress styles can be studied from sculptures, murals, and book illustrations. Draped and wrapped garments dominate, along with stitched jackets. In the early fifteenth century, the ruler classified the dress of sixty-five sub-castes; for instance, some were prohibited from wearing coats, caps, and shoes and others from having sleeves on their jackets.
Newari women of the central valleys and the lower mountain ranges wear a pleated wraparound skirt held together by a heavy shawl at the waist, while the men wear a long shirt, nivasa, pleated up to the waist and reaching to the ankles, which is worn with a waist cloth. A jacket and a topi, conical cap, completes the outfit. Gurkha men wear ordinary trousers with a blouse reaching below the hips and fastened by a heavy cummerbund with the kukri traditional dagger stuck into it.
The Kirant, one of the larger ethnic groups, wear an interesting blouse called choubandi, which means "four knots." The blouse crosses over, tying at the armpit and at the waist. Women wear it waist-length, while the men's comes to the hip. Women also wear a wraparound skirt with a sash. The Tharus of Terrai wore wrapped skirts made from multicolored panels and appliqué blouses.
Ethnic groups of Tibetan heritage, such as the Sherpas and Dolpos, generally wear clothing similar to that of Tibet. These include, for women, a silk blouse and a wrapped skirt, worn with a narrow apron of brightly colored stripes, stitched together from three pieces. Men wore woolen coats and trousers or left their legs bare. The Dolpo's woolen coat, chuba, came with multiple panels and had a distinctive style. Both groups use long sheepskin or goatskin fleece coats to ward off the high mountain cold.
The distinctive characteristic of Nepali dress was the more affluent the wearer the greater the length of cloth. Royal women used 80 to 90 yards of material for their gathered skirts. These thick and heavy skirts were worn with a thick sash to protect against back strain.
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