All about Asian conical hats

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Vietnamese style conical hat: nón lá

Rice farmer in northern Cambodia wearing a Vietnamese-style conical hat

The Asian conical hat, sedge hat, rice hat, paddy hat, bamboo hat, and sometimes coolie hat, is a simple style of conical hat originating in East, South, and Southeast Asia, particularly China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, India, Bangladesh, and Vietnam.

It is kept on the head by a cloth (often silk) chin strap; an internal band of the same material keeps the hat itself from resting on the wearer's head. This style of hat is used primarily as protection from the sun and rain. When made of straw or matting, it can be dipped in water and worn as an impromptu evaporative-cooling device.


A selection of conical hats in Hainan, China

Because of its distinctive shape, it is often used in the depiction of East Asians. Recently, as part of international one day cricket matches in Australia, the conical hat has been a fashion phenomenon amongst spectators, with many decorated in Australian green and gold livery. Given that spectators are exposed for long periods in direct sunlight, the conical hat is a logical sunsafe device.

In mainland China and Taiwan, it is called dǒulì (literally, a one-dǒu bamboo hat). In Japan, the hat is called sugegasa. In Indonesia, the hat is called caping, and in Korea it is called satgat and worn by Buddhist monks on the road.

In the Philippines, the name is salakot or saklat worn by farmers and nobles crafted with jewels or made of turtle shells and an addition of sharp pike on top. It was worn by native soldiers, particularly Tagalogs, Kapampangans, and Ilocanos of the Spanish Colonial Army during the later years of Spanish colonial period.

In Cambodia, that hat is called do'un.

The Assamese jaapi has a slightly similar look and is believed to be of similar origin. It is made of tightly woven bamboo and/or cane and tokou paat (Trachycarpus martianus).

An Assamese Jaapi of the decorative kind. This is constructed primarily out of bamboo and leaf while the decorations are felt, threads and tin glitter.


Nón lá is a special souvenir for tourists

In Vietnam, the name is nón lá (leaf hat). Images of it were embossed on Ngoc Lu drums about 2500 to 3000 years ago, with the conical hat originating from here and spreading to surrounding countries.

Among conical hats, the nón lá of the Vietnamese forms a perfect right circular cone which tapers smoothly from the base to the apex. Nón lá are notable for their romantic and timelessly crafted adornments.

Special conical hats in Vietnam contain colourful hand-stitch depictions or words while the Huế varieties are famous for their nón bài thơ (literally: poem conical hats). These contain random poetic verses and Hán tự which can be revealed when the hat is directed above one's head in the sunlight.

Now, it is becoming a part of national costume of Vietnam.

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