The deel (pronounced “dell”) is the traditional Mongolian garb. It comes in two flavors: winter and summer. Since it is becoming rather cold, and I only have one jacket, I ventured to purchase a custom-made winter deel.
I asked my supervisor about getting one. She said that she would look into taking me to a tailor. A month later, she called me into her office.
“The director of the primary school, her mother, is a tailor, and she has brought some deel for you to look at.”
We crossed the courtyard and entered the primary school. Inside, we found the director and her mother sitting at a table with three neatly folded deels for me to inspect. Two were made for summer. I examined the winter one.
My first thought: “Wow, this is very big.”
They tied the belt around me, speaking to each other about size and length. I asked if it was supposed to be so long in the sleeves.
“Yes, many Mongolian men have long sleeves. It keeps their hands warm.”
She took us to a friend of hers who sold fabrics at the black market. I picked out a nice green color. I inquired about getting a white belt or silver outline and buttons. The woman at the shop stared at me.
“Those colors are for woman,” she replied in Mongolian.
I settled with a bright orange belt. It’s very common to see winter deels made of very dark colors with bright neon belts. I decided to stick with tradition on this one.
Two weeks later, my supervisor called me back into her office. The deel was ready. The primary school director helped me try it on, securing the buttons just out of my reach. The green I had chosen shone like polished jade in the sunlight. I was surprised at how radiant it looked in natural light.
The challenging part came next: Tying the belt. The belt is usually a piece of cloth that you tie around your hips/waist to keep the outer garb in place. Men usually pull the top half up a little, so it hangs just slightly over the belt.
“If you just wear it down and don’t do this, maybe Mongolian man will think you are woman,” cautioned my supervisor.
My belt is rather long. By rather long, I mean close to three meters long. I first fold it twice length-wise, securing it in place by looping the end around a few orbits constructed by the rest of the cloth. From there, I gradually let the width of the belt expand, tucking the last end in place. I imagine I will never quite do this up to Mongolian standards.
The primary school director gave me some candy, and said a blessing, common for christening a new deel. I was imparted with the following translation from my supervisor:
“When you bless, you bless the inside and the outside. She said that on the inside, you will have many animals. It is good thing. She said on the outside she wishes for long life. The fabric, the deel, will not last long, but, the man will, so this is good. Sometimes, they bless the inside with many children, but you are not married, so maybe next time she will say this.”
I nodded. They showed me how to fold and store my deel next before I departed.
“Also, you must not put the collar towards the door. It is bad thing. Mongolians have strange superstition, but this is how we do it.”
If that is how they do it, then that is how I will do it.