The H'mong are the eighth largest ethnic minority in Vietnam with a total population of just under 600,000. Belonging to the Sino-Tibetan and specifically the H'mong-Dao language group, they settled widely over northern Vietnam but most densely along the Lao and Chinese borders.
White H'mong of Thuan Chau and Tuan Giao: Some H'mong women can still be seen wearing the traditional white skirt but most opt for the black trousers worn under a black apron and black jacket with distinctive blue circles around the lower sleeves. This is often worn with a plain black headscarf decorated with tassels.
Further north, the White H'mong of Sin Ho are distinguished by their tall peaked black turbans from which may hang a scarf. Some H'mong women also wear a white pleated skirt over which is suspended a black apron.
The White H'mong of Northern Tuyen Quang Bac Can and Southern Cao Bang Provinces is subtly different from that of the White H'mong elsewhere. The black apron which covers the black pleated skirt has no vertical coloured stripes but is tied in place by a wide floral or embroidered belt, whilst the black jacket has wide bands of coloured material around the sleeves and is characterised by a distinctive collar of thick embroidered material which extends over the shoulders to form a large rear panel. The outfit also features a black and white chequered headband which is worn together with a patterned scarf.
The White H'mong of Tam Duong usually wear a black or blue jacket with concentric red embroidered panels and a thick red or floral belt.
The most notable feature of the Red H'mong women of southern Lai Chau is their distinctive 'big hair' achieved by carefully collecting all the dead hair that falls out and weaving it into the living hair. Their traditional costume features a pleated skirt of indigo batik with a particularly beautifully embroidered border, worn under a black apron with a red/floral waist band and a black jacket with large embroidered lapel panels at the front and concentric circles of blue and floral material at the lower sleeves.
Flower H'mong of Lao Cai Province are undoubtedly the most colourful of all branches of H'mong to be seen in Vietnam. They wear a colourful embroidered calf length skirt together with a highly embroidered jacket with a clasp under the right shoulder. Although also seen around Tam Duong, you will be jostling with hundreds of these ladies if you venture to Bac Ha market on a Sunday.
The Black H'mong women of Sapa are instantly recognisable - by their sheer weight of numbers and their distinctive black indigo skirt and shirt. Usually a long black waistcoat is worn over the shirt and a black pillbox hat is worn on the head. The ensemble is completed by black leg warmers.