Plant-based clothing comes in a variety of forms, both stereotypically and historically: grass skirts, barkcloth, et cetera. But one form I have only ever seen in fiction is clothing made from straight-up leaves (whether woven, sown, or whatever). It has a fairly established place in both fantasy garb, and in many stereotypical depictions of tropical attire.

My question is if there's any actual historical precedent for this. Did people ever make clothes out of whole, intact leaves, or was plant fibre the only material ever actually used? How practical would leaf-based clothing, or clothing that incorporated leaves, actually be? In a warm enough climate, with tough enough plants, would it be manageable, or is it all just fiction?

Edit: While hats certainly qualify as a usage of leaves in clothing, I was particularly curious about their potential integration into garments meant to cover the body (such as shirts, skirts, etc.) E.g. Was it ever done? Is it viable? Etc.

Edit #2 (Re-edited, because I'm not the most eloquent fellow): A lot of people have brought up straw and straw hats, and while that's a perfect example of plants being more or less directly integrated into clothing, I'm more curious about the integration of traditional leaves (such as leaves from trees, bushes, etc.). Whether palm fronds qualify as leaves is a question I leave for a more qualified individual than I, but I think, as leaves taken from a larger plant, they work for this question.

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    $\begingroup$ Just to get it off the plate: the common source most of us think of first is the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. Note, however, that the fig leaves (Genesis 3:7) lasted only as long as the interview with God, who made "coats of skins" to clothe them (Genesis 3:21). Whether you consider the Biblical story fact or fiction, the fig leaves were used for, what, 30 minutes? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 21:16
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    $\begingroup$ Straw hats are very popular, aren't they? So that plant fibre(s) are clearly not the only material used. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 23:31
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP straw is plant fibers. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn: Straw is "an agricultural byproduct consisting of the dry stalks of cereal plants" (and other grasses). I have no idea why you would think that straw is a processed material. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ @Cyn Thanks! I'm not sure how that got there. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 20:24

2 Answers 2



A taʻovala is a Tongan dress, a mat wrapped around the waist, worn by men and women, at all formal occasions. The ta'ovala is also commonly seen among the Fijian Lau Islands, a region once heavily influenced by Tongan hegemony and cultural diffusion.

The normal taʻovala, for everyday neat wear, is a short mat, coming halfway up the thighs. It is tied with a rope (kafa, often made of coconut coir or of human hair of a deceased ancestor) wrapped around the waist. The mat worn on festive occasions, like a marriage, is much larger and often very nicely decorated. Likewise the taʻovala for a funeral is also a huge mat, but much coarser, not decorated. If the wearer has an inferior rank towards the deceased, the mat is old and torn. The older and more torn it is, the better. All these special mats are kept as precious heirlooms.

Taʻovala are part of the koloa, the handicraft goods made by the women. Every woman can do it. If girls do not learn it at home, it will be taught at school. More recently, however, some women specialise in the handicraft and sell their products on the market.

Taʻovala can be made from different materials, natural and introduced:

  • Strips of pandanus leaves, usually unpainted, although sometimes black strips are used, and rarely the whole taʻovala is black. The strips range from coarse (15 mm or so as for funerals) to fine (a couple of millimeters, as the taʻovala loukeha, in which one is dressed to visit the king). Mats are always woven by hand. Especially the fine mats are therefore very laborious to make, take a long time to complete and are expensive. The oldest and most valuable Tongan fine mats are preserved and worn by the Tongan royal family.

(Wikipedia, s.v. Taʻovala)

A just married couple still in their wedding taʻovala

Decorated taʻovala worn at a Tongan marriage; photograph James Foster (User:Tauʻolunga), 1989; available on Wikipedia; public domain.

  • $\begingroup$ This answers my question precisely! Thank you! $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 0:55

Hats woven from palm fronds and other leaves are quite practical.

For example,

A Panama hat (toquilla straw hat) is a traditional brimmed straw hat of Ecuadorian origin. Traditionally, hats were made from the plaited leaves of the Carludovica palmata plant, known locally as the toquilla palm or jipijapa palm, although it is a palm-like plant rather than a true palm. (Wikipedia, s.v. Panama hat)

The jaapi or japi is a traditional conical hat from Assam, India and Odisha, India which is made from tightly woven bamboo and/or cane and tokou paat (Trachycarpus martianus) a large, palm leaf. The word jaapi derives from jaap meaning a bundle of taku leaves. (Wikipedia, s.v. Jaapi)

The Thai farmer's hat or ngob, is a traditional hat used in Thailand. More complex in design than the related Asian conical hat, the ngob is made of ola palm leaves laid over a plaited bamboo-strip frame. (Wikipedia, s.v. Thai farmer's hat)

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    $\begingroup$ This was downvoted? We need a clarification from the OP: hats woven from palm fronds are unprocessed. They really are a type of clothing that incorporates leaves. Plant fiber, in my mind, means processing: such as converting Hemp to rope and then doing something with the rope (call it a really thick thread). So, Enthusiastic, can you tell us if this answer (short and without citation though it may be. Roger, a single-sentence answer is almost always flagged as low-quality) is basically within your expectations? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 21:53
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH By me. "My question is if there's any actual historical precedent for this", This dawg dont hunt as per OP's question. I stand by my vote, the OP is free to change their question and invalidate answers, then get their question closed/edit rolled back for doing so. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Agrajag, As a low-quality answer, a downvote was justified (and I appreciate your reponding), but what do you mean by "this dawg don't hunt?" Palm frond hats have likely been woven since the dawn of history. Do you not believe that? Or are you merely pointing out that, without a citation, the answer is incomplete? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 22:11
  • $\begingroup$ I've not seen evidence for it, not in life nor in the answer - citations would be good, pictures would be better. "Palm frond hats have likely been woven since the dawn of history" Most of world recorded history - literally the vast bulk of it, has occured in regions without palms. Also, does a hat count as clothing? (I ask the OP) @Enthusiastic Leviathan $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 22:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Agrajag: "Most of world recorded history - literally the vast bulk of it, has occured in regions without palms": what? Date palms grow throughout Mesopotamia, the Near East (= Middle East in American), and Egypt. Actually, dates are a staple food in those parts of the world. History literally began in regions where date plams grow. For an example easy to remember, consider Palm Sunday. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 23:29

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