The national dress of the state of Mizoram, the puan is a long, handwoven cloth which is wrapped around the waist as a skirt. In Mizo, the word “puan” means cloth and, up until the twentieth century, the puan was worn by both men and women. Today, it is mostly worn by women, with trousers becoming the preferred lower garment for men. Previously woven as two separate pieces that were then stitched together, the puan is now hand woven as a single piece with the help of a shuttle. Made of cotton, it is traditionally woven by women on a loin loom and, occasionally, a Zo loom (also known as a frame loom).
The puan is a garment of historical and cultural significance in Mizoram, and the variations in design and motif were traditionally used to distinguish between tribes and indicate social status. It is usually forty five to forty eight inches in width and sixty to sixty five inches in length. For special occasions such as weddings, it is paired with a handmade blouse called a kawrechi.
Mizo Woman’s Ceremonial Wrapped Skirt (Puan Laisen); Mizo group, Northern Chin people; c. 1950–1970; Cotton; 175.3 x 100.3 cm; Philadelphia Museum of Art
The earliest forms of the puan were the puangngo, a white puan made of coarse cotton; the puanmawl, a puan in a single colour with no design; and the puanhlap, a larger puan that could also be used as a shawl or a blanket. Though the puan is largely worn by women, some types such as the ngotekherh, chyna hno and puanchei may also be worn by men. There are over thirty kinds of puan, including the puan laisen, which has a red horizontal section in the middle; the thihni, a heavily embellished puan worn by the Lai and Mara community of South Mizoram; and the shorter hmaram, which is worn with a petticoat and a girdle. The puak puan is a sling-like variation that is worn around the body and used to carry children.