Take a peasant's common conical hat, add a touch of this and a little of that, and you will have the idea, but not quite an authentic Nón Bài ThÖ or "Poetical Leaf" from Central Vietnam. Just a few simple arrangements added to the conical form are enough to give the Vietnamese leaf-covered hat unique features found nowhere else among Asia's various types of conical hats.
Vietnamese girls become milder, more elegant and more delicate when once they put on a hat which gives shelter to their blushing cheeks like a crowing bud protected from sun, rain or rough wind. Now, Vietnamese girls do not like just any conical hat they come upon. The dearest to them is inevitably the one called the "Poetical Leaf ".
Looking at the inside of the hat, when held ,against the light, one finds widely popular, romantic poems, proverbs and old sayings; sometimes there is the image of a temple, palace or tomb.
The hat originated in Hue, the ancient cultural capital of Vietnam, and the birthplace of many eminent literary men. It is true that the place where the hat comes from has been romantically famous with its peaceful HÜÖng (Perfume) River and its majestic Ng¿ Bình (Peace) mountain. Moreover, Hu‰ has been famous for her attractively sentimental, soft-voiced and long-haired girls who often gave inspiration to poets whose creative works have been handed down to the present day. And the "Poetical Leaf" has a prominent place in all that poetical, dreamy and yet scholarly diet of the ancient city.
The hat is meticulously and creatively made from simple materials of nature. Thin wooden pieces with notches are used as a frame to shape the conical form and to hold the hat rims together. All this is done solely by hand, for no machine ever touches a " Poetical Leaf ".
The leaves used to cover the hat are brought from the forest. Then they are exposed to the dew for one night to soften them. When the leaves become dry but still soft they are flattened either by hand or by ironing. Only young leaves are selected. Old or dark ones are discarded. A hat usually consists of 16 to 18 rims made from a special kind of bamboo. The poem and picture frames are made in advance and then attached to the hat between the leaves. 1n order to have a well-made hat, it must be knitted together with a peculiar kind of thread made from the leaves of a special kind of reed.
Finally, the hat is trimmed and painted with a coat of attar oil to keep it clean and smooth.
All the attraction and unique value of the hat depends upon the arrangements of the dexterous craftsman.
The "Poetical Leaf" is not only a symbol of the mysterious dreamlike beauty of the girls in Central Vietnam, but has also become part of the national cultural spirit.