Traditional costume of the republics of Central Asia

Girls at the National Dress Festival, Uzbekistan, representing Tashkent and Fergana. Photo  source

I've already written about ethnic jewelry of the republics of Central Asia and today's post is about their traditional costume.
Traditional costume in Central Asia is still very much alive and worn in everyday life, partly because it is the most practical wear for this region and partly because it fosters national pride.
The costume worn by men and women has same basic structure and at the same time greatly varies in embelishment, colour and weave of cloth. The three basic pieces are: a tunic, trousers and a variety of coats. Social status and ethnic origin are reflected in the materials from which the basic garments are made. Man's tunic usually comes just below the waist, women wear a longer version that reaches to mid-calf or to the ankle. The colour, pattern and decoration varies from group to group.

Emir of Bukhara, 1905. Library of Congress

Kazakh couple, 1870-86.  Library of Congress

Kyrgyz women and men, 1865-1872. World Digital Library 

Trousers worn with the tunic are usually of a loose type, very large at the top and tightened on a string and narrowing down at the knees , mid-calf, or at the ankles. The upper part of the trousers is usually made of a plain-woven undecorated fabric and the bottoms of a different, more expensive and decorated material because only the bottom portions are seen. Very practical.
The third basic article of the Central Asian costume, the coat, comes in different types. It can be made of different fabric, have sleeves of varying lengths, and be worn left open or tied with a belt. There are two major kinds of coats, the chapan and the khalat. The chapan is a loose coat of padded and quilted cotton. The khalat is a lightweight robe made of cotton, silk or a mixture of the two. There are regional variations in the cut of this garment but, essentially, khalats have wide sleeves and are bordered with patterned-silk edging tape stitched onto the coat material.

Woman's coat with a richly decorated lining. Bukhara, Uzbekistan, late 19th century.  The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 

Turkmen man's khalat, mid.20th century. Gallery of Textiles & Costume

In the 19th century coats played an important part in defining a person's rank. The ruler and highest court officials would dress in silk velvet coats, with gold embroidery and a large belt. Men of the next rank were permitted to wear coats made of imported cashmere or silk velvet with brocade embroidery. Peasants and nomads wore coats of rough cotton or coarse wool. Men and women from wealthy families wore multiple coats as a display of wealth. Such coats were specifically designed to show the embroidery on the front edges and cuffs of the multiple garments.

Turkmen family, early 20th century. Photo source

Tajik girls, photo courtesy Marusia

Uzbek woman wearing a khalat in traditional pattern 

An importand part of the Central Asian costume is the headdress. It serves as an item of identification. The Turkmen men, for example, wear large shaggy sheepskin hats, the Kazakh fur, and the Kirghiz conic moulded-felt hats. They can be embroidered, quilted, beaded, with or without tassels and neck extensions. Another type of head covering worn by men, as well as women from some nomadic groups, is the turban. For the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Karakalpak and some Uzbek and Turkmen ethnic groups, the turban remained an obligatory part of a nomadic woman’s headgear until the 20th century. The type of turban identifies the ethnic group, class, religion and area of origin of the wearer. Silk turbans were and are only worn by the aristocracy.
The skull cap is a head-covering item that is quite popular in Central Asia as well. It can be worn on its own, beneath bigger hats or serve as a base for wrapping turbans and arranging rumols. They are usually richly embroidered and can be conic, four-sided, round, and cupola-shaped.

Girls at the National Dress Festival, Uzbekistan, representing Bukhara and Samarkand. Photo source

Girls at the National Dress Festival, Uzbekistan. Photo source

Headgear specifically worn by women differs among women of different ethnic groups, between women of different ages and of different social status. The most common is a fine silk shawl called rumol. It can be tied on a woman’s head in a variety of ways.

Woman in paranja, Samarkand, 1905. World Digital Library

Veils were once a part of traditional woman's costume too but are not worn in the most regions of Central Asia nowadays. They are divided into two groups: those that cover the face and those that cover both the head and the body, so called paranjas. The paranja-type head-covering seems to be a fairly recent innovation. According to the sources paranjas do not appear at all in medieval miniature paintings, and are not mentioned in written sources until the 18th century.

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  1. Such beautiful colours and prints. That second photo of the Emir is wonderful, look at his stunning coat! The decorated woman's coat is amazing too. I love seeing the old photos you post, Olga, and always appreciate that you are so knowledgeable on the subject. xxx

  2. The outfits are so colorful! I always admired their bold prints. As always, I've enjoyed reading your post and looking at the pictures. Have a wonderful week!

  3. Olga, once again you have broadened minds and educated us! Thanks! I loved seeing all the subtle variations, and the pose of the women in the photos is telling. Such rich embellishment and beautiful colours. We have lost something in our practical world these days. Thanks for bringing it back into our lives via the internet! Have a great week. XO

  4. Beautiful costumes! I don't like them to cover up faces -in general-, but for the rest: gorgeous.