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About Kazakhstan / History / National dresses

In the course of centuries Kazakh national dresses were simple and rational. They were characterized by commonality of forms for all strata of society but with certain social and age regulations. The trim with fur, embroidery, and decorations made dresses elegant. Traditional materials were leather, fur, fine felt, and cloth, which were made by the Kazakhs themselves. Dresses were made of imported fabrics too – silk, brocade, velvet, which were peculiar criterion of their owners’ prosperity. Cotton fabric was widely used as well.

The Kazakhs always valued animals’ skins and fur. They sewed fur coats (tons) of skins and fur coats (shashes) of fur-bearing animals’ fur. Overcoats were made of skins and fur of either wild or domestic animals. Clothes were called accordingly: zhanat ton – a fur coat made of raccoon fur, kara tulki ton - a fur coat made of silver fox fur, kamshat borik - a fur-cap made of beaver, bota ton - a fur coat made of young camel skins, zhargak ton - a fur coat made of colt skins, etc.

Woolen cloth made of domestic animals’ wool occupied an important place among fabrics for Kazakh clothing. It was used as a warm lining for overcoats (robes, beshpents) and hats. Many types of clothes were made of felt. To make them they used white wool mainly; fine fluff from sheep’s neck was especially valuable.

Imported cotton, silk and woolen fabrics became the part of Kazakh nomads’ everyday life along with homespun clothes, made on primitive horizontal looms as long ago as in the antiquity. Feudal lords were the main buyers of imported fabrics. Other Kazakhs were content with fur, leather, homemade woolen goods.

At the end of the ХIХ – at the beginning of the ХХ centuries the Kazakhs made clothes mainly of factory-made cotton fabrics: printed cotton, unbleached calico, red calico, calico, muslin. Rich buyers bought velvet, silk, satin, brocade, fine cloth. They used Central Asian home-made fabrics as well: mata, unbleached calico, semi-silk fabrics (adras, bekasab, pashdai, etc).

Woman’s overcoat was like men’s overcoat: they wore the same camisoles, sleeveless jackets, robes, girded with wide leather belts; colours and some other details distinguished it from man’s overcoat.

Kazakh woman’s head-dresses pointed to their family status besides their straight purpose like among many other nations. Married woman’s head-dresses differed from each other in different clan and tribal groups, but girlish head-dresses were relatively of the same type on the whole territory of Kazakhstan. Girls wore two types of head-dresses: a skullcap (takiya) and a warm cap with a fur trimming (borik), its cap-band was trimmed with otter, fox, and beaver fur. Girls from prosperous families wore boriks. As a rule takiya was trimmed. Eagle owl’s feathers were usually sewed on the top of the skullcap, they were considered talismans. Later on they used galloon, tassels made of gold and silver thread and silver coins for trimming. Rich girls had original skullcaps made of bright velvet embroidered with golden thread. A wide band of the same fabric, embroidered as well, was sewed on their top and drew down covering it totally.

It is necessary to mention especially a Kazakh national woman’s wedding head-dress – saukele. It was a high (about 70 cm high) cone-shaped cap. The most expensive saukeles cost about one thousand roubles or one hundred select horses at that time. Saukele was an obligatory part of the dowry and was made ready long before a girl became nubile. Saukele was put on a bride during the wedding ceremony and then the young woman was wearing it after marriage on high days and holidays for some time. They were trimmed with metal open-work tops, a diadem (sometimes it was made of gold with fixed semi-precious stones or strings of pearls, corals, etc), temporal pendants and chin decorations. The framework of saukele was covered with cloth with metal plates of different shapes. Precious and semi-precious stones were inserted into the metal plates. The occipital part of an old saukele was trimmed with a sculptural image of a fish head – the symbol of welfare. A wide ribbon made of expensive cloth, trimmed with a fringe of golden thread drew down from the back of the head along the back. The most skillful workmen - cutters, embroiderers, jewellers, using moulding, embossing, pressing, and filigree, etc. - took part in making saukele. One saukele was being made during a whole year or even longer. Long pendants (zhaktau) were obligatory accessories of saukele; they were fixed to its sides and were waist-high or even higher.

Saukele defined the social status of the girl. The poor made it of cloth, sateen, and trimmed with glass beads and galloon; the rich tried to make it as splendid as possible.

After giving a birth to the first child a woman put on a married woman’s head-dress, which she wore to her old age. The details of these head-dresses were changed a little according to women’s age and the region they lived in. A woman’s head-dress consisted of two parts: a lower part (kimeshek) was put on the head, and an upper part in the form of a turban was put on top of the lower part of the head-dress. It was obligatory to make two parts of the head-dress of white cloth. Elderly women still wear such head-dresses.

Men had various head-dresses as well. They wore different skullcaps, summer and winter caps. A summer head-dress (kalpak) was made of fine felt, mainly white, and it was of an original old cut; prosperous Kazakhs’ kalpaks were trimmed with bright embroidery. Man’s winter head-dresses were round with fur trimming. They wore an original cap with earflaps too; the back of it was made of fox fur. An old head-dress (bashlyk) was current, it was made of camel cloth (later - of factory-made cloth); it was put on the top of other head-dresses: it protected against dust, sun, rain and snow well.

In summer they wore a cap with fur edging (borik) or flimsy felt hat – kalpak, in winter they put on caps of an original cut (tymak), made of fur.

In the old days man and woman’s footwear did not differ from each other. They wore boots, varying seasonably. There were some differences between elderly and young men’s footwear. Young people most often wore high-heeled boots (up to 6 – 8 cm), elderly persons wore low-heeled boots. Flimsy boots without heels (mesi) fitted feet tightly and they were very popular among the Kazakhs too. Leather galoshes (kebis) were put on them; people put the galoshes off before entering their houses.

Koilek (a long chemise) is the oldest type of woman’s underclothes of a tunic cut. Later they began to wear sleeveless underclothes under koileks (ish koilek), which were made of white flimsy cloth with narrow shoulders and a wide neckline or with a small neckline and a slit at the front with a lace. Chemises were made of different fabrics: cheap clothes were used for everyday wearing, expensive clothes – for holidays. Chemises had a not open, turn-down or a stand-up collar and a straight slit at the front, two or three lines of frills were sewed to the sleeves or on the bottom.

By the end of the ХIХ century a new cut of a dress appeared and it replaced an old cut gradually. They began to make a dress detachable on the waist. The bodice was still like a tunic, and a straight very wide pleated skirt was sewed to it. The neckline was with a stand-up collar with a slit, which was sometimes trimmed, with three or four buttons and cut buttonholes.

A camisole (kemzal) is a flimsy open fitting tightly clothing with flaps widening down. Corresponding words were added to its name according to whether it was sleeveless or not. For example, a sleeveless camisole was called zhensiz kemzal, a camisole with sleeves was called zhendi kemzal or sholak zhen kemzal (with half sleeves). Sometimes sleeveless clothes were called camisoles, and clothes with sleeves were called beshmet. Other names are well-known too. Camisoles were made of velvet and other bright fabrics with a single lining made of cloth or woolen cloth. Young girls wore brighter camisoles than middle-aged or elderly women did. Even poor women had festive camisoles, trimmed with embroidery and galloon, seamless on shoulders. Triangle gussets were sewed into side seams and widened the bottom of the clothes greatly.

Trousers. In the past when Kazakh women rode horses, trousers were an essential part of their clothes. Trousers were made of sheepskin, homespun cloth, and thick cotton clothes. There were two types of trousers: outer (shalbar) and under trousers (dalbar). Trousers were shortened and narrowed from top to bottom, and they were lower knees a little; the waistband was wide.

Shapan. Woman’s old outer clothing is a straight wide robe with long sleeves. It was flimsy for warm seasons and with a woolen lining quilted together with the top for cold seasons. Old tunic robes had an open collar, and later robes had a turn-down collar.

A wedding robe was an essential part of the bride’s dowry and was prepared beforehand. It was made of expensive fabrics (velveteen, cloth, velvet, satin, and silk), it was mostly red and it was seldom made of Central Asian black or striped silk. This robe was of a tunic cut with an open neckline, without a collar and with long sleeves. In the South and East it was put on over head, in other regions – over shoulders. In Zhetysu by the beginning of the ХХ century this custom was cancelled. The woman who was charged with inviting guests to the wedding (toy) put a wedding robe on there. Having put it on, she went round the aul (a settlement in Kazakhstan).

Cupe is a warm woman’s winter clothing with a lining made of fox fur. The fur from foxes’ paws was the most popular. They used lambskins, sometimes goatskins too. Rich women made fur coats of otter or other valuable furry animals. They used bright expensive fabrics for the top, but sometimes they used glazed cotton and cotton fabric too. The inner part of cupe was lined with a stripe, and the outer part was often trimmed with fox or otter. Sometimes it was trimmed with velvet stripes or galloons.

Man’s clothes consisted of the following parts: open shirt worn next to the skin (zheide), which was replaced by a not open tunic shirt with a turn-down collar in the ХIХ century; underpants made of flimsy cloth and trousers made of cloth, chamois, sheepskin or tick cotton cloth. More prosperous people made trousers of chamois or velvet with embroidery. Sleeveless camisoles or camisoles with sleeves, often high-necked and with a stand-up collar were not warm outer clothing for men as well. A robe (shapan) was the main type of their outer clothing.

The Kazakhs had a widespread tradition to present robes. Therefore they were trimmed abundantly because their trimming was considered a talisman. Social differences of either man or woman’s clothes became apparent through the cloth, quality of manufacturing, and trimming. In any weather rich Kazakhs wore several shapans at once to emphasize their superiority. They wore expensive shapans on the top of commoner ones. Man’s warm clothes were of the same type: cupe made of quilted camel or sheep woolen cloth, sheepskin coat (ton) and a coat with a fur lining (ishik). Everywhere they wore raincoats made of homespun cloth. Leather belts or cloth girdles were an essential part of man’s clothes; richer men wore velvet or silk sashes.

Kazakhs’ footwear was adapted to nomadism too. High winter boots with wide bootlegs were put on the top of felt stockings. Summer boots were heeled; old boots had turned up toes. Young women’s footwear was trimmed with applique' work and embroidery. Elderly people preferred soft boots without heels. They put leather shoes or galoshes on the top of them. Felt boots on the leather sole were widespread among the poor and shepherds and the poorest had to manage with leather porshni or some type of sandals (leather soles fixed to a foot with small straps).

Trimmings were very various — wonderful applique' work, galloons on the clothes, head-dresses, footwear. They used cornelian, corals, pearls, nacre, colour glass for woman’s jewellery made of gold, silver, copper, bronze. Bone pendants, ear-rings, plain or wrought massive bracelets, rings were beautiful. Rings had certain names according to a traditional shape, for example one ring was called a Bird’s Beak. The belt was trimmed particularly. It was an essential element of either man or woman’s clothes: it was ornamented with embroidery, and silver plates were sewed on it. The most part of Kazakh women’s trimmings was closely connected with their clothes and head-dresses, but some of them were independent.

The types of trimmings depended on the age, social and family status of those who wore them. Some of them were typical for certain territorial population groups.

Urban and rural population’s clothes have almost become urban, mainly purchased. Only elderly people and shepherds still keep the elements of the traditional homemade dress. Specific character of shepherds’ occupation makes them to spend a lot of time riding a horse, sometimes in rough conditions; therefore they still wear fur trousers, sheepskin coats, quilted robes, boots with warm felt stockings in winter.

At present time national clothes are being kept in auls and among elder generation.

National clothing is a matter for artists, modellers and designers’ attention. Modern clothes, designed after national clothes, are always original and unique.

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