Traditional Kazakh clothes are closely linked with the nomadic lifestyle and have traditionally been made from woven sheep or camel wool, thin felts, skins and furs. Silk, cotton and other materials were obtained through trade with Central Asia, China and Russia. Horse-riding Kazakh herdsmen have traditionally worn in loose, long-sleeved furs and garments made of animal skins. The garments vary among different localities and tribe. The main type of outer clothing is a shapan, a kind of robe.

Many traditional clothes are similar to those of Mongols, Tatars and other horsemen. The poor have traditionally made clothes from home-woven sheep or camel wool. The rich used finer cloth, often brightly-colored heavy cloth, velvet or silk. The Russians have had an influence on Kazakh clothing. In the second half of the 19th century Russian-style silk shawls with tassels became popular with Kazakh women. Most Kazakhs, especially urban ones, dress in Western cloths. In rural areas you are sometimes more likely to see traditional clothes, especially among older people. Traditional clothes are often worn as expression of Kazakh pride.

According to safaritheglobe.com: Today the traditional clothing of Kazakhstan is only worn for special occasions or holidays, although some people, especially more rural people, do still wear aspects of this traditional dress on a regular basis. No matter what clothing is worn, the dress tends to be fairly conservative as most Kazakhs are Muslim, so they cover up to their wrists and ankles. However, few Kazakh women cover their hair and no non-Muslims in the country (about half the population) follow these conservative dress rules.[Source: safaritheglobe.com]

Kazakh Clothing Styles and Seasons

According to safaritheglobe.com: The traditional clothing in Kazakhstan has been heavily based on the seasons and use. For men this traditionally meant clothing fit for horse riding, while for women it was more significantly based on the seasons (although most often this just meant more clothing when it got cold). For women, some of this clothing included the koilek, which is a tunic-like shirt, a collared-dress, which came in multiple styles and colors, but tended to include a bodice, which tied the dress together in the front, perhaps a coat, and boots were the most common form of footwear. For men, the traditional clothing also included a koilek, as well as pants called shtany, boots, a belt, a hat, and generally another layer of outer clothing for riding or for the cold. Among this outer layer of clothing is the kamzol, which is a sleeve-less vest, but was primarily for homewear, and the shapan, which was a large gown with long, loose-fitting sleeves. [Source: safaritheglobe.com]

In winter, the men usually wear sheepskin shawls, and some wear overcoats padded with camel hair, with a belt decorated with metal patterns at the waist and a sword hanging at the right side. The trousers are mostly made of sheepskin. Women wear red dresses and in winter they don cotton-padded coats, buttoned down the front. Girls like to sport embroidered cloth leggings bedecked with silver coins and other silver ornaments, which jangle as they walk. Herdsmen in the Altay area wear square caps of baby-lamb skin or fox skin covered with bright-colored brocade, while those in Ili sport round animal-skin caps. Girls used to decorate their flower-patterned hats with owl feathers, which waved in the breeze. All the women wear white-cloth shawls, embroidered with red-and-yellow designs. [Source: China.org |]

Kazakh Clothing Materials and Decorations

According to the Kazakhstan government: “For centuries, Kazakh national clothes were simple and rational. It was characterized by common forms for all segments of the population, but with a certain social and age regulations. Elegance and beautiful elements to dresses were given by fur trim, embroidery, jewelry. Traditional materials for the clothes were leather, fur, thin felt, cloth, which was produced by the local population. Clothes sewn from imported materials - silk, brocade, velvet, were a kind of measure of wealthiness of their owners. Cotton was also widely used. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

Kazakhs have always valued animal skins and furs as sewing material. Coats, or so called Tons, were sewed from animal skins, and fur coats, such as Shash were sewed from furred animals, which were perfectly suitable for weather conditions in Kazakh Steppes. Outerwear was prepared from skins and furs of wild and domestic animals, according to the names of which, clothes were called: Zhanat tone - a coat of raccoon fur, Kara tulki ton - of a black fox fur, Kamshat boryk - a beaver hat, Bota ton - a coat from camel skin, Zhargak tone - from a foal skin, etc. Many kinds of clothing were made from felt. Predominantly white coat was used for its production, and thin fur from sheep's neck was considered particularly valuable.

A great variety of different decorations - great applications, patches were used on clothing, headwear, footwear. Carnelian, coral, pearl, pearl, coloured glass were used to decorate gold, silver, copper, bronze jewellery of women. Earrings, flat and wrought bracelets and rings were extremely beautiful. Rings depending on their traditional forms have specific names, such as a Bird's beak ring. Belts - a compulsory element of both male and female clothing - were decorated especially: it was ornamented with embroidery; silver badges were sewn on it. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan] Types of jewellery usually depended on age, social and marital status of those who wore them. Some of them were typical for certain territorial groups.

Kazakh Headwear, Hairstyles and Footwear

Men traditionally shaved their heads as well their beards and mustaches and wore some sort of headgerar. These days only elderly men shave their heads. Many men let their beards and mustaches grow. Women and girls have traditionally displayed the age and marital status by their hairstyle and hats. Women braided their hair into two or three plaits, whereas girls and many young brides sometimes wore as many as 30, sometimes decorating them with shells, pieces of silver, pearls and coins. Young women wear their hair in a long plait.

Kazakh men used to wear different skullcaps (takiya), summer and winter hats. Summer hat - kalpak was sewed from thin felt, mostly white, and had a specific ancient cut. Borik and tymak were worn in winter. Tymak is a warm winter hat with earflaps and neck flaps made from fox, which is popular among Kazakh men even nowadays. Bashlyk is another national headwear, made of camel cloth, which was supposed to be worn on top of other hats, to protect from dust, sun, rain and snow. Women’s headwear. See Below] [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

In old times men's and women's footwear were also similar, though girls’ boots were often decorated with embroidery and appliqué work. Footwear differed according to seasons. For example, winter boots were tall, broad-shafted, worn over the felt stockings. Also there were differences between footwear of older and younger people. Young people often wore boots with high heels (up to 6 - 8 cm), older people – with low heels. Another common type of footwear among Kazakhs was light boots without heels, tight fitting on legs, called ichigi or masi. Leather kebis was worn over them, which was supposed to be put off at the entrance to the house.

Kazakh Men’s Clothes

Traditional men's clothing includes a double under vest (zheyde); lower pants, made of light fabric and the upper of cloth, suede, sheepskin or thick cotton fabric. From the early ages, when the Kazakhs used to go horseback riding, trousers were a necessary and important part of their clothing.

The undershirt and pants are sometimes worn alone in the summer. In the winter they wear a long “beru kavka” or “beshemt” (knee-length, long-sleeve quilted coat, narrow at the top, wide at the bottom) or a “shapan” (a robe with long sleeves, tapered from the shoulders to the fingers, with a stand up collar and worn with a belt).

Depending on the weather men can wear one to several layers of shapans. When it gets really cold they wear coats made from sheepskin, often lined with the skins or fur of lambs, ferrets, marten or fox, along with outer trousers made of skins adorned with ornaments, especially among the rich.

A belt is an essential part of the traditional costume. It can be worn over the shapan or trousers and was often decorated with silver plates and precious stones. Kazakh horsemen wear high-heeled boots made of strong, sewn-together skins and goatskin cloaks. They traditionally have trucked their cloak and coats into the their leather riding trousers.

The traditional winter headgear of Kazakhs is the “tymak”, a pointed fur cap with earflaps of lamb’s wool or even sable fur, with a felt base covered by heavy cloth. The traditional summer headgear of Kazakhs is the “kalpak”, a hat made with thin white felt with bent-back era flaps. In the Soviet era these hats fell out of favor as many Kazakhs began wearing factory-made Russian style hats. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, traditional Kazakhs style hats are back in favor again and have become symbols of Kazakh pride.

Traditionally men have always covered their heads. They also wear fur hats or caps similar to those worn by rural Turks, scull caps or “bashlyks” (a pointed cap with flaps over the ears and neck). In some places they wear turbans. Even at night men often wear a “tyibeteika” (Central Asia embroidered skullcap).

In China, male Kazakhs like wearing clothes and trousers, which are made of cotton, fleece, corduroy and gabardine. Dark colors, such as black and coffee, are popular. In winter, Kazakhs are mainly dressed in fur coats and chaps which are made of materials such as sheepskin, wolf skin, fox skin and skins of other animals. For the convenience of getting on and off the horse, trousers are made of sheepskin into baggy-shaped crotches. The trousers are baggy and durable. The shirts are usually made into turtle neck with decorative borders embroidered on it. They wear a short coat outside of the waist jacket which covers the shirt. [Source: Chinatravel.com \=/]

Kazakh Women’s Clothes

A Kazakh woman traditionally wore a dress and trousers with a shirt and waistcoat. Generally, outerwear of women was similar to that of men: similar jackets, waistcoats, gowns, wide leather belts, it differed from men's only in colours and some decoration details. Sometimes instead of a shirt, Kazakh women wear a long, cotton tunic-shaped dress. This dress is often white. Older women was usually wear black or a dark color. Young women often wear bright red ones. Unmarried women have traditionally worn stripes of green, orange and white. Beginning in the mid 19th century women began wearing this dress taken in at the waist and attached a wide lower part at the gathers. Sometimes the lower part is adorned with embroidery and covered with braids and silk ribbons. Often there are three or four rows of frills at the hem.

Over the dress women wear a knee-length sleeve tunic, with an open, stand-up collar and a clasp at the belt and sleeveless a beshmet (see men above) made from thick cotton, wool, silk or velvet. Red, green and raspberry velvet beshmets were particularly prized. A woman’s beshmet s sometimes has a stand up collar, and is worn with a brightly-colored decorated velvet waistcoat and lots of jewelry. In the winter Kazakh women have traditionally worn robes or sheepskin overcoats. Traditional footwear consists of leather boots that are identical whether worn on the right foot or left. The toes are slightly turned up. These days many women favor light, low-heeled shoes.

Kazakh women, especially rich ones, are fond of wearing silver jewelry, including bracelets. earrings and breast pedants. Some have religious significance. In the past women were sometimes regarded as unclean if they didn’t wear any jewelry on their arms. As with the men no traditional costume is complete without an elaborately decorated belt.

In China, Kazakh females like to wear in different styles, according to their ages. Young girls like wearing one-piece dresses with wide lower hems and beautiful embroidered flowers on the sleeves; then wear a tight waistcoat with beautiful embroidered images and colorful decorations. \=/

Kazakh Women’s Headgear

Kazakh women traditionally have worn a great variety of headgear, that were often indicators of age, marital status family position and clan. According to the Kazakhstan government: “Headwear of married women differed in different tribal groups, but girls' headwear was comparatively similar throughout the territory of Kazakhstan. Girls used to wear hats of two types: skull cap (Takiya) and a warm hat (Borik), decorated with otter, fox or beaver fur. A tuft of owl feather was often sewed to the top of takiya for decoration purposes, which also played a role of a talisman. Gimp, tassels, gold embroidery and even silver coins were also used for decoration. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

The traditional hat is conical in shape and trimmed with fur and adorned with crane plumes or owl feathers, which are believed to protect the wearer. These days many women wear head coverings in accordance with Muslim traditions. Those that don’t are looked down upon by the older generation. Often the head covering is no more than a babushka- style headscarf.

Married women have traditionally worn a long white headscarf which is folded across the front of the head with the ends left hanging down the back. Younger women have traditionally worn an embroidered round velvet hat with a feather on the back. A year after she gets married a woman is allowed to wear a “kimeshek”, the head covering of a married woman. It is a kind of cowl that covers the head, shoulders, breast and back in a traditional Muslim fashion. Those worn by young and middle aged women are often elaborately decorated. Those worn by elderly women are more plain. Different clans wear different variations with different cuts, embroidery patterns and dimensions of the sections worn over the back. Traditionally, women wore the kimesheck at home and covered it with a white turban when they went out.

In China, unmarried women like wearing hats such as Takeya, Bie’erke and Tete’er. The hat Takeya is made of colorful satin with wide lower edges. The hat has embroidered images of flowers, trailing beads and a feather of owl stuck on the top. The hat Bie’erke is a round hat made of otter skin. It looks like Takeya, but it has scarf of various colors tied on it in summer. The hat Tete’er is a square headwear with various embroidered images. It is usually folded and tied on the head. [Source: Chinatravel.com]

Saukele, Kazakh Bridal Headwear

The most expressive form of this hat, the “saukele,” was worn by young women. Resembling pointed wizards, they are tall (70 centimeters) cones of felt, covered with expensive fabric and richly embroidered and decorated with hanging pendants, balls of fur, precious stones and pieces of coral. They often had ribbons and kerchiefs attached to the back. The ones owned by rich families were quite valuable and were passed down from generation to generation.

According to the Kazakhstan reportedly Kazakh women's national bridal headwear Saukele, which is a high (70 cm) conical hat, is of particular importance. The most expensive of them were evaluated in a hundred selected horses. Saukele was a mandatory part of girl’s dowry, and was prepared long before the girls reached the age of marriage, together with a wedding gown, which was often made of expensive fabric, usually red coloured. Bride was supposed to wear a saukele during the wedding ceremony, then it was worn on holidays for some time after the marriage. [Source: VisitKazakhstan.kz, Official tourism website of Kazakhstan]

“Saukele is decorated by metal fishnet tops, tiara (sometimes made of gold with inlays of semiprecious stones or strings of pearls, corals, etc.), temple pendants and chin decorations. Saukele cone is covered with cloth, which was sewed by metal badges of different configurations, into bezels of which precious and semiprecious stones are inserted. A broad ribbon of expensive fabric, decorated with fringes of gold thread, was also attached to the back of saukele, which went down to cover a part of the back of a girl. Compulsory supplement to saukele is a long suspension, called zhaktau, which is attached to it from both sides, reaching the waist of a girl. The most skilled craftsmen participated in saukele manufacturing: cutters, embroiderers, jewellers, who applied the moulding, embossing, stamping, etc. during the process of manufacturing. It took a year or even more to prepare one such saukele.

With the birth of the first child a woman put a headwear of a married woman, which was worn until her old ages. The details of this vary a little depending on the age of woman and region she came from. This headwear consisted of two parts: the bottom - kimeshek worn on the head, and the top - in the form of a turban, wound over the bottom part of the headwear. Both parts were made from white fabric. These types of headwear are worn by older women even today.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated April 2016

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