More books...


Member of Kyrgyzstan Association of Tour Operators      Member of Silk Road Tour Operators Association

Printer friendly version Bookmark this page


  Kyrgyz clothes are characterised by many definite features, typical for the clothes of nomadic people. That can be explained by their historical mode of life, related to nomadic cattle breeding. Also very large mark on the character of clothes left the mountain climate with its temperature excursions. This required to have different kinds of warm clothes, sometimes used even in summer time, such us wool robes or sheepskin coats. Very widely were used clothes made of wool burlap, or fells of domestic or wild animals.

  In 18-19 centuries, the Kyrgyzes made most of their clothes from the fabrics imported from China and other Central Asian Khanates, they also wore imported clothes and footwear. In the north Kyrgyzstan were imported the fabrics from Russia (chintz, calico, muslin, nankeen etc.) Basic type of the clothes and its cut were spread everywhere.

Kyrgyz Kalpak

  The male clothes consisted of chintz or coarse shirt and wide trousers. Over shirt wore sleeveless jacket, while in cold weather - wool robe and wide robe made of homespun cloth. In winter wore sheepskin coats and trousers with fleece side down. The most popular footwear were boots with flexible soul but without heels.
On the head in summer wore hats made of fine white felt and in winter fur-caps with trimming from fur or sheepskin. All round the year has been worn white wool hats called Ak-Kalpak - Kyrgyz National hat. Even nowadays Kalpak is being the most popular national male hat in Kyrgyzstan. Nobody knows exactly how old is it and who first created it, and what means its external simplicity. Though indisputable such properties of Kalpak as absolute form, beauty and comfort. It is cut out of four triangles, widen in lower parts. When ready to use the edges usually bend up, so it keep the eyes from the sun and face from the rain and snow. White, light wool keeps the head warm in wintertime as well as reflect sunrays in hot summers. Very hydroscopic fabric makes it possible to wear Kalpak all round the year even in hottest or chilling cold days. In outward appearance Kalpak reminds pyramidal shape of mountain peaks of Tien-Shan mountain kingdom. Black or colorful edges, various patterns, tassel, decorated the cone of Kalpak, displays the fantasy of people who make Kalpaks in large numbers. There is also industrial production of Kalpaks in Kyrgyzstan, but the hand-made ones are the most expensive. The Kyrgyz men of different ages and social profiles work, study, relax in their national hats. According to Kyrgyz traditions it is allowed to wear Kalpak indoors, eat or even pray. Very often Kalpaks are given to the culprits of family or public holidays, honorable guests. According to people's believes Kalpak has some sacred guarding strength. The one have to put it on or take it off only with two hands, and then carefully put it down on some special place or near himself. But at the same time Kalpak might be folded down by the surface of triangle and almost do not require any space. The up-to-date experts try to modernize the construction and the pattern of Kalpak, nevertheless in any of modern shapes is visible the elegance of basic and general sample of Kalpak.

Kyrgyz Elechek

The female clothes consisted of long and wide shirt, which at the same time could serve as the dress, long wide trousers, worn under dress and sleeveless jacket or camisole. Girls and young women wore camisoles from colorful velvet over the dress. Married women also wore original skirts with wide belt and bright embroidery. Such skirts were often made of sheepskins with fleece side down and worn mostly in cold part of the year.
Female head-dress consisted of little cap (Kep-Taky'ya, Chach-Kep, Bash-Kep) with a stripe descending on the back and bound over it turban (elechek, ileki, kalak). For turbans used white fine fabric or muslin. Depending on form, height and value distinguish several kinds of turbans: "Elechek" - high and heavy (around 5 kg) head dress of married women. Wearing of "elechek" is the art. Elder women taught just married girls to wear "elechek". Firstly they put on the head small scull-cap, then with a small rectangle piece of fabric covered neck and chin. Then above all wind round turban made of 15-20 metres of white fabric. "Tokol" has the same forms as "elechek" but being quite smaller, it was worn in everyday life. "Karkyra" - made of fine fabric was totally embroidered with Kyrgyz ornaments. They were worn by the young wives of "Bai's"- the rich men, because not every family could afford themselves such expensive thing. "Elechek" was considered as holy. It was the only thing that could stay along with holy book of Koran. (In the past, when the Kyrgyzes lived in yurts, those two items were placed on the special shelf on the female part of the yurta.) After death of mistress, white turban, which she wore being alive, served her as shroud.

Tebetei - female head dress made velvet and symbolises freedom from conjugal ties, was worn by the young girls. Winter types were trimmed with marten fur and decorated with feathers of eagle owl.
Wedding cone-shaped head dress called "shokulo" was made of bright brocade and velvet. It should be done a long time before the wedding. According to traditions "shokulo" was made and decorated by "Djene" (elder daughter-in-low). After wedding, bride's "shokulo" was kept in her parents house while her girlish tebetei was passed to her younger sister.

  Class affiliation also played an important role in the appearance of the Kyrgyzes. Poor people were content with robes from burlap. Herders and servants were paid for their services by second-hand clothes of one of the members of rich or prosperous family.

  About close relationships of the Kyrgyzes lived in Issyk-Kul area with inhabitants of Eastern Turkestan in the middle of 19th century evidence male and female caftan called "Chapan" with stand-up collar and variegated cords with buttons on the bosom. At the same century originality to Kyrgyz clothes gave such elements, as women shirt with embroidery on the bosom, or separately put on plastron "onur" or "djaka" widely embroidered with colourful sewing; male trousers from curried skin or chamois (chalbar), or from roe or mountain goat skin (kandagai, djargak, shyle); male and female boots from red Russian leather - yuft, with long bootlegs, narrow and slightly curved toes, high wooden heel and sewed in edging from colourful leather.
In north Kyrgyzstan, the herders and horse-herds still use ancient types of outer clothing: overcoat (kementai) made of brown or white felt which perfectly keep from rain or snow and wide, long coat (chepken, chekmen) with wide and long sleeves made of homemade cloth and worn over the other outer clothing.

  Winter clothes in Tien-Shan and Issyk-Kul areas were traditional fur coats (ichik), covered by dark fabric with fur collars and sheepskin coats. In south regions sheepskin coats had big fur collars tinctured to yellow, white or black colours. The coats were differently trimmed: lap and collar were sew round with stripes of fur or black fabric, embroidered stripes and triangles from fabric on the shoulders and below at side cuts.

  Kyrgyz traditional clothes, as well as the clothes of any other nations, can be valuable source for exposure ancient ethno genetic and cultural links. They appeared as original product of centuries-old synthesis of Central Asian cultural phenomena, at the same time keeping many features of costumes of ancient turks-stock-breeders and hunters.

Present days
  People in Kyrgyzstan wear different types of clothes. In villages you will observe women wearing traditional clothes like long skirts, kerchiefs, etc. In cities they are less traditional and more modern. As for male clothing, most men wear pants more often than they wear jeans. Shorts are worn rather rarely, and by city folks mostly. Also, you may notice that, to your taste, people dress too classy for everyday things like work (especially women), and not classy enough for special occasions. It is not unusual to see men dressed in three-piece suits for a football match, or men wearing jogging suits for concerts at the Music Hall. Or you may notice women wearing see-through blouses and high heels to work during the day. All of this may strike you, but it is yet another cultural difference you should be aware of.

  The summers often get very hot here, that is why many people, including government officials and even the Prime Minister himself, won't wear a suit to work from May through August. A shirt and a tie for men, and a summer dress for women in an office environment in the summer are perfectly acceptable. There is one more cultural thing about dressing. In western countries people tend to alternate their clothing daily, but in Kyrgyzstan it is not very typical. You can see that your co-workers, students and people around you wear the same clothes two or three days in a row. It does not mean that they do not have enough clothes, or they put on dirty ones. It is just not very traditional to wear different things every day. Do not be surprised.

Copyright © 2003-2011 by Fantastic Asia Ltd.