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National Dress

The kalpak or felt hat with its upright edge is still often seen in the countryside. It provides ideal protection against both sun and rain. The tyubeteyka, a round cap, is also widely worn. Unfortunately, other elements of national dress have become relatively rare. In fact, Kazakhs' traditional costumes used to have a rich variety according to dwelling place, tribe, membership of lower or upper levels of the population, as well as the occasion. What they had in common was their colourfulness and their rich adornment with fur trimming and ornaments, embroidered or appliqued with felt and leather. Men's costumes mainly displayed animal motifs, whereas on those of women plant tendrils or blossom themes prevailed. Kazakhs were once able to recognize to which tribe another man belonged by his garment's ornaments, but with the abandonment of national clothing, this feature has disappeared as well.

On festive occasions many elderly, but also some younger Kazakhs, dress up in national costume. The men's costumes include the shapan, a long coat made of heavy velvet, and the kalpak or tyubeteyka as headwear, which in winter are replaced by the boric, a round fur cap, or the tymak, a beautiful fox pelt hat with ear and neck protection. During the cold season, a heavy sheepskin coat replaces the shapan.

According to their status, girls and women wear a long gown with a lavish flounce or patterned border or a skirt, a white or multi-coloured silk shirt and over it a hip-length waistcoat, or kamsol. The men's waistcoat is called a kaftan. The coat-like cover worn over it is called a khalat. Particularly beautiful furs are made for women. Both men and women wear trousers (shalbar) under the shapan, gown or skirt respectively. Trousers as we know them today were in fact invented by the Central Asian nomads, who introduced this practical garment for riding. Leather boots could also be an invention of the steppe, with or without felt stuffing according to the season. They are often richly adorned, those for women being high-heeled.

A proper Kazakh bride wears a saitkele on her head. This is a tall hat, with or without a plume. Its position high up in the air symbolises the bride's purity. Making clothes for the family is a woman's obligation and demands a lot of skill. To understand just how intricate and beautiful Kazakh traditional clothing can be, simply visit the Central State Museum in Almaty, the Presidential Cultural Centre in Astana or one of the many local history museums.