5 things to know about Kazakhstan’s national costume

National costumes offer a window into a country, reflecting its history, culture, even climate. Here are five interesting things to know about the Kazakh traditional garb.

It’s made from skins and fur of wild animals

Kazakh traditional costumes were adapted for the nomadic lifestyle and harsh weather conditions. Ton, a coat typically worn during winter, was sewn using tanned sheepskin lined with wool. Wealthy Kazakhs would wear tons made from the wool of lambs of about four to five months old. The coats are also sometimes made from the pelt of raccoons or silver foxes, or the hair of the Bactrian camel for a luxurious touch.

It reflects one’s wealth and age

The clothes of less affluent Kazakhs are usually made from easily available materials such as fur and leather, whereas those who are better off tend to use materials such as imported cotton, finer cloth, velvet and silk. The clothing offers clues to one’s age too. For instance, younger women usually wear one-piece dresses with wide lower hems and embroidered flowers on the sleeves, or a tight waistcoat with beautiful embroidery and colourful decoration. In contrast, older Kazakh women usually wear black or dark coloured clothing.

It’s practical – and modest

For the convenience of getting on and off horses, Kazakh herdsmen have traditionally worn loose-fitting trousers that are durable to boot. Speaking of boots, they are commonly worn by both Kazakh men and women as they are suited for the rugged terrain and protect against harsh weather elements. And no matter the tribe or gender, the traditional clothing tends to be conservative – Kazakhstan is a Muslim-majority country – and usually covers up to the wrists and ankles.

The headgear says it all

The headgear is probably the most telling component of the Kazakh national dress that is a clear indicator of one’s social status and age. For instance, a man with a high pointed cap sewn from expensive fabric and richly decorated with patterns is likely to be well off.

Similarly, girls from wealthy families usually don headgear made of velvet fabric in bright hues and embroidered with golden thread. Older women, however, tend to wear more plain-looking headdresses, unlike the more elaborate designs – such as an embroidered round velvet hat with a feather on the back – that they would have worn in their younger days.

The shoes are a step above the rest

Shoemaking is a well-developed craft among the Kazakhs. Materials needed for making shoes – such as rawhide cords and straps, skin and sinew threads – were all made by the shoemakers. Winter footwear is usually made from much thicker leather and boasts exceptional craftsmanship as well as durability. One example is the saptama, heavy leather boots for men made from well-curried horse or ox hide. Ladies’ footwear is usually more exquisite. For instance, women’s masi (soft thin boots) are made of chagrin leather (made from the back of camels or donkeys) and embellished with ornamental patterns.