Robe of the Steppe Nomads

The old patterns of national clothes are the inner world of women of the steppe "They meet by their clothes, they see them off according to their minds," says the proverb and echo the rules of modern social etiquette. Today in Kazakhstani society there is a slight discord over the appearance of a modern Kazakh woman.



On the streets of our city you can meet the so-called it-girls, girls who follow the latest trends and look like they have stepped off the cover of a fashion magazine, while at various events women look sophisticated and classic. It is also important to note the girls who are covered with large headscarves. Religious girls today also want to be in trend, while observing the canons of Islam. Even today it is very important to look fashionable - but in Kazakh style! National prints and notes of traditional clothing can be traced in many Kazakhstani designers.

No wonder they say: Almaty is a city of contrasts. Supporters of different styles may argue with each other, but every fashion trend has a place to be. I often hear conversations and opinions of our fellow citizens about covered girls: “Kazakh women never dressed like that” (that is, they did not cover themselves in black clothes or simply did not hide their hair). The media have recently been publishing news that female students and schoolgirls are forbidden to cover themselves. Even more often you can hear disgruntled conversations of adults about fashion trends in the fashion industry: our older generation still cannot get used to torn pants and pink hair.

Before joining someone's side, I would first like to delve into the peculiarities of the national dress of Kazakh women. After all, Kazakh clothing is not only chapans and camisoles. This is where we find out when the girls of the steppe began to cover their hair.

Samples of Kazakh women's attire, known to us today, have artistic value, and historical and ethnographic, and, of course, cultural. True respect for their traditions and deep knowledge of their origins is manifested today in a very multifaceted manner, including interest in how our great-great-great-parents dressed, our predecessors who lived a very long time and relatively recently on our land, what details of clothing have survived and to this day, what can we learn from them, what to learn, and what to just get to know ...

It is noteworthy that the main characteristics of everyday and festive costumes for both women and men over the past several centuries, as it turns out, are simplicity, naturalness and functionality. Although, despite the general forms of clothing for all segments of the population, there were, of course, differences - depending on the difference in age, region of residence and occupation.

In the old days, women's clothing differed from men's in all characteristics, depending on age categories, social and family. All the differences were vividly and clearly expressed in the choice of colors, and in the shape of the headdress, and, of course, in the jewelry.

In women's clothing, such imported varieties of fabrics as cloth, silk, brocade, velvet, ornamented with amazing national patterns and hand embroidery with woolen, silk, silver and gold threads or thread, were widely used. Jewelry such as pearl, mother-of-pearl, coral, turquoise beads and beads were skillfully used. Embroidery was done on home-made canvases, and on leather, suede, felt. The costumes of rich and wealthy women were adorned with fur or leather and supplemented with jewelry, accessories, and chest amulets.

Not all women could afford expensive fabrics and jewelry, but the national color of clothing was pronounced among female representatives of all social strata.

In the 19th century, Russian cotton fabric began to appear and was widely used; lower dresses for girls and women of any level of income were made from it. And, of course, as always with all peoples, the women's outfit created a unique image and conveyed the personality of its owner - age, marital status, belonging to the zhuz - senior, middle and young.

Warm outerwear for women was often made of felt and was famous for its practicality. A valuable raw material for felt was white, delicate wool from the neck of sheep; it was white felt that was considered the most festive and elegant. For example, Kazakhs made “ton” fur coats from the skins of wild and domestic animals, “shash” fur coats were sewn from fur of fur-bearing animals. A fur coat made of raccoon fur was called "zhanat tone", from a black-brown fox - "kara tulka tone", a fur coat made of camel skin - "bota tone", and from foal skins - "zargak tone", a beaver hat was called "kamshat booryk ". And this is not a complete list of winter clothing, which indicates its great variety, and in the old days everything was hand-made, that is, "our own hand-made".

Women's clothing traditionally consisted of pants, open-back dress, camisole or robe. The color of the dress of young women ranged from brightly motley to bright monochromatic colors, while older women were characterized by a choice of blue and white tones. In the 19th century, simple dresses were often sewn from chintz, and the richness and brilliance of women's decoration was achieved with the help of expensive fabrics: satin, silk, velvet, brocade. A blind collar, inherent in the cut of all ancient Kazakh everyday and festive dresses, was trimmed with a turn-down or stand-up collar.

An interesting piece of clothing for girls before marriage is a special bib worn on a dress, embroidered with braid, beads, threads, trimmed with fringe or sewn coins - in general, an unusually beautiful and feminine piece of clothing. And for married women, such a role was played by the breast part of the headdress.

The dress from a straight, one-piece cut became cut by the end of the 19th century, and to this day this form personifies the Kazakh national costume, coupled with a bright national ornament and a fitted camisole. Another characteristic and attractive feature in the decoration of Kazakh women of the past is the impeccable look of the headdress, its cleanliness and perfect condition at any time of the day and in any season of the year. Unlike clothes, which, alas, sometimes for religious reasons (for example, during mourning) were forbidden to change ...

Camisoles were sewn with both short and long sleeves; it was convenient to wear casual dresses with sleeveless tops up to the hips or to the waist. Women's robes differed from men's robes in brightness of colors and colorful border. Chapans were sewn especially for the holidays - from expensive fabrics, decorating with strips of fur, embroidery, and lace.

The marital status of a Kazakh woman predetermined the choice of headdress. Unmarried girls wore skullcaps. Bright skullcaps made of velvet were originally embroidered with gold threads, and the same fabric was attached to the crown of the head, covering the entire top and dropping down - thus an exquisite female headdress was obtained. Rich girls could afford warm hats with a fox, otter or beaver trim. As a talisman, the feathers of an eagle owl were attached to the crown of the cap, which gave the cap its grace.

Until the age of 30, women wore bright clothes, their favorite color scheme was red with all shades, including cherry, purple, orange, as well as motley cheerful and romantic colors. After thirty years, such a choice of clothing color was already considered indecent - the tone of clothing became more modest, dark, and jewelry and embroidery should have become simpler and more restrained, without bright stones and glitter in embroidery ... But still clothes and jewelry made amazingly thin and delicate emphasis in the image of a woman of any age and social status.

Headdresses, jewelry and dressing for each significant event gave the Kazakh women an exciting beauty and tenderness. And even simple clothes, which were exclusively female, in no way resembled men, or our modern clothes, which are now sometimes called the word "unisex", that is, clothes suitable for everyone, regardless of gender ... Women's clothes belonged only to women , was a unique and amazing part of the exclusively female part of the Kazakh people, in all its national beauty thanks to its femininity and originality.

The most significant event in the life of a Kazakh woman was, of course, the wedding. They were preparing for it almost from the very birth of the girl in the family. The bride's wedding dress confirmed that this was the culmination of life. The wedding headdress of a rich bride - saukele - was distinguished by an unusual shape and an abundance of jewelry. High, up to 70 centimeters, saukele was prepared long before the wedding, decorated with gems, pearls and corals, temporal pendants. At first, the saukele frame was sheathed with fabric and nests with precious or semi-precious stones were inserted, then a sculptural image of a fish was created on the back of the head, signifying prosperity.

A wide ribbon of expensive fabric ran down the back from the saukele. To make a wedding headdress of the bride, craftsmen were required in cutting, embroidery, jewelry craftsmanship, casting, chasing, stamping, filigree, they could deal with one saukele for a whole year. For not the richest brides, saukele was trimmed with fringe, ornaments were made of various small coins and semi-precious stones. Saukele was supplemented with long pendants - zhaktau, their length sometimes reached the waist, and then they were tucked into special pockets on the chest.

This magnificent headdress was worn after the wedding for about a year and then worn only on major holidays for about another five years. And then married women wore a simplified version of saukele - jelly. And at the age of 25-30 or having given birth to her first child, a woman began to wear a headdress made of white fabric. Its lower part - kimeshek - was worn on the head, the upper part, a turban, was wound over it. And to this day in Kazakhstan, elderly women wear this beautiful headdress, sometimes you can find married women who wear kimeshek, tight-fitting their head, covering their neck, chest, and shoulders.

And only shoes in previous centuries did not have big differences depending on gender. The differences were noticeable only in terms of age: young people preferred boots with heels up to 10 centimeters, and those who were older wore shoes without heels. Lightweight ichigi boots made of soft leather, elegantly fitting the leg, were worn with galoshes kebes, and a bezel entered the house.

It would seem that the clothes of the steppe nomads should be laconic, comfortable and simple. But our ancestors paid great attention to the attire of a person, for a thing decorated with expensive stones served as an investment, as it were. Nomads did not have houses and permanent residence, which is why they had to carry all their wealth with them. And from this point of view, the daughter in the family played a big role, since for the girl who was born, they immediately began to decorate clothes - long before her marriage. The richer the family, the more expensive the daughter's wedding dress. The bride's dress served as a kind of bank account.

I was inspired to write this article by our mother (my husband's mother) Raushan Asanovna Nukenova-Burkitbaeva - Honored Worker of the Republic of Kazakhstan, poetess, author of more than 20 books, many of her works have been translated into English and French. Mom often travels abroad at the presentation of books and always tries to dress in national clothes outside our state. Traditional Kazakh clothing delights most foreigners and makes an indelible impression.

Recently my mother told me that the steppe woman communicated with the world through embroidery. Eastern women, nomads, were left alone in the steppe, and education taught women chastity, obedience, and the harsh nomadic life she had endurance, courage, perseverance. Two completely opposite traits of character could easily get along in a nomad. All her emotions and feelings were embodied in her unique creations. Hence the wealth of Kazakh national things, clothing items, an abundance of colors, patterns and prints.

This version really penetrated my heart. I see modern Kazakhstani women. Our women love to dress so beautifully - they are always bright, they can always be recognized among the crowd, even overseas! Today, famous world brands open stores in Kazakhstan, and more and more often you can find our familiar Kazakh patterns and prints in the clothes of foreign designers.

We see that Kazakh women covered themselves after marriage, but our clothes were many times more beautiful than just black clothes. Anyway, I would like today's fashionists to introduce Kazakh national things into the trend. One can argue about this a lot, but the essence remains the same - “The East is a delicate matter!” J, to say nothing of the WOMAN OF THE EAST. She is shrouded in the secrets of the centuries, but if you look closely, her soul is out.


1. National costumes
2. Source: ©
3. Kazakh traditional culture in the collections of the Kunstkamera. I.V. Stasevich. National costume - Almaty, 2008.- p. 224


Author: Madina Kurbanalieva, @madina_kurbanali

Photo: ANTIKA gallery archive 

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