Up until the Soviet drive for cheap standardised mass-produced
garments, the clothes of Khorezm remained unchanged for centuries.
Men, women and children wore loose, flowing garments of a similar
style with different clothes for different occasions.
In summer men made allowances for the heat by wearing a thin cotton
shift although they refused to part with their shaggy fur hats,
as Vambery observed,
'The Uzbek in his high round fur hat, great thick boots of leather,
walks about merely in a long shirt, in summer a favourite undress.
This I myself adopted afterwards, as I found that it was not regarded
as indecent, so long as the shirt retained its whiteness, even to
appear with it in the bazaar.'
Vambery 'Travels in Central Asia' 1864
Over this men would wear a long khalat (robe) with slits in the
side to allow them to stride around, sit comfortably on the floor
and ride a horse. Khalats were usually made from cotton or silk
and quilted with extra cotton for winter-wear. At one time, Khiva
was the centre of khalat production in Central Asia and its bazaar
was crowded with male khalat- makers who made everything from the
ordinary rough woollen khalats to the more elaborate silk and cashmere
versions commissioned by the wealthy. Often the khans would order
a decadent one-off khalat to wear themselves or to give away as
a gift to a guest or worthy employee. These would all be handmade
by the khalat-makers who specialised in cutting, sewing or quilting
using the simple tools of a needle, thimble, iron and ironing board.
Padded winter khalats were made more effective against the freezing
winter weather by rubbing egg white into the fabric with a flat
stone and so producing a water and wind resistant sheen.
As well as being pleasing to the eye and serviceable, Vambery noted
how a good khalat was distinguished by a rustling 'tchakhtchukh'
'Some designs for men's khalats'
'It was always an object of great delight to me to see the buyer
parading up and down a few paces in his new Tchapan (dress), to
ascertain whether it gave out the orthodox tone. All is the produce
of home manufacture, and very cheap.'
Vambery 'Travels in Central Asia' 1864
It was also necessary to have very long sleeves which totally covered
the hands. Far from being impractical, covering the hands conveyed
respect to elders and such long sleeves were considered essential
in the areas of bargaining and nose-blowing. As Lady Macartney noted
of the Kashgar citizens who had very similar practices to those
'The khalat on the left has been made water resistant'
'The Kashgaris of both sexes wear their sleeves quite six inches
below the hands, and to do anything these sleeves must be rolled
up to get the hands free. It was very funny to see two men make
a bargain to sell and buy a horse or cow, or anything that meant
a big deal. They went up to each other, holding out the right hand
which they put up each other's sleeve. Then some mystic sign, such
as putting out the number of fingers that would indicate the price
offered, or tapping each other's arm so many times, passed between
them. I never could quite discover what they did. But these two
stood linked together, gazing into each other's faces and solemnly
shaking or nodding their heads, until the price was decided upon.
Then they withdrew their hands, stroked their beards, and after
a little money had passed between them, the transaction was complete...
'An ordinary cotton khalat'
'A khan's opulent khalat'
'Water and wind resistant material'
The long sleeves had many uses, as a muff in cold weather, as a
handkerchief, or a duster, and when a Kashgari wanted to show contempt,
or disgust, he put his nose into the opening of the sleeve. Once
or twice women have done that in passing us, but not often, I am
glad to say...
To keep hands covered is a sign of respect and one should never
show one's hands before a superior unless they were being used.'
Lady Macartney 'An English Lady in Chinese Turkistan'' 1931
Men's clothes also included comfortable baggy trousers which tapered
slightly at the ankle and cloth belts to which a knife sheath was
sometimes attached. Since it was shameful for men to have their
heads uncovered, a fur hat or a turban was a must. Turbans could
be striped or plain and were kept in place by a cloth hat which
was in turn worn over a white skull cap to absorb the sweat. The
shape of the cloth hats or 'dopas' changed during the Soviet period
from being round or conical to the square black and white hat that
has become a sign of Uzbek identity today. The modern dopa is decorated
with one of two white repeating patterns in the shape of an almond
or a pepper and varies in style from region to region.
|Women's domestic clothing was generally similar to that of men with
slight variations in style in that their baggy trousers were embroidered
at the ankle and their khalats had no collars. However when leaving
the house it was essential for a women to be fully veiled. The veil
or 'chedra' only covered the woman's face and neck and was made from
heavy black horsehair to ensure that no man could catch a stolen glimpse.
Over this was worn a long ankle-length robe called a paranja. This
was not worn with hands in the sleeves but as a cloak which went over
the woman s head and draped to the ground with the sleeves hanging
down the back, loosely tied together in a symbol of respect towards
her husband. The overall effect was a little unnerving for the uninitiated,
rather resembling a tall headless person.|
'Woman wearing a paranja and veil'
'It all astonishes me; the narrow, stone paved streets, labyrinthine,
the number of veiled women, in the stiff, unbroken lines of their
paranjas, looking like silhouetted upright coffins, with some package
or basket balanced on every head. It is nonsense to call them veils:
trellis work is far more to the point, so dark and rigid is the
horsehair which scarifies the tips of their noses, and which they
pinch in their lips when they bend down to see what quality of rice
is being offered them, for their sight is only able to filter through
when the chedra is hanging straight down in front of them. Where
the mouth has wet it, a damp circle remains when the woman stands
again, quickly powdered by the floating clouds of dust. When old,
the chedras look rusty and full of holes as though moth-eaten.'
Ella Maillart 'Turkestan Solo' 1933
Traditional women's fashion proved too much for some of the male
travellers to Khiva.
'This becomes, after a while, one of the most disagreeable features
of Khiva. Men's faces, nothing but men's faces for weeks and months,
until you long for the sight of a woman's face, as you do for green
grass and flowers in the desert.'
JA Macgahen 'Campaigning on the Oxus and the Fall of Khiva' 1874
As the Bolsheviks took control of Turkestan, they were keen to
liberate women from the veil. However it was not only local men
that resisted this idea, but sometimes the women themselves, as
Nazeroff noted in 1919,
'Note the paranja sleeves hanging down the woman's back'
'When, not very long ago, the Bolsheviks, in their desire to free
the Eastern people and emancipate the Eastern women, started a campaign,
they found themselves up against a very stern resistance on the
part of the natives themselves. The Soviet government of Turkestan
had recruited a certain number of would-be Bolshevik Comrades from
Sart (Uzbek) women, who had been corrupted by them. The Bolsheviks
dressed them in semi-military men's uniforms and sent them into
the native houses to preach the emancipation of women, the first
step towards it being the uncovering of their faces. The Mussulman
women saw in all this a great personal insult, and very soon afterwards
it was discovered that these preachers of freedom had been quietly
cut to pieces, in spite of the fact that they, as communists, had
been allowed to carry and use revolvers.'
EM Turner (ed) 'The journal of Paul Nazeroff' 1980
'View through a paranja'
The veil was not dispensed with overnight and even in the forties
and fifties, paranjas were worn on some of the villages of Khorezm.
However among themselves and within the safe confines of the female
quarters of a house, women could dress up and show off their beauty.
'When the women went to pay a visit, they arrayed themselves in
their best silk chemises which were carefully kept folded away in
trunks' They wrapped their feet and legs in strings of partianki,
and then put on high boots made from soft goat skin. They dyed their
eyebrows into a straight line with black powder extracted from the
juice of a plant called in Latin isatis tintoria, this being the
native idea of female beauty.'
EM Turner (ed) 'The journal of Paul Nazeroff' 1980
Children wore similar style of clothes to their parents. It was
the rich aristocracy with their fine silks and gold embroidery and
the educated elite who dressed totally in white with turbans and
long robes with short sleeves who really stood out from the crowd.
Today, although the effects of globalisation and russification
have left their scars on Uzbek fashion, it is still possible to
see remnants of the rich and colourful clothing worn by the peoples
of Turkestan. Old men in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva remain resplendent
in their khalats, turbans, boots and hats, and have survived the
onslaught of fake western brand clothes.