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The mountains exert a strong influence over every aspect of Kyrgyz life. That is true also about their traditional national costume.
Even though the country experiences a continental climate, that means summers can be very hot with temperatures rising into the forties, nomadic life in the high mountain meadows (jailoo) meant that temperatures could change dramatically during the course of the day - and nighttime temperatures could fall well below zero. As a result, even in summer warm clothing is often worn. For example, you may still see men wearing a "chapan" or a sheepskin coat. People would often wear several layers and the clothes would appear to add bulk to the body. Padded felt waistcoats Ц without sleeves Ц would provide an additional layer of material which could be added or removed depending upon the temperature.
It was also important for the nomadic lifestyle that clothes should not hinder movement whether riding or tending the animal livestock.
It is possible that the traditional style of dress is very ancient. There are some fragments of cave paintings in the ruins of the Sogdian city of Panjikent, (in Tajikistan), which depict the merchants traveling along the Silk Road and priests. They depict people in felt hats, knee-length silk tunics, (belted at the waist) and high leather boots Ц all very reminiscent of traditional Kyrgyz costume.
Loose shirts and wide trousers were the standard dress for Kyrgyz men in the 19 th century. The unfastened shirt - djegde - is made from white coarse calico or matt. The design of the shirt is tunic-like. Two slightly inclined gores are sewn on the edges of the shirt. The shirt was lower than the level of the knees, and the sleeves covered the wrists. It was popular to sew gussets on it. A lath was sown around an open neck; the lath was narrower on the bosom and was fastened with laces or buttons. Djegde was worn from the age of six or seven. The form of djegde did not change till the end of one's life. The shirt, belted, was worn on the top of wide trousers. These wide trousers were made from coarse homemade calico, although sheepskin or goatskin were also used. Suede wide trousers were considered an indication of prosperity.
There was a wide variety of chapan or ton - men's dressing gowns. They all were wrapped over the right side, which is typical for the clothes of ancient Turkic nomads. A chapan had a tunic-like design, tight sleeves, and dense through stitching. Green lace was sewn on the edges of the flap, sleeves and hem.
A chepken , a dressing gown made from woolen homemade fabric, was also worn over the rest of the clothes. Thus it was made to be wide, long-flapped, with long and wide sleeves. It was made without lining, which was different from the analogous clothes of the northern Kyrgyz, whose dressing gown had a lining.
The winter type of clothes included a fur coat ( ton, postun ) made from sheepskin. Rich peasants made it from the fur of an otter, fox, or wolf. One fur coat was made from six to eight skins. The design was of one type. The shoulders were slightly canted; sleeves were wide; the flap became wider at the bottom; and the wrapover was deep. It also had side vents. Southern Kyrgyz dyed the coat in two colors: white or orange.
The most ancient form of fur coat is without a collar. A border of black fur (4-5cm width) was sewn on the edges of the coat. Sometimes the border was double, i.e., both black and white fur. Not only fur but also strips of black velvet or satin were also sewn on.
Felt clothes such as kementay (raincoat) were usual amongst cattle-breeders of northern Kyrgyzstan.
The single-breasted light dressing gown - jelek - made from cotton fabric was usual amongst Kyrgyz men of the older generation during the warm season.
It was compulsory to wear a sash, a wide leather or velvet belt, decorated with silver plates.
The shoes of Kyrgyz were of different kinds: chokoy, paychek, charik .
The first two were worn by the poor. Chokoy had a stocking-like shape; it was made from one piece of skin up to the knees.
Paychek had no top. It was a piece of skin with a narrow leather strip which was tied around the ankle. Charik was made from the tanned skin of a horse or ox.
There was a big variety of head gowns as well. These were kulla, tyubeteyka, chalma , and felt cap - kalpak . The latter is an essential part of the national costume.
Women's costumes. The main features of women's costumes are the dress and wide trousers. Red is typical for a young woman's dress, whereas old people wear clothes of darker colors. Dresses were made long, almost down to the feet, with sleeves much lower than the wrist. For many years women's dress as well as men's remained tunic-like. Gores with small double-sided inclination are inserted on both sides. Straight or a little bit tightened sleeves are sewn on at a straight angle. The most ancient dress with a horizontally cut neck from shoulder to shoulder is the tuura jaka . A border was sewn on its neck. Girls and women wore this type of dress. A dress with horizontal-vertical cut neck was called uzun jaka . Finally, there was a dress with vertical cut neck and stiff standing collar, which probably appeared as a result of the influence of neighboring Kashgar.
A skirt - beldemchi - worn on the hips, with a front vent, is very original, and organically connected to the Kyrgyz women's clothes. It was worn on top of a dress or a dressing gown. A felt girdle, covered by black fabric, usually velvet, was an essential part of the beldemchi . The skirt - etek - had a vent and a thin wool or cotton padded lining. It was stitched together to the belt. Married women wore beldemchi , usually after the birth of the first child. It was a necessity in nomadic conditions. It allowed free movement while protecting one from cold when riding a horse or doing housework in the open air or in a cold yurt.
The shoes of the 19 th century were mainly made from leather. Red or green boots with heels were worn by the young; soft boots - ichigi - which could be turned inside out, by the old. Also many wore leather galoshes with heels. Shoes were decorated with silver coins, tassels, and pearl buttons. Shoemakers would attach silver bells to the heels, and they would ring when walking.
Today, traditional clothes are worn in rural areas by shepherds, and by ordinary people on festival days, as well as by folklore ensembles.
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