Traditional attire by the peoples inhabiting the Caspian region has historically been a blend of colors, textures and culture, representing predominantly Muslim societies with ethnic Turkic roots that stretch back centuries, if not longer.
Azerbaijani traditional wear is all about richness and originality that absorbed its style and artistic taste from the traditions and customs coming from centuries. National costumes are decorated with traditional folk symbolism and specification that reflect the history of Azerbaijanis.
A traditional women’s suit is graceful in silhouette and cut, emphasizing supple waistlines. A typical women’s dress consists of a shirt decorated with silver or gold coins; chapkan, a caftan worn over the shirt; arkhalig, a long tight-waist jacket made of various kinds of fabric like silk, satin, cloth, cashmere and velvet; lebbade, dressing gowns tied at the waist; guleje, upper women's top with goffered hem; kurdu, a quilted sleeveless shirt with an open collar and slits on both sides; and ashmek, quilted outer clothing trimmed with fur.
An essential part of traditional holiday garments for women is a gold or gilded silver belt that can be worn with arkhalig or chapkan. Unmarried girls once covered their heads with skull-caps and silk kerchiefs that were decorated with beads or silk, while married women tied several headscarves on their heads.
Men’s clothes, for their part, consist of fewer patterns. Shirts are typically made from materials such as sateen, while a man’s arkhalig is usually made of cashmere, satin and sateen and decorated with a belt or a girdle. Wide trousers, made of a woolen fabric, are also worn.
For centuries, traditional Kazakh costumes were made from well-sourced materials and fashioned to suit the conditions of nomadic life, such as ever-fluctuating weather conditions. Animal skins, felt and fur were traditional materials used to design garments, accented with fur trim, embroidery and jewelry.
An ethnically Kazakh woman traditionally wears a dress with a waistcoat, giving a look that is very similar to what men wear: jackets and waistcoats over gowns, with wide leather belts. Decorative details and colors, however, are what help differentiate women’s from men’s clothing.
A koylek is a shirt-like garment for girls and young women, made of light and fluffy material densely gathered at the waist. A traditional dress in Kazakhstan known for its beauty and elegance is the camisole, which is easy swinging with expanding bottoms.
Headwear is similar to that found in the surrounding regions of the Caspian, and largely depended upon marital status. Girls wear a skullcap called takiya and a warm hat known as borik, decorated with otter, fox or beaver fur.
Bridal headwear called saukele is of particular importance. Standing 70 centimeters tall, this conical hat was historically considered a mandatory part of girl’s dowry. Saukele was worn during the wedding ceremony and later on holidays.
Traditional Russian clothing dates back more than a thousand years. Many elements are from early Russian history, with meanings long forgotten but patterns and colors appreciated nevertheless. The basic element of any traditional Russian wardrobe is the rubakha, which could be worn by both men and women. Depending on one’s financial status, different materials were used for rubakha manufacturing and tailoring, from cheap linen or cotton to expensive, imported silk.
Women’s clothing consists of sarafan, a long dress decorated with intricate embroidery, often worn on top of a rubakha, which was worn for both everyday wear and special occasions. Colors are plentiful for sarafans, such as red, light or deep blue, wine and white. The outfit is not complete without kokoshnik, a headdress with various decorations that indicate one’s social status. Young women would traditionally show off their hair arranged in a single braid, decorated with flowers and other articles. Married women were traditionally forbidden from showing their hair, so instead they covered it with their kokoshnik. Nowadays, traditional Russian dress is worn for holidays and carnivals.
Turkmen national clothing is typically very bright and traditional patterns and colors are still widely worn by Turkmenistanis. Meeting people in urban centers wearing traditional dress is not uncommon. Some clothing is designed for everyday wear and some are used as holiday garments.
A traditional outfit for teenage girls is a gown made from a dark-colored fabric that is decorated with bright colored flowers. The dress is meant to symbolize an awakened land that promises beauty, health and fertility. With age, however, a woman has more choices: another kind of gown is yellow, symbolizing the sun, embroidered with oak leaves, meant to symbolize strength and longevity. A woman that has passed “Prophet Muhammad’s age,” or age 63, would wear a white gown with embroidery evocative of desert plants that can be found throughout the Caspian region.
Typical men's clothing is embroidered with images of beautiful animals and birds that often carry meaning. An image of flying cranes, for example, signaled freedom, confidence and independence.