Christine Brown on Uzbek Clothing: Part 1, the Lecture

On August 2, 2008, Christine Brown presented a Rug and Textile Appreciation Morning program at The Textile Museum, here in Washington, D.C.

Her subject was “Textile Production in Uzbekistan: A Historical and Ethnographic Overview.”  Christine focused sharply on Uzbek clothing but treated some other Uzbek textiles as well.

Christine was introduced by The Textile Museum’s Director, Daniel Walker.

Dan said that Christine has had a long and abiding interest in traditional cultures around the world.

After obtaining a degree in Anthropology from the University of Iowa, she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years as a volunteer in what was then Upper Volta (later renamed Burkina Faso).  She subsequently spent an additional ten years working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Burkina Faso, Madagascar and Zimbabwe on women in development, Food for Peace, and Southern Africa regional development projects, respectively.

She moved to the Washington, D.C. area in 1988 and has worked for consulting firms on USAID projects ever since.  These projects have taken her on short-term assignments to multiple countries in Africa, also in Russia and, mostly recently, in Bangladesh.  In addition to her work-related travels, she takes annual vacation trips to countries of interest to her in Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America.

From 2002 to 2004 she co-curated three exhibitions of ethnic jewelry at the Bead Museum and served a two-year term on its Board of Directors.  She has an avid interest in ethnic jewelry and adornment and has a small personal collection of jewelry from various cultures around the world. 

Christine began with a Powerpoint-assisted lecture and then moved to discuss items that she and others had brought in.  Because many of the images from her lecture are not available, my treatment of Christine’s session will necessarily be more virtual than usual.  We will begin with the lecture, but I will depend heavily on a text that Christine has provided.  I will also need, sometimes ,to paraphrase what she said or alter it, slightly, if a specific item treated is not available.  Still ,I think a useful virtual version of Christine’s program can be produced.

She began.

The most difficult part of putting together this talk was deciding what to include and what would have to be excluded due to time constraints.  The history of textile production in the territory now known as Uzbekistan is as rich and diverse as its political history.  As early as around 450 BC, the Greek historian, Herodotus, described in his writings two aspects of Central Asian nomadic clothing that he found unusual at that time—one was the caps being worn; the other was the fact that Central Asians wore trousers.  At that point in time, neither the Greeks nor the Chinese wore trousers.  Although, to my knowledge, it has not been proven that Central Asian nomads invented trousers, they were certainly wearing them very early on out of necessity to protect their skin while riding horseback or camel.

I’m going to skip over a couple thousand years of history now and show you a map of the area that dates to around the mid-19th century.

As you can see, the area was still ruled by traditional rulers called “khans,” and the territory was divided into the khanates of Khiva, Bukhara, and Kokand.  There were, and still are today, a wide variety of ethnic groups living in this region, including Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs, Kirghiz, Karakalpaks, Turkmen, Persians and many others including Jews, who have lived in Central Asia since the first century BC.  Jews played a pivotal role in Central Asian textile production and trade until the Russian revolution of 1917.

The Khanates fell to the Russian czars in the late 19th century and their cultural residues were further diminished by the Bolsheviks in the early 20th century.  The impact of this on Central Asian textile production was felt in two ways.  First, nomadic population, who had traditionally made a wide variety of bags, tent bands, felts, animal trappings, etc., in addition to their clothing, became increasingly sedentary.  This, in turn, led to a diminished need for these kinds of specialized textiles.

Secondly, production of luxury textiles (including silk and velvet ikats, fine cotton fabrics, etc.) also changed dramatically.  Up until this time, these fabrics had been produced as a cottage industry by specialized groups of craftspeople including cotton weavers, silk weavers, hot and cold dyers, ikat designers, etc., that cut across ethnic boundaries.  When the Russians took over, textile production was reorganized into large, mechanized State-run factories.  Uzbekistan went from being a producer of sumptuous finished fabrics, to being an exporter of raw materials (primarily cotton) that were shipped to the textile mills of Russia.  Printed cotton fabric produced in Russian mills with synthetic dyes began flowing back into Central Asia in the late 19th century.  We will see later how this Russian cotton was integrated into the clothing of the people of Uzbekistan.

I want, also, to provide a second map that shows the Republic of Uzbekistan since its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

The cities when many of the textiles we’ll be looking at today were produced include Fergana, Margilan, and Kokand in the Fergana Valley in the east, Tashkent (which is now the capital city), Samarkand, Karshi, and Sakrisabz in between; Bukhara, Khiva, and the area in the north which is now the Autonomous Republic of Karakalpakstan.

I am going to be using archival photographs that were taken in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and a few photographs I took during my visit to Uzbekistan.

I want to talk about three things:

1) the basic components of Uzbek clothing, male and female, nomadic and sedentary.

2) how Russian-manufactured cotton was integrated into Uzbek clothing; and

3) how Uzbek textiles are once again reasserting themselves in the world of high fashion.

Let’s start by looking at the basic elements of Uzbek clothing. 

The territory now known as Uzbekistan encompassed two very different types of people with vary different textile traditions. 

On one hand, there were nomadic and semi-nomadic groups requiring durable fabrics that:

a) enabled them to travel by horse, donkey or camel;

b) provided protection from the elements; and

c) could be made by their own women on portable household looms.

On the other hand, there were sedentary peoples either engaged in agriculture or living in towns and villages.  The urban populations, especially, were integrated into the political life of the territory and required prestige textiles as indicators of rank and wealth.  These textiles were complex and difficult to make, and required input from the specialized groups I mentioned earlier.  However, despite their very different lifestyles, requiring very different types of fabric, the basic clothing components were the same for both groups.  This statment is also true to a fair degree for the clothing of men and women.

Three articles of clothing comprise basic Uzbek dress: the tunic, trousers and a variety of coats.  These items became knows to define the fundamental features of the “steppe style” of clothing worn all across Central Asia by men, women and children of both the nomadic and sedentary populations.

John Howe: It is important to notice in what Christine says above that the primary differences in clothing between nomadic and settled members of traditional Uzbek society, and especially between people with different degrees of social status and authority was NOT reflected in the basic types of garments worn, but rather in the materials from which they were made.  Prince and pauper, nomad and city dweller, men, women and children wore tunics, trousers and coats as their basic garments.  It was the materials from which these garments were made that marked the differences being observed in Uzbek society.

Christine then went on to treat the three basic garments that comprise the “steppe style.”

First, is the tunic:

This garment is made from one broad central width of fabric with supplementary pieces under the sleeves and was worn by both men and women.  In the case of a man’s tunic, it orginally extended to the knees.  Over time, it has been shortened and usually comes just below the waist.  Women wear a longer version of a tunic, a shift, that reaches to mid-calf or to the ankle.

We cannot see the front of her garment but the girl buying bread in the image above seems to be wearing a shift-type tunic (note also ikat-patterned trousers  that peep out at the bottom,; we’ll talk about trousers shortly).

Tunic necklines vary between a horizontal slit,  a vertical slit in the center, and a vertical slit offset to one side so that it doesn’t show when worn under a coat.  Sleeves narrow to the wrist.  Extra gores are often added under the arms for ease of movement, which results in the tunic being broader at the bottom than at the top.

The second basic garment is the voluminous drawstring trousers worn by both men and women.

Images of Uzbek trousers are difficult to find in part because they are items of underwear but also because they were mostly covered by tunics and coats.  Perhaps a description will largely suffice.  Uzbek trousers are very large at the top and tightened on a string that is tied at the waist.  They narrow down at the knees , mid-calf, or at the ankles, depending on one’s preference.

Sometimes such trousers were made in leather and embroidered.  In other instances they were made entirely of one kind of cloth.  But a frequent practice was to make the upper part using a plain-woven undecorated fabric and the bottoms of a different, often liberally decorated fabric.  There was no reason to decorate the upper portions of such trousers or even to make them with anything but the least expensive material because only the bottom portions were seen.

The third article of clothing that formed the basic Uzbek costume is the coat.  It usually comes down to mid-calf, if not longer, has side vents to facilitate walking, sitting on the floor, riding a horse, etc.  It has sleeves of varying lengths, and is worn left open or tied with a belt.  Coats worn by both men and women vary according to the season and the occasion.

Christine said that there are two major different kinds of coats, the chapan and the khalat.

The chapan is a quilted robe lightly padded with cotton batting for warmth and often lined with Russian printed cotton.  We had an example chapan in the room.

Here is a closer look at the batting in this coat.

And here is what its lining looks like.

Christine noted that the lining of this chapan is composed of several different patterns of Russian commercial cotton pieced carefully to form its whole. 

Some lined chapans and khalats have linings all of a single pattern of Russian cotton.  It is thought by some that the use of several different patterns and visibly careful piecing is the older tradition.  Regardless, both of these usages are instances of the integration of the products of the commercial Russian cloth industry into the construction of traditional Uzbek garments.

A khalat is a lightweight robe made of cotton, silk or a mixture of the two.  There are regional variations in the cut of this garment but, essentially, khalats have wide sleeves and are bordered with patterned-silk edging tape stitched onto the coat material.

We had a khalat in the room and Christine examined it at this point.

Here is a closer look at its fabric.

It was turned and opened to show its lining.

We then looked at some other coat examples. 

Christine emphasized that in the 19th century, an urban person’s dress was strictly defined by rank.  Coats played an important part in defining a person’s rank.

The ruler and highest court officials would dress in silk velvet coats, with gold embroidery and a large belt.

This, well-known photo is of a Bokhara emir at the turn of the 20th century.  His robe is of a sumptuous material and is clinched with a wide metal belt.  Note that he is also wearing a turban.

Here, below, is an image of Bokhara government official of seemingly high rank.

Again, it is the richness of the fabric and wide decorated metal belt that signal this man’s place in Uzbek society in the early 1900s.

Men of the next rank were permitted to wear coats made of imported cashmere or silk velvet with brocade embroidery.  It is hard to tell whether the man in the image below belongs in the highest level or this next rank, but his dramatic costume still signals that he has a high rank.

This may be the place to note that coats, especially the sumptuous ones, in addition to being a normal part of a person’s wardrobe, were also given as gifts of honor by one person to another.  In pre-Russian days Central Asian rulers and court officials would:

o  present them in recognition of meritorious service;

o  distribute them during New Year’s receptions; and

o  give them as presentation gifts to guests of honor and foreign emissaries.

In these instances, the quality of the fabric used to make the presentation coat was an indicator of the presenter’s appreciation for the service rendered.  It was a special mark of recognition if the ruler took off his own coat and placed it around the shoulders of his guest.  The custom of presenting coats as gifts to foreign heads of state, and during marriage and circumcision ceremonies, still exists today.

Returning now to the examination of “second level” coat examples, it may be that the man below fits this second level category more closely. There’s still a fancy, wide metal belt, and he is sitting on a rug.


Wealthy merchants and scholars dressed in silk ikat. The cloth merchant in the photo below, could likely acquire cloth above his class, but he’d never dress himself above his station.

This middling level of status may be diverse and have its own internal levels.  Here are some possibilities.  First, a group of apparent scholars.


The man below has only a kilim but he also displays a wide metal belt.

And this man, carrying, is dressed pretty well.

Perhaps even these Jewish students and theirteacher are in this middling group. One boy has an ikat coat.

Peasants and nomads wore coats of rough cotton or coarse wool.  Again, there will be diversity in this lower level group.

First, a pretty ordinary looking group, selected here, in part because the person on the right is a woman.

This boy seems pretty well-dressed but is likely in this lower group.

This photo of two Karakalpak men from an excellent, informative site of that name whose link address is on this photo.


This boy on a donkey seems a good representative of this lower grouping.


The boy, below, and a craftsman or shop owner.

And, last, two ordinary-seeming men and boys.

Most of these photos were taken in pre-revolutionary Uzbekistan in the early 20th century.  Notice that in many of the coats worn by those of the middling and lower classes of that day, it appears that Russian cottons are used for the outside materials, not just, as we saw in estimated earlier or elite examples, for linings.

There are two additional coats deserving of special notice here: the “postin” and camel hair coats.

The two Karakalpak men in the picture below are wearing postin-style coats.

Postins are made of fur or sheepskin and are worn for warmth.  In the West fur coats are made so that the fur is on the outside.  When worn that way they not only provide warmth, but their visible fur is beautiful.  As can be seen here, the fur is on the inside.  Sometimes there is embroidery on the skin outside, but often is it left plain.

The last type of coat, here, is made of camel hair.  It is worn by all nomadic groups because it is rainproof.   Here is a man in a camel- hair coat.

Camel-hair coats are also warm and, as the photo below suggests, are worn by folks facing seriously cold weather.

Men often wore several coats simultaneously as a display of wealth.  This explains why many of these coats are so large.  The size of an Uzbek coat is not determined only by the size of the person wearing it.  Size of the coat, if it is worn over other coats, also depends on its position in the various levels placed on the body.  The smallest will be first and each additional coat will be increasingly larger.  When several coats are worn at once, the innermost coat is belted and the outer ones hang open.

As we have already seen, belts were an important, coat-related item of Uzbek clothing.  Here are three basically different types of belts worn by men.

Ordinary men often close their coats with simple pieces of fabric tied around their waist as shown in the image below.

There were also belts that were embroidered in silk. 

Some of these were elaborately decorated, additionally, with metal buckles and clasps, like the ones in the image below.

I am not sure,  as I write, how wide the belts above are.

There were/are seemingly narrower belts which sometimes had metal buckles.  There were a number of bands, some of which were likely belts, in the room.  The one on the right in the image below may have been part of a somewhat more complex belt assembly that could have included hanging purses.

Coats sometimes had one pocket but men often used small pouches and some of these were suspended form the belts.

Here, below, is one such belt-pouch assembly from John Wertime’s “Silk and Leather” exhibition at The Textile Museum a few years ago.

And from the same exhibition, here is a second Uzbek embroidered purse of this type closer up.

The third type of belt, wide and elaborately embossed, we’ve already seen above as an article of elite dress.

Here is a detail of the Bokhara emir (above) focused on his metal belts.

Christine moved next to treat women’s coats.  She said that they are very similar to the men’s coats we have seen above.  Both men and women wear the quilted cotton chapan with Russian cotton linings and the finer cotton, silk, or blended khalats, also sometimes similarly lined.

Women from wealthy families wore multiple coats just like the men.  Such coats were specifically designed to show the embroidery on the front edges and cuffs of the multiple garments. 

Christine had an example image of one in her lecture that is not available here.  It was of an arrangement of three levels worn one over the other.  The sleeve treatments were designed to maximize visibility of the three layers.  The sleeves on the outer coat came only to the elbow.  Then there was a second layer of  a yellow coat with a few inches of sleeve extending from under and beyond the outer one.  The third and deepest level was of a white shift which was visible both at the neck and in its very long sleeves sticking out, again, from under and beyond the yellow second coat.

Women’s coats, and only women’s coats, were fitted at the waist.  Men’s coats hung straight.  We had an example of a fitted woman’s coat in the room.

Here is a little closer look at its dramatic ikat design.

It’s useful to look at the linings as we go along.

The garment below is called a “camisole.”

It is a style of coat that came into being after the Russian conquest.  It is, usually, a relatively short coat with narrow sleeves and a lapel collar, and was often made of plush, imported material.

We had a couple of short coats in the room that did not quite meet this description but which may still be in the “camisole” category.

The first one had one of the dramatic ikat designs.

It is shorter, but has short sleeves.

Here is a closer look at this ikat material and design.


Note the visible sheen of this fabric.  Some ikats (a warp-faced structure with the warps of silk) were coated with egg to produce additional shine.  That may be the source of the seeming sheen here.

Here is the lining of this short coat.

We have looked now at examples of the three basic garments worn by men and women—the tunic for men and the straight dress or shift for women; drawstring trousers; and coats.

But there are some other items of Uzbek dress worthy of notice.

Uzbeks wore leather socks and boots.  The socks resemble the boots closely, differing primarily by having higher heels.  Here is a drawing of the basic side outline of such a boot.

The tops could be horizontal with the ground or cut at an angle as in the drawing above, apparently to make it easier to put them on and to take them off.  There were very short versions of boots that were even easier to slip the formidable leather stockings in and out of.

The items below are from The Textile Museum’s “Silk and Leather” exhibition and are described in the catalog as of the “stocking” variety (note there are no heels).

Finally, we come to coverings for the head, where there is great variation between men and women, different ethnic groups, people of different social status, age groups, etc.

Let’s first look at skullcaps, which are ubiquitous in Uzbekistan, being worn by both men and women and boys and girls of all ages. The two basic components of a skullcap are a band and a crown—no ear flaps.

Uzbek hats are made in a variety of shapes.  These include a squarish version,

some peaked in a dervish style,

they can be quartered, embroidered, quilted, beaded, with or without tassels and neck extensions.  Children’s skullcaps often have amuletic devices sewn into them for protection.  Irina Bogoslovskay and Larissa Levteeva, have written a wonderful, available book on skullcaps, entitled “Skull Caps of Uzbekistan 19th-20th Centuries.”

A second type of head covering worn by men, as well as women from some nomadic groups, is the turban.

In the images above, the man on the left is wearing a turban.  He is actually a skullcap vendor, as you can see by the piles of skullcaps on the shelves behind him and in front of him.  He, almost certainly, is wearing a skullcap underneath his turban.

The photo on the right, above, shows a woman wearing a turban.  According to one source, a nomadic woman like this puts on a turban for the first time when her first child is born.  The source states that for the Kazakh, Kirghiz, Karakalpak and some Uzbek and Turkmen ethnic groups, the turban remained an obligatory part of a nomadic woman’s headgear until the 20th century.

Skullcaps and turbans were worn by both men and women, let’s look now at headgear worn only by men.

Nomadic men have ethnic-specific types of hats. In the array of photos below, a middle-aged man from Khiva is wearing a sheepskin hat that is very similar to those worn by Turkmen men, except that it is shorter.

The middle photo shows two dervishes (members of a Moslem religious order) wearing conical hats that are fur-trimmed and often embroidered.  Note that the dervish on the right, in this center photo, is wearing a turban over his conical hat.

The young person in the photo on the right looks girlish but is in fact a young Jewish man wearing a black hat trimmed with fur.  In this case, it looks like there is decoration on the top of the hat.  I think such Jewish hats are, usually, plain black.

Now let’s move to headgear specifically for women.  Here, again, there is great variety among women of different ethnic groups, between women of different ages and social status, and between women belonging to households headed by more or less-conservative fathers and husbands who could impose different religious interpretations and customs on their wives and daughters.

The first specifically woman’s headgear is a fine silk shawl called a “rumol.”  The image below is of one example.

This rumol is 52 inches square.  It can be tied on a woman’s head in a variety of ways.  These shawls were often produced commercially in Russia and had floral patterns.  Some, though, were embroidered.  Variations of the “rumol” are seen everywhere in Uzbekistan today, worn by women of all ages, and tied in a variety of ways.

The wonderful photograph below is of a woman in Uzbekistan.

This photo is from the book “Uzbek Embroidery in the Nomadic Tradition,” by Kate Fitz Gibbon and Andrew Hale, 2007.

What she is wearing on her head is an incredible amount of fabric in layers.  She first puts on a small skullcap which is, then, covered with 3-5 meters (9 to 15 feet) of fabric that is often red with a flower pattern.  This, in turn, is covered with another 4-7 shawls, each about 30 inches square, placed one on top of the other to create the wrapped effect seen here.  (The number of shawls indicates the status of the woman.)  On top of all this is placed another large shawl, followed by a headdress that resembles a coat with false sleeves (similar to the Turkmen chyrpy).

These people were nomadic and this complex headdress (called a “bosh”) protected a woman’s head from heat, cold and wind.  The wearer could also store small objects like needles, pins or thread, in the pleats.

Christine had an example of the next headdress item, specific to women, in the room.  It was shown on a dress form.

This elaborate item is a “kimishek.” It is placed over the head and is comprised of three sections.

1) In the front there is a triangular shape with a circular hole in the middle for the face.  The hole is edged; the triangle is embroidered in multi-colored silk thread sewn on in vegetal, zoomorphic, and geometrical designs.  The most frequently used designs were S-shaped and horn-shaped, Greek crosses with trefoils on the ends, and stairstep squares and rhombuses (equilateral parallelograms) with shoots on the external edges.  The vertical and horizontal designs combine to make one composition.  The bottom and sides are framed with a black narrow strip with one or two lines of ornamentation.

2) The second section of the kimishek is a large shawl (usually of silk ikat in red, green, and yellow), turned out so that two of its edges correspond to the triangular shape of the front of the pieces.

The other two sides hang down and cover the woman’s back.

3) The third section is a richly-embroidered border attached to the lower two edges of the ikat shawl.

The image below is of a Karakalpak bride wearing a kimishek as part of her  costume.

This image is another from the excellent internet site

Christine said that a Karakalpak bride dons a kimishek at her wedding and wears a garment of this type the rest of her life.  The color of the kimishek a woman wears, and the areas of it that are covered with embroidery, change as she ages. 

Those worn by brides and younger married women have a red ground.  But when a Karakalpak women reaches the point in life when her child-bearing years are over, she gives away her red clothes and begins to wear similar garments with a white-ground color.  Younger Karakalpak women make their own red-ground garments, but white-ground clothes are made for an older woman by her daughters-in-law.

As a woman ages, the amount of embroidery on her white-ground kimishek is reduced.  Christine cited an image of a Karakalpak woman whose white-ground kimishek had a lot of red embroidery on it, saying that this suggested that she just passed menopause.  The older a woman becomes, the less embroidery she has on her robe.

Another embroidery difference between the white-ground and red-ground garments is that the white kimisheck is embroidered with only vertical strips of cross-stitch ornament, while the red kimishek has a combination of vertical and horizontal designs.  This is one way in which embroidery is simplified as age proceeds.

Veiling is another kind of headdress, although in truth some “veils” cover the entire body.  But veils are another type of clothing worn only by women.  Christine said that veils are divided into two groups: those that cover the face and “paranjas” that cover both the head and the body.  She had examples of both of these formats in the room.

Christine first held up a horsehair veil.

She moved to put it on and to both model and experience its use.

Once Christine has it in place, it is very opaque to those in the audience, but she reports that she can see quite well through it.

These veils often covered the entire front torso of the woman. The wearer can see out but people encountering her in public cannot see her face.

“Paranjas” seem very similar to coats, since they enclose both the head and the torso. They are essentially robes with long false sleeves (Turkmen chyrpys are similar but are not as long and have false sleeves that are shorter too). These long false sleeves are attached at the back by a piece of cloth (chyrpys’ false sleeves are as well). The fact that most strongly places paranjas with veils rather than with coats is that they are worn draped from the head and not from the shoulders.

Christine modeled a paranja in the room. First she held it up.

It is mostly grey with some black embroidery and trim.

Christine showed its lining of two rich ikats.

 She next raised it overhead, putting it on.

Closed it, showing how it looks in use on the street.

This is how it looks from the front when closed.

This is a side view closed up.

A closer look at the black embroidery and other decoration.

The image below is of a woman in Uzbekistan at the turn of the 20th century wearing what seems pretty clearly to be a paranja.

The paranja-type headcovering is found only in Central Asia and seems to be a fairly recent innovation.  According to one source paranjas do not appear at all in medieval miniature paintings, and are not mentioned in written sources until the 18th century.  It appears that sleeved garments worn on the shoulders as a robe gradually changed into false-sleeved garments draped over the head and extending the length of the body. 

One theory is that the reason for this evolution of a coat into a head covering is that Central Asian populations believed in the necessity of hiding women from harmful forces at important moments in life (for example, at a wedding when the bride was brought to her new husband’s house).  The belief in the need for the protection may have been reinforced by the Muslim tradition of concealing women from the gaze of strangers.

There is one other Uzbek head-related format that Christine did not treat explicitly, but which might be useful to acknowledge here, because it is both rare and interesting.  Women in Uzbekistan often wear their hair in two braids.  “Covers” were sometimes woven and embroidered to go on top of these braids.

Here is a small image of  such a braid cover from The Textile Museum catalog for the “Silk and Leather” exhibition.  This image is just to let you see its overall tapering shape.

John Wertime offered a number of them in this exhibition.  I do not think I had ever seen one previously and I have seen only a very few since.

Here is a closer look at a detail of the braid cover above.

Although they are legitimately an item of head gear, they are very similar to some Uzbek belts and bands in structure and general size.   They are embroidered in silk, often on a cotton ground and are a rare and beautiful sometime item of Uzbek dress.  Wertime notes that, despite some obvious methods that come to mind, we do not know, for sure, how braid covers were held in place in the braids they covered.

Before ending her lecture, Christine made some comments on Russian commercial cottons.  She said that in the late 19th century, cotton material from Russian factories began flooding into Central Asian markets.  The city of Ivanovo, located about 185 miles northeast of Moscow had, by 1860, become the textile producing center of Russia.  Many of the mills located there specialized in export fabrics that were shipped to Central Asia.  They were sold in markets throughout the territory by vendors, such as those in the photo below.

This photo and many of those above were taken by the Russian photographer, S. M. Prokudin-Gorskii in the  early 20th century.  His archive is now in the public domain and is made available on the internet by the U.S. Library of Congress.

These Russian-manufactured cotton fabrics came to be used as lining for the clothing of the khans and high-ranking officials and became the material used on the outside of ordinary people, both urban and nomadic.

Christine reinforced, with an example, the fact that cloth of different patterns was often pieced carefully together to form the linings of coats estimated to be older.

She also pointed to a bias-cut width of cloth, called a “lapse,” that forms the interior border of a coat’s front panels.  She said that this latter practice is also a standard element of traditional design on such robes.

To those interested in learning more about Russian cloth, Christine recommended consulting “Susan Meller, “Russian Textiles: printed Cloth for the Bazaars of Central Asia,” 2007.

Christine ended her lecture saying that she hoped that she had been able to show that cloth was accorded enormous social importance in Uzbekistan.  Men, women and children, nomads, farmers, city dwellers, and the ruling elite, all wore the same basic garments – the tunic or shift, drawstring trousers, and a coat.  The styles of these garments changed very little over the centuries.  An important point to remember is that it was cloth and not the type of clothing that was an indicator of a person’s status in society.

Christine ended with an image that we can’t show you but we can describe it and make her point.  She showed an image of a trench coat designed by Oscar de la Renta for his Spring 2005 collection.  The fabric was hand-woven, silk warp/cotton weft ikat produced in Uzbekistan in much the same way as it was in the 19th century.  She said this suggested strongly that the long traditions of textile production in Uzbekistan are still alive and well and have made their way out into the world of high fashion once again.

Here is the associated bibliography that Christine provided.

                                           UZBEK CLOTHING BIBLIOGRAPHY


Binafhsha, Nodir. “Clothing of the Kungrat Women from Surkhandarya,” San’at:  Journal of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan, No. 3 (July-Sept., 2002), 27-29.

Bogoslovskaya, Irina, and Larissa Levteeva.  Skullcaps of Uzbekistan 19th-20th Centuries.  London: V&A Publications, 2007.

Clark, Ruby.  Central Asian Ikats from the Rau Collection.  London:  V&A Publications, 2007.

Fitz Gibbon, Kate, and Andrew Hale. Ikat Silks of Central Asia: The Guido Goldman Collection: London: Laurence King Publishing in association with Alan Marcuson, 1997.

Harvey, Janet.  Traditional Textiles of Central Asia.  London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1997.

Kalter, Johannes, and Margereta Pavaloi. Uzbekistan: Heirs to the Silk Road.  London: Thames and Hobbs, 1997.

Knorr, Thomas, and David Lindahl.  Uzbek:  The Textiles and Life of the Nomadic and Sedentary Uzbek Tribes of Central Asia.  Zbinder Druck and Verlag AG, Basel, undated.

Meller, Susan. Russian Textiles: Printed Cloth for the Bazaars of Central Asia. New York: Abrams, 2007.

Naumkin, Vitaly (Series Editor). Caught in Time: Great Photographic Archives: Bukhara United Kingdom: Garnet, 1993.

Sodikova, Naphisa. National Uzbek Clothes (19th-20th Centuries). Tashkent: (Uzbek Publisher), 2003.

Sumner,Christina. Beyond the Silk Road: Arts of Central Asia. Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing, 1999.

Sumner, Christina, and Guy Petherbridge. Bright Flowers: Textiles and Ceramics of Central Asia.  Sydney:  Powerhouse Publishing in association with Lund Humphries (United Kingdom), 2004.

Wertime, John T.  Silk and Leather: Splendid Attire of Nineteenth-Century Central Asia, Washington, D.C.:  The Textile Museum, 2005.

WEBSITES:  An independent website, created by Susan and David Richardson.

We have drawn heavily for photographic images on the U.S. Library of Congress, collection of the turn of the 20th century photographs of Uzbekistan and its people.  This archive is extensive and covers many areas of pre-revolutionary Russia.  The photographer, Prokudin-Gorsky developed his own color photography system and so many of his photos are in color.  The wikipedia link to this site is perhaps the most informative.   

Here, also, is the U.S. Library of Congress link through which you can search this collection and archive.

It is our understanding that these images are in the public domain.

This is the end of the lecture portion of Christine’s program.

She then moved to show and discuss the material in the room that we had not so far seen.  For that you need to use the link below to go on to Part 2.


R. John Howe

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