The traditional costume of Turkmen women

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A part from their carpets, the national dress of Turkmen women is the most brilliant expression of the arts and crafts and the culture of Turkmenistan. The national dress is a reflection of traditions rooted in the ethnic history, social attitudes, and ethical and aesthetic values of the Turkmen people. As such it represents a valuable means of understanding the ethnic history and culture of Turkmenistan.

Anyone visiting Turkmenistan for the first time will not fail to notice the uniqueness of the country. This stems principally from the fact that the women wear the traditional national costume. It is an interesting fact that the style of women’s costume, and also the men’s, perfectly adapted to their lifestyle and the climate, has hardly changed over the centuries.

Turkmen women wore clothes made from homespun silk. Different types of cloth were used: girmizi donlyk, sosany, sara takhta. For day-to-day wear, a simple shift-dress was worn, a a rule made from a type of silken cloth called a keteni. This cloth was woven on narrow looms. Incidentally, it is still woven on a simple home-made horizontal loom called a tara. The width of this loom, from 30-40 centimeters, determined the style. The ketei had gold stripes running along the edge that were left facing outwards when the cloth was sown together to emphasize the line of the dress. The dress had a low, round-cut neck and the ends of the long sleeves were fringed with embroidery. Young married women and girls had to obey strict rules – sleeves had to cover the ankles.

Silver jewellery and embroidery are obligatory elements in the Turkmen national dress for women of all ages, children and even man. “Richly jewelled decorations became an established part of costume in the area that is now modern day Turkmenistan a long time ago, probably not less than two thousand years ago. This is clear from terracotta statutes of goddesses from Margiana (from the last few centuries B.C. and the first centuries A.D.), whose costumes were already decorated with many pieces of jewellery similar to those remaining to the present day”. The rich decoration of the head wear is typical for the Turkmen people for whom it is almost the main item of dress. Head-wear was created from scarves, scull-caps (for children), shawls and large amounts of jewellery, each piece imbued with a certain significance and use, similar to brooches or pins.

A bride’s wedding dress is of special interest. Her wedding is the most important even in her life and this correspondingly expressed in her costume: the colour of the fabric, the pattern of embroidery on her socks and of course the choice of jewellery. On the day of the ceremony she wears a silk dress made of keteni with golden stripes and simple embroidery along the neck. A long oriental robe called a chabat is worn over the dress. This robe also made of red keteni, only it has thin golden stripes, dirmizi donlyk. An elegant floral decoration, gul keshte, appears on the cuffs, neckline, hem and flared cuts at the sides.

A small silver dome, gupby, with a sharp point is sown onto the bride’s shawl of scull-cap. Silver plates with handing pendants spread out over the head from the edge of the dome. On each side of the gupby large plates, from which pendants, checelyk, are suspended, are attached over the temples. The neck and the breast of a bride are decorated with a disk in the shape of the sun, a gulyara (literally – the flower under the collar). The front of the robe, chabat, seems as though it has been showered with coins. This is called a chapraz-changa and is a harness that comes down to the waist ending with a cluster of hand-sized rhombic plates.

An open robe, the kurte, is put on over the gupby. Many years ago it was a very popular form of outer-wear for women. Now it is worn only on special occasions. A kurte is sewn for bridges from red keteny and has embroidery on the edges. All the embroidery on a wedding dress is hand-made. The depiction of flowers on the head-wear (this is an obligatory feature) is probably associated with the worship of fertility and symbolises the wishes for well-being, prosperity and child-bearing.

Our brides are solemn and severe, noble and modest. She is brought up in this way. And that is way she is presented by this wonderful costume that has been preserved down the generations. The bride’s soft footsteps are accompanied by a barely noticeable silver tinkling.


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