Unique pieces of old clothes are dated first millennia B.C. to the first century A.D. and belong to Saka royals. These pieces can be found in Kazakhstani and Russian museums (Hermitage, Russian Museum of Ethnography). These rare collections include traditional Kazakh clothes made of silk, cotton, fine felt, and suede with fine tambour embroidery.
The art of making traditional Kazakh costumes is alive today among artisans in different regions of the country. Kazakhstan has seen an increased interest in traditional clothes thanks to revival of Kazakh culture since country gained its independence. The day of the traditional costume has appeared in the calendar. There is a tradition to present embroidered shapan with fur linings (light men’s coat) and ayir qalpaq (traditional men’s hat) to the most respected male guests; qamzol (light women’s vest), beshpet (light women’s coat), byorik (traditional women’s hat) or oramal (embroidered headscarf) to the most respected female guest. All these clothes are made by the local crafts industry.
At Qyz Uzatu (a farewell event made by the bride’s side) a bride is to wear traditional wedding dress and saukele (high wedding hat). Many artisans make wedding dresses using fine felt and silk: vests (qamzol), long waistcoats (beshpent/meshpem), dresses (koylek) and hats. Hats can be made using seamless wet felting, or constructed from pre-made pieces. The tradition of making shekpen (light coat made from camel wool that is worn in wet weather) is revived. Light coats can be decorated with zerleu (goldwork), biz keste (fine silk tambour embroidery). As well the tradition of making beldemshe (wraparound skirt) is revitalized. Traditionally it was made of velvet or cotton; in modern days felt and silk are also used. Beldemshe is decorated with embroidery or applique and worn to protect women’s lower back and kidneys from cold.
Beshpent (long women’s waistcoat) is usually made of burgundy colored velvet, fitted below the thighs, flared from the line of the waist, with short or long sleeves, and silk or cotton linings. Beshpent’s edging is usually trimmed with gold or silver ribbon, or decorated with tambour embroidery (plant pattern). The front section fastens with a metal buckle (qapsyrma).
Women’s head covering (ilmeli jauliq / oramal) is a squared white head scarf with embroidered edges and colorful geometric patterns. As well, there is a resurgence of interest in kemeshek, a head covering for married middle-aged women. It consists of two parts: (1) a hood made of white cotton that covers shoulders, chest and back (rear part forms a triangle) and (2) a turban (jaulyq / sylauis) consisting of a long length of white cotton wound around a hood. A hood is usually decorated with embroidery. Kemeshek can be worn with toberlyk (round piece of velvet decorated with goldwork and fringed edges) that is placed on top of turban. A woman’s winter hat (byorik) is made of fox or mink and velvet crown.
The most popular men’s hats are (1) tymaq, a winter hat made of fox (tulki) or wolf (byori) fur; (2) yertiri tymaq, a demi karakul hat with a high crown, and (3) tebetey / taqiya, which is usually made of velvet or other textile.
Some artisans make shashaq, a tassel made with urshyq (traditional qazaq spindle) from wool and used to decorated coats. These tassels serve as charms and are called kupekshe.
Modern artisans include Aues Sagynayeva, Aizhan Abdubaitova, Gulzhay Khusman, Kulyan Zhangutty, Ulbolsyn Daulenova, Aizhan Bekkulova, Saule Bapanova, Umitkhan Aytqaqyzy, Elmira Shermukhanbetova.