Thousands of years ago, a tribe of nomadic warriors
roamed the plains of Central Asia. To the Greeks they were known
as Scythians, but to everyone else they were known as the Aryans.
These people eventually migrated westward to Europe and southward
to the Indian subcontinent. Along the way, large numbers of them
settled in the mountains and valleys of the area that would later
become Afghanistan. They mixed with local people of all the regions
they migrated to. However, it was in the area of Afghanistan that
the Scythians held onto their customs and traditions the longest.
In the past, various foreign armies including the
Persians, the Greeks and the Arabs invaded Afghanistan. The Scythians
came to adopt some of the traditions and customs of the invaders,
and influenced them in turn. This cultural exchange resulted in
the introduction of Persian, Greek and Islamic symbolism to the
designs in weaving, embroidery and woodcarvings. There was also
a cultural exchange happening with India. Afghan Traders, mercenaries
and soldiers traveled there on a regular basis. With close attention,
the influence of all these people can be seen in the artistic works
created by Afghans today. The carpets woven by the Turkmen, the
woodcarvings of the Nuristanis, and the embroidery of the Pushtun
and Hazaara women are some examples.
The Scythians men were warriors and craftsmen.
The women were weavers and embroider of extreme talent and artistry.
They have created magnificent robes and dresses that were embellished
with gold studs and silk embroidery. Quite often, these regal dresses
were worn for their everyday use. Although, they changed when doing
household chores such as building fire to bake breads and cook and
When we speak of traditional Afghan women’s
dresses, most often the dress of the Pashtunes comes to mind. But
the dresses created by Hazaara, Baluchi, Nuristani and Turkman women
are also of immense beauty and adorned with exquisite embroidery.
The art of embroidery is almost exclusive domain
of the women throughout Afghanistan. Most girls begin learning it
at an early age, usually at age five or six. Once they master the
basic steps, typically when they are in their teens, the girls spend
all their free time embroidering clothes and other textiles in preparation
for their dowries.
Embroidery techniques are passed down from mother
to daughter. Each dress created by the women can be viewed as a
distinctive work of art in which their life stories are told by
incorporating personal symbols and elements to the more traditional
designs. With the exception of the Nuristani clothes, most women
in Afghanistan choose colorful fabrics to make their clothes.
Clothes are usually stitched by hand. Much care
and attention will be give to the men outfit for a neat finish.
Women’s dresses are always long and loose with room to grow
up, gain weight or get pregnant. Sometime a pleat around skirts
and sleeves are sewed for a better fit and opened later needed for
the fabric shrinkage or growing taller. Although Afghan women are
skilful in embroidery and color coordination, they don’t use
matching threads, or even one color to finish a garment. With limited
access in the villages, they have one or two color threats at home
for all their daily use. At times, they tear a piece of the same
fabric to pull the threats, twine and sew with it.
Women’s basic outfit consists of: Dress,
trousers, heads covering piece and shoes.
Additional clothes are hat, Chadari (burka), dulaq (pants over trousers),
vest, and shawl (Shawl and Chadar is different). Shawl is thicker
made of wool and chadar is lighter made of silk, cotton or chiffon.
Sometimes, women wear a shawl over the chadar (when cold or in public.)
Men’s basic outfit consists of Tunic-shirt,
pants and head covering (Turban or hat) and shoes.
Additional clothes are Chapan, vest, shawl (cotton or wool depending
on the season), Posteen (sheep skin long cloak and very long sleeves
with embroidery borders worn in cold areas, posteencha (sheep skin
vest with embroidery), Chamooch (knitted woolen stockings with leather
soles worn with shoes in cold snowy areas, Patoo/Kaish (blanket),
As for Men’s basic outfits, solid colors and plain designs
are common for the two-piece tunic-shirt and pants. Only in Kandahar
they use embroidery for the top front of the shirt. The matching
shawl will have the same design and color as tow side or four side
borders. Other areas have different collar style or different fabrics.
The head coverings for men are different in different
regions too. Turbans are commonly worn all over the country but
the fabric, color and style vary from region to region. Under the
turban an embroidered, knitted or crouched cap is worn. Young boys
start wearing colorful embroidery caps with shiny chips of mirrors
sewn into their designs (aiyna dozi). Eventually, they will learn
how to wear a Turban and become a grown-up.
Karakul hats made from newborn sheep's fur are
also common among stylish and more educated men. These hats come
in brown, gray and black colors. The price is based on the quality
of the fur. The smaller and dense the curl, the better the quality
and more expensive the hat.
Chapan is garment used in the northern part of
Afghanistan. It is made of striped silk fabric mostly a combination
of green, black, purple, yellow and beige. Expensive styles tan
or off white chapan made from pure wool called qaghma, are worn
by older and rich men. Another chapan, which is padded with cotton,
is used in the winter.
Solid color velvet vests, mostly red and designed
with gilded laces, are worn by pashtun men and boys.
National Costume: Although different regions of Afghanistan have
different styles of clothing, there exists a National costume. On
national holidays and celebrations most people dress up in the national
costume. For women this consists of a black dress with embroidered
bodice, sleeve cuffs, and skirt hems; worn with red trousers and
a red scarf (unmarried women wear green trousers and green scarves).
Their shoes have metallic-thread needlepoint patterns. Men wear
white tunic-shirts and pants, red velvet vests designed with metallic
thread laces, and a silk turban. Men’s footwear consists of
sandals, which are designed with metallic thread patterns.