Stories From the Silk Road: Hats Off to The Silk Road

Added over 8 years ago

By Paul Wilson

Many things have changed over the centuries but the Silk Road remains a kaleidoscope of colour and nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the headgear you will encounter on the way.  Each race, nationality, region and religion seems to have made its mark over the centuries, making the whole Silk Road experience a milliner's paradise.  Here are some of the most common examples of headgear in the region:

Flat cap popular in Central AsiaThe kepka is the beret look-a-like popular in the Caucasus; originally derived from the flat Tudor bonnet, a style that became popular in medieval Europe, the cap remains fashionable today across Central Asia.





Skull cap worn by Central Asian muslim menThe araxcin is the small Muslim skull cap worn by men and often embroidered with patterns in coloured silk and cotton thread.  A version of this is the doppa, also called the rug cap because the needle work is the same as that found on Uzbek oriental rugs.Tajikistani man wearing a





The papax is the black wooly fez-style cap popular throughout Central Asia.  Short or tall brimmed, the hat sometimes has a rather dashing peaked military look to it and brings to mind tales of the Cossacks, daredevils of the Russian steppes.





The dopy or doppilar is a black box-like skullcap with white patterning worn by Uzbeks, and while that of the Uighurs is a similar shape, it has a more delicate green and white embroidered design.




The ak kalpak is the white, embroidered and tasseled Robin Hood-like felt cap wore by the Kyrgyz, the predominantly Muslim, yurt-dwelling people of the Chinese western steppes.






The telpek is the shaggy 'afro' favoured by Turkmen - it's usually black or dark brown, but can be white for special occasions.





Throughout Central Asia you will also see many fur (usually mink or sable) hats brought down from Russia, alongside hats made of Central Asian furs: lynx, rabbit and of course the domestic cat! Less expensive is the fur-trimmed tebbety.





You will see plenty of fez in Turkey (even though they were outlawed by Ataturk), but these headpieces actually originated in the city of that name in Morocco.  The city of Fez had a monopoly on the manufacture of these hats for many years because it controlled the juice of the berry used to color the fezzes. The fez may be worn either with or without a turban by Moslems, Christians and Jews, and may be tall, as pictured here, or short, worn with either a black tassel to one side or a small piece of material protruding from the crown.




pakol hat image courtesy of Todd HuffmanIn Pakistan's Hunza Valley most men wear the eponymous pakol hat, which is something like an over-sized tam-o'-shanter, and it is a common sight throughout the northwest frontier region.  These hats are made of wool and have a rolled brim.  They may be worn flat on top of the head like a pancake or pulled down securely over the ears during colder weather.  They have become almost irrevocably associated with the Taliban in recent years.




Womens headwear

Women's headgear from the Central Asian region is not quite as varied or as interesting as that of the men.  The most common head covering is the simple scarf, often brightly coloured and sometimes accompanied by an additional scarf worn over the face for modesty. 





In some areas close to Afghanistan and Pakistan the classic burqa is worn, however it is just as likely to be worn pulled back over the head as a type of bulky veil.





Some of the Turkmen desert nomad women sport very different headwear, particularly on special occasions when elaborately embroidered and tasseled headdresses are worn as a mark of status and wealth.  Silver ornaments sewn onto these caps display not only the wealth of the owner but also serve to ward off evil spirits.  In some cases the entire ensemble may be covered by a veil.





Women of the Kalash Valley, a polytheist people said to be descendant from Alexander the Great's army, wear unusual and brightly coloured headdresses made of animal hair or embroidered with cowrie shells.

Tags: Ak Kalpak, Araxcin, Burqa, Central Asia, Doppa, Fez, Hats, Headgear, Kashgar, Kepka, Pakol, Papax, Telpek, The Silk Road


Next: Kashgar Recommends: The Atlas Obscura

Previous: Ritual Objects of Buddhism and Hinduism - the Swastika