The mountainous and ill-accessible province of Nuristan lies east of the capital Kabul. The area was formerly known as Kafiristan ('The Land of Non-believers'), which stretched eastward into present-day Pakistan. The name was changed to Nuristan ('Land of the Light') when the inhabitants were forcibly converted to Islam in the late nineteenth century.
Nuristan is a mountainous region and very cold in the winter, and both factors have influenced the range of clothing worn by both men and women. Nowadays Nuristani men tend to wear Western style garments or the local shalwar kamiz (baggy trousers and tunic). In the past however, many of them were were wearing goatskins, with the (black) fleece on the outside (hence their name as the siah-posh, 'black dress'). Others were wearing white, woollen trousers reaching to just below the knee, and with black leggings that looked like puttees. On top of these garments they wore a long tunic kept in place with a silver studded belt.
A distinctive feature of modern Nuristani dress is the pakol, a headcovering often also called a Nuristani or Chitrali cap. The pakol is usually made of fulled woollen cloth and consists of a flat crown with a rolled brim. This cap became very popular with Westerners living in Afghanistan in the 1960s. It was banned by the Taliban regime between 1996 and 2001 because of its perceived relationship to the armed opposition led by Ahmad Shah Massudi in the Panjshir Valley northeast of Kabul, bordering on Nuristan. Nowadays it is widely worn among the Pakistani Taliban, and has also been adopted by Salafist groups elsewhere, as among ISIS (Daesh) in Syria and Iraq.
In the past the pakol has been linked to comparable headwear worn by the soldiers of Alexander the Great, who with his army in fact passed through this area in the late fourth century BC, but this has been shown to be based on apparently romantic Western fantacies; the cap has its origins in similar headwear from the extreme north of modern Pakistan and was only introduced in Kafiristan/Nuristan in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Nuristani women used to wear trousers and a dress with a front neck opening. These dresses were often made out of dark coloured silk or cotton and decorated around the neck opening with metal thread embroidery. Modern Nuristani women’s outfits consist of a waisted dress with a collar (exceptional in the Afghan context), with similarly coloured trousers, often embroidered along the cuffs, and a large chador or chadari.