Afghan Dress

Afghan Dress

Many people, both inside and outside of the country, regard Afghanistan as a land that is perpetually affected by war, terrorism and internecine strife. Yet Afghanistan is also a country with a remarkably rich heritage, including a fascinating array of ethnic and regional clothing traditions. Afghanistan is the home of more than fifty ethnic groups, and many of these have indeed their own styles of garments and textile decoration. The different traditions often reflect the position of the country, between Central Asia to the north, Iran and the Middle East to the west, and the Indian subcontinent to the east. For millennia the people of all these neighbouring lands have affected the history and the dress traditions of the people of Afghanistan, just as the people of Afghanistan have influenced the history and dress of the neighbouring lands.

Flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (TRC 2008.0310). For more information, click the illustration.Flag of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (TRC 2008.0310). For more information, click the illustration.This digital exhibition is based on a gallery display at the Textile Research Centre, Leiden, called "Well Dressed Afghanistan". The exhibition, open between 8 November 2010 and 23 March 2011, included over thirty outfits, plus other garments and accessories, for men, women and children. There was also an unusual outfit for buzkashi, the aggressive game of 'polo' played by Afghan men on horseback. In addition there was the opportunity to try on a chadari (burqa), the (in)famous Afghan veil for women.

Afghan girl in traditional clothing. The photograph was exhibited at the exhibition "Well-dressed Afghanistan", TRC Leiden, November 2010 - March 2011. Photograph: Hans Stakelbeek (2009).Afghan girl in traditional clothing. The photograph was exhibited at the exhibition "Well-dressed Afghanistan", TRC Leiden, November 2010 - March 2011. Photograph: Hans Stakelbeek (2009).Also on display was a series of photographs taken by the Dutch photographer, Hans Stakelbeek, who between 2006 and 2010 frequently visited Afghanistan on behalf of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The organisation of the exhibition was supported by Dr Willem Vogelsang, former curator Southwest and Central Asia of the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, and between June 2008 and January 2011 working in Uruzgan, Southern Afghanistan, as cultural advisor to the Dutch forces stationed in the province.

The TRC collection of Afghan clothing and textiles owes much to May and Rolando Schinasi, who donated to the TRC many items that they collected in Afghanistan from the 1950s to the 1970s. Another collector who donated many items to the TRC is the American ethnomusicologist, Mark Slobin, who spent long periods of time in Afghanistan between 1967 and 1972. Finally, we would like to thank Mohammad Khairzada in Kabul, and many other Afghan friends, for all their help and advice.

For more information on the exhibition, click the TRC Needles entry.

The items contained in the individual image galleries all form part of the TRC collection, unless indicated otherwise.

  • Authors: Gillian and Willem Vogelsang
  • Design: Joost Koopman
  • Publisher: TRC Leiden.
  • Year of publication: 2017

 

1. Introduction

Afghanistan developed out of a Pashtun kingdom that was founded in the middle of the eighteenth century. The Pashtuns form an ethnic group, known in India and Pakistan as the…

2. Afghan peoples

The number of people living in Afghanistan is difficult to calculate, but it is assumed to be around thirty million (2017). Traditionally, they are divided into more than fifty different…

3. Hamid Karzai's dress and Afghan unification

A good example of an attempt to create an Afghan national dress is demonstrated by the former Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Himself a Westernised Pashtun, when he accepted the position…

4. Basic forms of traditional dress

In Afghanistan there is a basic outfit for men, women and children. It consists of trousers gathered at the waist, a loose-fitting shirt or dress and some form of head…

5. Baluchi traditional dress

The Baluch live in southern Afghanistan near the borders with Iran and Pakistan. Other Baluch live in Pakistan and Iran, and along the opposite coast of the Persian Gulf (especially…

6. Hazara traditional dress

The Hazaras claim to descend from the Mongol army that occupied the lands of what is now Afghanistan in the thirteenth century. Indeed, the (Persian) language spoken by the Hazaras…

7. Nuristani traditional dress

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.…

8. Pashtun traditional dress

The Pashtun constitute an ethnic group that lives along both sides of the modern Afghanistan-Pakistan border (the still disputed so-called Durand line of 1896). The traditional man’s outfit includes trousers…

9. Tajik traditional dress

Tajik is the normal name for the non-Pashtun, non-Hazara, Persian (Dari) speaking population of the country. Many live in the main cities and in the northeast and west of the…

10. Turkmen traditional dress

The Turkmen are an ethnic group who speak a form of Western Ghuz (Oghuz) Turkic. Apart from Afghanistan, Turkmen also live in Iran, Turkmenistan and other parts of the former…

11. Uzbek traditional dress

The Uzbek are a Turkic people of Central Asian origin, and they live primarily in modern Uzbekistan, but there are large populations in northern Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. A feature…

12. Afghan embroidery

Afghanistan is surrounded by many different ethnic groups and cultures and it is not surprising therefore that the materials, designs and colours used by the Afghan people for their embroidery…

13. Burqa or chadari?

There are few garments that have become global icons and are recognized throughout the world. The Scottish kilt is one, and so are the Japanese kimono and the Native American…

14. Wedding outfits

The guests at an Afghan wedding tend to wear new clothing with traditional forms. The female guests wear all their finery and jewels. Brides traditionally wear red or green clothing,…

15. Pastime dress

The TRC holds some unique garments from Afghanistan, which were worn on special occasions, such as when playing the game of Buzkashi (literally “goat grabbing”), at the so-called Zur-Khana ('House…