What is It?
It’s a high cap made of felt from white sheep. The Kalpak is popular in Kyrgyzstan and only worn by men.
The story of the Kalpak started around the 13th century when people in Kyrgyzstan and other parts of Central Asia began to wear it. It's suitable for the highlands and has deep meaning in the culture of Kyrgyz. The Kalpak should be treated respectfully.
Why it's Popular
The hat became popular because it allowed the nomads to get adapted quickly to the changing weather conditions in Kyrgyzstan. The country has a highly mountainous terrain. The temperatures in the northern part are moderate whereas other areas have a continental climate.
Felt is an excellent material for cold temperatures because it has very low thermal conductivity. It retains the air inside the space of the hat. As we lose most of our body temperature through our head, the air under the felt heats up and can't escape. This is why the Kalpak keeps you warm.
Contrariwise you keep a cool head in summer, as the felt detains the hot air from entering. Almost all Kalpaks are white. This colour reflects the sunlight, so the cap doesn’t heat up fast. Commonly it’s called ‚Ak Kalpak‘, which means white (ak) felt hat (kalpak). Felt also absorbs moisture and makes it comfortable on sweaty days.
Nomads are constantly moving, so they only own a few things. The Kalpak supports their minimalistic lifestyle because it’s the perfect cap for all type of weather.
The cap is even more practical: It has a short visor which can be bent up or down, as extra protection from the sun. Kyrgyzstan is a country in the highlands. The shafts of sunlight are incredibly intense, and especially herders are exposed all day long.
The traditional Kalpak comes in more than 80 different forms. The cap on the left is the most popular one:
In the past, four shapes were cut out of felt and sewed together. This technique generates two distinctive lines which symbolise the sun. The four sides can also stand for the four elements water, air, fire and earth.
The tassel on the top of the hat is derived from a plant called Archa, which is a symbol of eternity.
The patterns and border lines also have a meaning. But this one can differ in interpretation: The colour of the border can indicate the age or the family status from the owner. A green border, for example, was supposed to be worn by boys under the age of 12. Today these rules are ignored. Most caps are decorated with national ornaments, each of them with other meanings.
Today, a lot of Kalpaks are produced with a more straightforward technique, like the cap in the title image. This form is worn by Aksakal (senior men) and also popular in Kazakhstan.
The Kalpak Today
The Kalpak is seen as a national attribute. Kyrgyz wear it for special occasions like weddings or funerals. But you can still see people wearing the hat in everyday life, especially in the highlands. Kyrgyz celebrate the Kalpak Day every 5th of March. It's a big festival with a lot of dancing.
I want to thank Kanat for sharing his knowledge of culture and traditions about the Kalpak. https://www.facebook.com/nomadtar
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