properly called the "Ak Kalpak" (white Kalpak), is a hat usually made
from four panels of white felt with traditional patterns stitched into
them as decoration. It is worn by males of all ages especially in rural
Kyrgyzstan, and is a symbol of the nation. (One writer has even written
that "what the baseball cap is to the Americans, the Kalpak is to the
There are different styles of kalpak. They can
all be folded flat for storage or carrying when not being worn. In some
cases the brim may be turned up all the way around, and in some cases
there is a cut in the brim so that a two-pointed "peak" can be formed.
Plain white ones are often reserved for festivals and special
occasions. Ones intended for everyday use may have a black 'velvet'
The most common form of Kalpak is thought to
resemble the shape of Khan Tengri.
Even if it looks a little strange to western eyes,
this headgear is also a practical item of clothing keeping the head
warm in winter and protecting from the heat in the summer.
In a region where hats are an important mark of
"who you are" they mark out the wearer as specifically Kyrgyz. In the
troubled regions of the South, (for example in the Kyrgyz enclave of
Barak situated in Uzbek territory), some men wear two hats …
one, a Kalpak, they wear at home and amongst their own people, and the
other, a tupeteika (a skullcap worn by Uzbeks), they wear when they
visit Uzbek dominated areas.
The kalpak is the "holiest" of national clothing
for the Kyrgyz. It has "mysteries" that many say they can feel when
they wear it. This ancient style of hat seems to connect the man
wearing it with the history of his fathers and the destiny of his
Kyrgyz respect their kalpak. According to
- You must not kill a man with a kalpak on;
- Kalpaks should not be put on the ground;
- Kalpaks are laid next to your head at night,
never by your feet.
There are also many sayings connected with the
headgear, such as:
- "If you lose your kalpak you lose your head";
- "Don't trade your kalpak or you'll trade your
- "Wear a kalpak and you won't get sick, it is
warm in winter, cool in summer";
A kalpak and a chapan are
often given as presents at a 'toi', (or family celebration), either
from the guests to the host, or from the host to guests of honour.
There is also the "Arakchyn", which used to be
worn under the "kalpak".
In addition, there were other forms of headgear
but the kalpak has assumed the role as an essential part of the Kyrgyz
national costume. In winter men would often wear fur caps especially
when riding in the mountains and there were three traditional designs:
"kashkar tebetey", "telpek" and "tebetey".