The hats of Central Asia

The Tubeteika Suits Everybody
By Rustam Mizaev

Those of you that have/can visit our offices will have noted our 'Wall of Hats' in the entrance area. Within that 'montage' of hats are many Uzbek 'Skull Caps'. A significant part of Central Asian culture their history is detailed as follows...

Tubeteika (skull-cap) can be suitable attire for both grey hair of a sage and the braids of a bride. These hats have always enjoyed the favour of the people. Popular maxims state,

"The tubeteika does not weigh heavy upon a dzhigit (young man)"
"When there is no one to talk to, a tubeteika becomes a good company".

The tubeteika, a round slightly pointed skull-cap, beautifully decorated with embroidered or appliqué patterns, is the national head-dress throughout Central Asia.

The history of this scull-cap is rooted in the distant ages. They say that Islam, which forbade walking in the streets bare-headed, contributed to the custom of wearing this cap. The cap appeared to be rather handy: to wear it on the head one just needs to unfold it, whereas being folded the cap can be easily tucked up in the sash.

Apart from its purely utilitarian function, skull-cap has always served as decoration for ones complete attire. Skillful seamstresses sought real beauty and perfection thus elevating their handicraft to the level of cultural art.

Historically the form of a tubeteika originated from a pointed cap worn under turban. The word 'tubeteika' is derived from the Tatar word 'tubete', meaning 'top'. In Uzbekistan such a cap is called a 'duppi' or 'kalpoq'. By the 19th century as hats became more widespread diversity shape evolved:
Cone-shaped, Hemispherical and Tetrahedral, Round-shaped and Dome-shaped.
In short, the tubeteika could be of any shape dependant on local traditions and the seamstress's creativity. Richness and diversity of colours, patterns and embroidery techniques make it difficult to list al types of tubeteika decor.

Most often black satin or velvet are chosen for male caps. Female caps are made of silk, velvet and brocade. They can have a high or low border, can be trimmed with one-colour or multicoloured edging and made of other fabrics. They can be embroidered in silk, decorated with beadwork, gold and silver threads and metal patch pieces.


Diversity of shape and the texture of tubeteikas can be quite amazing. They can be further differentiated depending upon whether the user  is a man (old and young), woman or a child. This difference can seem insignificant to an outsider, but an expert can clearly see whom it is intended for and can never permit themselves to put on an 'improper' cap.

The most widespread male tubeteika's come from Chust in the Ferghana Valley They are conventional, unpretentious but still in a decorative form. A contrasting combination of four white patterns, in shape of a capsicum (called 'qalampur'), against black background is typical of tubeteikas from this region. The four flowers on the top of a tubeteika are supposed to protect a man's health from four sides, while sixteen small patterned arches, located along the edge of the cap, mean a desire to have a big and friendly family and sixteen children!!! Without such a tubeteika no man can appear in mosque, visit a wedding or funeral.

Tubeteikas vary from region to region. Historically there are six regional groups - Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Kashkadarya, Surkhandarya, and Khorezm. Each district has developed its own style, passed from generation to generation, from mother to daughter. Every woman enriches the traditional ornamental motifs with her own creative images. The art of embroidery has formed gradually - from ritual magic patterns to poetic images, distinguished by variety form and high levels of stylization.

 The work of local masters is full of symbols. The composition of many works portray images of blossom, circles, rosettes, flower heads on thin stems and shoots with leaves. Images of animals and bright plumaged birds are sometimes entwined with vegetable patterns. As a rule images of those plants which are believed to possess healing properties are depicted.

'Duppi tubeteika's are embroidered in silk, with what is known as a satin-stitch, creed-stitch (iroki), abd a special stitch named 'basma'. All are decorated with beadwork. Experienced seamstresses sew the patterns directly during the process of embroidering without prior outlining.

'Gilam-duppi' tubeteika from Shakhrisabz and 'piltaduzi' from Surkhandarya are embroidered with the creed stitch 'iroki', and are distinguishable by their picturesque multicolored patterns. Young Uzbek women often complement their modern fashions with a bright elegant scull-cap. In Tashkent the most popular male skull-caps are 'shobpush' tubeterikas, made of cotton fabric with a quilted lining.

The most unusual is the gold embroidered skull-cap from the Bukhara region. It's shape is usually round or tetrahedral, with vegetable or geometrical ornamentation and decorated with a fringe of elegant tassels. Gold embroidery makes this scull-cap look bright and festive. These skull-caps used to be an essential part of the emir's attire, as well as that of the nobility. Nowadays such a tubeteika is an important element of a wedding costume. It is curious that as late as the beginning of the 20th century gold embroidery was exclusively a man's trade, but in the later period women were involved with this craft.

 An Uzbek skull-cap is considered one of the national cultural art form, an integral part of folk costume. The art of embroidery achieved its greatest influence in the late 19th and mid 20th centuries. This is when skull-caps reached the highest point of popularity in the everyday life of Uzbek people and were manufactured everywhere.

 Uzbek skull-caps are well-known worldwide. Created by skillful craftswomen they are found displayed at many museums. The most complete collection of skull-caps can be found in Tashkent museum. whereas There is still an old saying - "a man's honour and morality lies in his skull-cap".