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Dresses of Vainakh Women (Late 19th Early 20th Centuries)

Submitted by on Wednesday, 14 October 2009.    8,308 views One Comment
Dresses of Vainakh Women (Late 19th Early 20th Centuries)

The monograph by historian Dr. Lechi Garsaev, is the first work devoted to Vainakh women’s clothes. It is based on real dresses, which are being compared with those worn by people of neighbouring regions.

The scientific value of the book is that its content and conclusion can be used in reading lectures for special courses at the higher educational establishments, studying history and ethnography of Vainakhs, restoring ancient handicraft that has ceased to exist in Chechnya and making displays for museums to attract people’s attention to the elements of traditional culture use them in daily life.

We start to present the summary of the book on our site:

Ceremonial Wear

Bridal Dress – The traditional Vainakh bridal dress consisted of several sets of robes, underwear, chokha, arkhaluk, kerchiefs and footwear. Those components of clothing were sewed of silk (atlas and shantung) , sateen, cotton print and woolen cloth, while footwear was made of red or white leather. The primary elements of women’s wear were chokha and arkhaluk.

The cut of bridal chokha and arkhaluk was traditional, however, in the process of sewing they acquired a decorative outlook, decorated  with special ornaments  and embroidered.  Bridal wear included additionally a sash of gilt silver, earrings, beads, rings, bracelets and several kinds of head kerchiefs of various sizes. Except for underwear, some elements of bridal wear were customarily made of silk. A bride would first put on an ankle-length gown (koch) over her underwear. The color of the gown always matched her chokha, so that the bride wouldn’t look too garish. The dress sleeves reached her wrists tapering off from the shoulder. Over the dress she would put on a cloth bib with 16 pairs of silver buckles. The bib itself was made of silk. Next to put on was the chokha which was different from daily and holiday wear. The two middle back tails were longer and almost swept the ground, while the front tail was shorter for easy movement.

Some chokhas had their front side hems decorated with precious while fur. Such chokhas were not embroidered, since a silk chokha with this welting were quite valuable with the Vainakhs and few brides ever got to wear them. Also good was an embroidered chokha decorated with laces. It was worn by most brides. One peculiar feature of a Vainakh bride was three meters off chiffon rolled around the bride’s head.

On the wedding day, after the bride was led out of her native home, a large paper wrap was pulled over her silk head kerchief. This was a special wrap to ward her off from evil eye and to cover her from flour she would be sprayed with. In keeping with the Vainakh tradition, when a bride is led from the courtyard of her parents’ home, her relatives and neighbors were supposed to pour a handful of flour on her head in congratulation. They would say: “Be happy, don’t live poor and have plenty of flour, stay healthy and procreate in your new family”.

A Vainakh bride would cover her face with  a silk kerchief up to her chin. Previously this custom was observed quite strictly. Even in her spouse’s house, the bride would not uncover her face to her father-in-law for almost a year. This was a show of respect for him and for other elder relatives.

The bride would remove her wedding dress the very next day but she would wear its components for the time being. For example, she would wear her underwear,  gown  footwear and head scarf. Those who would join a wealthy new family, would preserve the wedding dress with all its elements for their children and some would donate it to an unmarried sister of the husband.

At the engagement, the groom’s parents would send an agreed sum of money to the bride’s parents as the bride-price. Out of this money, the bride’s parents would additionally buy wedding, home and holiday wear, dowry articles and gifts for their matchmakers. They included expensive cloth rolls, gowns, bathrobes head scarves, socks, handkerchiefs etc. Remarkably, neither Chechens nor Ingushis would use the bride-price money to buy gold or silver decorations. These items for the bride would be acquired from her childhood.

On the wedding day a chest or a large trunk stuffed with bridal wear and gifts for the groom’s parents would be brought into the groom’s house along with various house utensils. The mother-in-law would receive dress cloth and a carpet, sisters-in-law would get dress cloth, neighbors could expect shirts, cloth, socks and handkerchiefs, etc. Traditionally, sisters-in-law were entitled to have one item each from the bride’s most valuable gifts. The bride would distribute other gifts at her will among the rest of the relatives, except for the mother-in-law who was entitled to a bed-set (a mattress, pillow, blanket and bed linen). On the wedding day all other members of the groom’s family would present the bride with gifts.

In case of divorce on account of the man, the wife would be entitled to her clothing and to the part of furniture that was bought with the bride-price money. If the family broke up on the woman’s initiative, all her belongings would stay in the family of her former husband. A divorced woman would return to her parents without any property. If a woman was to be married without a wedding ceremony, in that case her dress would be a simple chokha with simple attachments.

Prerequisites for Making Vainakh Women’s Wear

According to available data, in the 19th – early 20th centuries, Vainakhs used extensively home-made woolen fabrics (masha) and skins of domestic and wild animals, particularly so before mass-produced clothing became available in the plains and mountainous areas of the Central Caucasus. Like with other peoples in the mountainous Caucasus, wool processing and clothes-making for family members played a highly important role in their economic activity.

Crude home-made production of woolen clothing developed more intensively in the mountains than on the plains. And it was almost exclusively women who were traditionally engaged in this production from as early as 7 or 8 years old. Wool was usually cleaned up and washed by daughters-in-law with their sisters-in-law in assistance. Elder women (nana) were mostly occupied with subsequent processes.

Vainakhs cleaned up, washed and processed wool in any season, while free from house-hold and agricultural occupation. Vainakh women washed wool in river water at any time of the year, except that sunny weather was required. Almost every household kept a wooden board  and two matching sticks, which were used to wash wool. Married women were engaged in home-made production individually but in case of need when, for example, there was too much wool to process, they resorted to collective labor. This form of cooperation was known as ‘belkhi’, which means to assist. When setting up such temporary collectives, Vainakhs primarily called upon their relatives and then to neighbors.

Wool processing with such assistance involved girls and young women, always supervised by elder women, as well as boys who themselves did not take part in work but rather entertained those working. They came on their own volition as soon as they learned that somewhere ‘belkhi’ (joint work) would take place in wool combing. In keeping with Chechen and Ingushi traditions, a young man was supposed to be always present where his bride to be was to show up, follow her to another village inviting his comrades. A similar custom existed with neighboring Kumyks. During such cooperative efforts, women could select a bride for their sons and brothers.

Vainakhs had various names for such cooperation in the process of making woolen capes, raw felt, hats and fine felt depending on the kind of work being done: ‘verta datosh bolu belkhi’ — cape rolling; ‘verta dyullush boly belkhi’ — cape packing; ‘istang dyullush bolu belkhi’ — raw felt pressing, and so forth.

The same mode of weaving was used in the three regions where Vainakhs resided. The woolen threads thus produced were either fine or coarse. The fine thread was used to make woolen fabrics for garments, while the coarse thread went into the making of household items, such as cases, sacks, over-saddle double-bags (khurdjin) and socks.

Prior to the Caucasus War linen fabric (vieta/giyeta) was also made in Chechnya and Ingushetia. All other fabrics were imported and purchased from Armenian, Persian, Russian, Kumyk and later from local merchants.

The choice of wool color and dyes depended on the economic status and age of the maker woman, but light-gray color were mostly in demand in the mountainous regions. Previously, white threads were mixed with black or light gray colors and the combination blended well with any other colors. Chechens and Ingushis used hazel-nut leaves, laurels, wild apple tree, oak-tree bark, alder and walnut for dyes. The best dyes came from madder grass roots which abounded in profusion along the Terek River banks in Bragunski region. These materials yielded black, yellow and brown colors. Vainakhs in most cases dyed woolen fabrics in black, dark gray and most frequently in blue colors, using natural dyes. Only rarely did they use artificial dyes. Dyed materials were hung for drying on a rope from end to end. The fabric was weighted down by a load in order to straighten and stretch it. Before the fabric was dyed, it had to undergo an intricate treatment process. Hooks of coarse twine were attached at both ends of the cloth, so that the ends stayed even. The whole piece was soaked in water-sodden ashes and left for three days. Then it was rolled and dried.

Briefly on leather treatment intended for clothes-making. There were three ways of its treatment: oats and salt, pure salt or salt and flour. Sheep-skin was to be treated immediately after cattle slaughter. Excess lard was to be removed after skinning, the meat carved out and the inside to be rubbed with the mixtures mentioned above. The skins were left in this condition for two weeks and afterward taken into the open air and unfolded for drying in the shade. Two days later further processing took place. Sheep-skin treatment and that of leather in general had long reached a high craftsmanship in Chechnya and Ingushetia.

Materials for outer wear were made of goat, calf and horse skins, while footwear was made of bull, cow and buffalo skins. Sheep-skin was largely used for light warm footwear, and felt was used to make footwear for home use, sawn by elder women.

Footwear for both Vainakh men and women was made of leather. Most craftsmen specializing in footwear making lived in Galanchojski, Shatoi, Itum-Kali, Nozhai-Yurt mountainous areas.

Cutting and Sawing Methods

Cutting and sawing were largely women’s lot with the Vainakhs, but there were certain items of clothing which required the work of a man’s hand.  Such items included sheep-skin coats (ketar), mountaineers’ footwear (khulchi), a man’s fur hat made of Bukhar lamb-skin (khoalkhazan kuy).

Vainakh women engaged in sawing, despite all their household work, found time for teaching young girls the basics of handicraft. This was one of the more important activities of the household mistress. It was important that a Vainakh girl by bridal time should be prepared to saw clothing for herself and her family in law. An average family had 10-15 members and sometimes more than that. Since each family member required outer and underclothing, one can imagine how much labor clothes making required to meet their needs.  In large families elder women always supervised the work of all others. But well-off families occasionally ordered clothing from an experienced seamstress. Cutting and sawing were the elements known to almost each woman, but it took special experience for making ‘chokhu’ and arkhaluk’. Each village always had a few women residents, who specialized in making these two items and boasted of a wide clientele.

Clothes cutting was made without any special molds. An experienced seamstress could immediately determine how much material was required. Each seamstress at cutting always blessed her client. For a middle-aged woman she wished goodness to her whole family. But if a dress was to be made for an unmarried girl, she would wish her a good groom and many children. A widow would get her wishes for a new family and a happy life in it.

It is notable that up until the last quarter of the 19th century, Vainakhs even those in the plains, thought it reprehensible to accept money for clothes making. Instead, the customer would help the seamstress in the field or with house chores for as many days as she was occupied with the sawing of clothes for her.

At the moment of cutting, Vainakhs were forbidden from entering or leaving the premises where this was taking place. It was believed that otherwise the clothing material would be wasted. All sawing was done by hand and the word sawing translated into Vainakh languages as ‘toyguna’ (Chechen), tegash yolu khlam (Ingush), ‘tiyegar’ (Kistinz). Woolen, cotton and silk threads were used for sawing. Vainakhs first introduced sawing machines in the last quarter of the 19th century and with the laying of the railway line to Baku, sawing machines spread all over the place.

At cutting a shirt, seamstresses folded the cloth in two along its length. A round neckband (‘kach’ – Ingush, Kistinz) was made to fit the owner’s head, and slits were made alongside for wedge-like insertions (‘khatash’), then followed loose and long sleeves (‘pkhiosh’ – Ingush, ‘pkhyuash’ -Kistinz) and insets for armpits (‘ulkh/kishlik’) were added. The cloth thus cut left almost no scraps or shreds. Undergarments were also made without refuse. In those cases when the cloth was wide, the seamstress would fold it in double, cut it from ankle or knee to seat and sawed in insertions in the middle in the form of a triangle of double cloth – ‘aila’.  In cutting all other elements, the cutter would strive to slice the cloth without scraps and whatever was left out was used in making other clothing items.

It is likewise noteworthy that Chechen and Ingushi women were excellent makers of decorative wall felts and felt saddle padding. At sawing and embroidering clothing items for a bride, relatives helped each other. One of them would embroider a hat, another – a sheep-skin cape (‘chokha’), another – footwear and still another head kerchief and so forth. In our days, an embroidered hat is an obligatory garment component for an Ingushi bride. Notably, a Chechen bride was not supposed to wear a hat as an item of clothing. It may suggest that Chechens never had such a hat, or the custom was completely forgotten, while Ingushi women have retained it. Most Chechen and Ingushi women along with female occupations, did fairly well in some male trades. If neighboring mountainous peoples had only men sawing leather garments and footwear, elder women could do it successfully in Chechnya.

From the above said it follows that in Chechnya and Ingushetia of the 19th – 20th centuries, home-made woolen fabrics and cattle skins were used for making clothing, footwear and head gear. Subsequently with the emergence of factory production previous items of clothing were supplemented by new elements, which helped transform the traditional styles of clothing. Migration of the population from the mountains onto the plains and the proximity of urban trade, ushered in changes in its life-styles, cutting and sawing methods of clothes making.

Dresses of Vainakh women

The costume of Vainakh women includes the following items: petticoat – Chura koch, underwear – kxecha, gown – tluepa koch, bib – silga (Chechen), Kachmat (Ingus), pinafore – Khalkha ullurg (Che), tlolg (Ing), chokha-glabali (Che), Chokkxi (Ing), arkhaluk – Glovatal, uncovered sheep skin coat – kkhakkhan ketar, woollen shawl – kortali, fur-lined sleeveless jacket – sadyokhdiirug (Che), belkhkhiolurg (Ing), skirt – yukhatsiolurg, belt – dokhka (Che), tlekhkar (Ing), mluekhku (Kist), socks – pazatash, shoes – kogayukhurg and jewellery – tuidargash (Che), dato (Ing),tuidargash (Kist).

Vainakh women started to wear silk petticoats between the 14th and 16th centuries when a part of the population became rich. Women of rich families could buy expensive cloths brought by traders from other countries and at the time these women adopted a taste for wearing them.

It’s worth mentioning that Vainakh women made clothes very carefully for their children. The pattern of clothes for small and large children was the same and it suffered no changes with their growth. Elders’ clothes were often old clothes altered for the sizes of children. Children started to wear chokhu and arkhaluk from the ages between 10 and 12. Children up to 5 years wore breeches with holes in the crotch gusset in order not to untie the wide rough girdle – barch – when they needed to go the lavatory. Elders made at least one of these above mentioned clothes for their children at the end of Ramadan. Families marked the Holiday wearing new clothes after taking baths. Children’s head wear was a piece of woolen cloth but when textiles were started to be manufactured this was replaced by a shawl from cotton or a rectangular coarse calico. Girls at the ages between 12 and 14 were considered marriageable girls and wore jewellery, earrings, beads and rings and made clothes from new materials.

Women’s clothes clearly marked their social status. Women in the mountainous areas, where people were engaged in stock- breeding wore simple clothes or clothes from homemade woollen materials. Poor people did not replace clothes until they were worn out. People in the low lands of Chechnya, the former wheat growing region in the East Caucasus and national bourgeoisies in Grozny were quite rich. Women of rich families had several costumes for various occasions, expensive shawls, much jewellery and shoes.

Petticoat and breeches – chura koch-khecha – were the elements of underwear of Vainakh women. The tunic like petticoat of Vainakh women – churpa koch – is a pleated wide cloth stretching to the ankle and thrown over the shoulders. It had straight long sleeves and a round collar opening on the chest. The collar was a buttoned up one – nuida (Che), chopilg (Ing) – The button was replaced by a drop like wicker button from cord or a metallic buckle. The second layer of cloth was sewn on the chest to strengthen the petticoat. Flanks – khat – and gussets – kleda (Che) and Kishlig (Ing) were stitched to widen it. The petticoat was sewn with a tucked up hem. Women wore this and underwear at home and at work in the field. In the beginning of the 19th century the length of the petticoat was shortened to the knees and sleeves to the elbows. By the 20th century all women in the society got the opportunity of wearing another petticoat over it.

The second element of the underwear was breeches – khecha – with wide steps, which were fastened by being strung up. Women in neighbouring Dagestan, Avars and Dargins also wore these breeches.

The breeches are also known as sharbal. The word shalbar is Iranian but wide trousers are known in Turkish as shalvar. Most likely, the word shrovar or wide trousers appeared in the Russian language from these words. The pattern of this garment in Chechnya is identically the same as that which was used by the other highlanders in the Caucasus. But there is a peculiarity in it. A triangular pleated gusset – aila – was stitched between the breeches. This type of breeches is also known as – aila tesina khecha.  This element was the most widely spread among highlanders. It was essential during the work or when traveling.

The next element is the bib which was later described as a brassier. It was a strip of woollen or cotton cloth, which was tied to hide the breasts since it was considered indecent to show them. Shoulder straps were sewn to the 25 cm wide strip which was buttoned on the left side.

Vainakh women also wore an outer garment, a gown or frock over the petticoat. It was longer than the underwear and reached down to the ankles. Vainakh women could stay at home or work in this garment. The cut of the outer garment was the same as that of the petticoat but it was longer and widened from the arm-pit and widely falling on the wrists. The garment had a round collar and 10-cm-long slit-pocket which was a buttoned up one. The gown was sewn from silk, cotton or satin. The colour of the cloth could be red, reddish-white, yellow or brown. Poor women did not choose the colour. They made the garment from cloth the price of which was acceptable. Wedding garments or other clothes for holidays were sewn in light colours.

Another type of gown-petticoat started to spread among Vainakh women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and is known as cut coquette over the breast – lakkhe khadiina koch.

In the late 19th century these two types of gown-petticoat were replaced by another dress. A sleeveless padded jacket appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and Vainakhs named it as saduokhdiirig. It was popular until the forties and even in the fifties.

Chechen and Ingush women wore underwear – yupka – under the petticoat. The word itself suggests that this garment appeared not earlier than the beginning of the 20th century. This garment is an adapted wide skirt with a stitched belt having a width of about 2 cm. It was accompanied by a jacket or short warm overcoat – belikhiolurg. It was very difficult to cut out the jacket and not all women could sew it. A jacket with lining covering the hip, and it was buttoned in the front using silver or copper buttons. It had long narrow straight sleeves reaching to the ankles. Collar and cuffs were fur lined – khasa or klinzh. Some jackets were embroidered in coloured silk thread.

The next element of the garments of Vainakh women was the chokha or chokha-glabali in Chechnya. Women wore chokha from the age of 12 years. It was made in different styles. One chokha had a gathered waist and was worn by slim girls of ages between 12 and 16. The second was 5-5 fat. Unmarried girls and married women wore this. The upper part of chokha that reached almost to the ground was lined. Rich women sewed chokha from velvet, brocade and cloth. However, many people made chokha from satin and coloured woollen cloth. Old women did not wear this garment. They wore a straightly cut gown-petticoat or gown with coquette at home or when they went out. Old women wear these clothes even today. According to the tradition of Vainakh women, they usually saved a costume for special holidays. They could wear any garment at home and no one cared about if the body is fully covered. Vainakh women had no tradition of making special clothes to wear at home and working costumes. They wore an element of an elegant dress later in their day to day life.

Arkhaluk – glovtal – was considered to be the dress that Vainakh women wore during the autumn and winter. According to Ingushs, it is a dress for older women but married women or unmarried young women can also wear the costume with pleasure. Unmarried women made arkhaluk from coloured silk cloth – dari – cloth – iskhr or lasting – lasting. Women used green, blue or brown cloth as a lining.

Glovtal was filled with a thin layer of cotton, which was quilted. It was a little shorter than the chokha. More over, it was fitted at the waist. Its cut is quite different from that of the chokha. Glovtal is similar to the men’s arkhaluk except for minor differences.

Vainakh women wore long and wide dresses, chokha and arkhaluk with a belt. It is known that women who lived in Nozhai Yurt, Vedeno, Urus-Martan and Shali districts wore wide petticoats with a 10 cm-belt around the waist. Even to the present day old people living in mountainous districts wear a similar belt.

Hair Styles and Headgear

In order to get a general idea of Chechen and Ingush women’s garments, one needs to delve into the rules and customs linked with hair styles and some elements of Vainakh’s headgear.

The Vainakhs in general perceived female beauty in the length of her braids. And their women used every conceivable methods and means to grow long and thick hair. Children until the age of 7 or 8i had their hair shaved off clean so that the hair would grow thick.

Vainakh women usually parted their hair in two (chiop dekyar) and braided their into several tresses which they threw back. As they advanced in age, women began wearing only two braids. And young girls, who had long and thick hair (biazh), did not bother to braid their hair at all, and just made a hair tie at the roots wearing it loose on the back.

In Chechnya they have a saying: “Yol yanniye yatz, amma tzuyanan biyezhiye khyeravaykkhina so” ( This girl is nothing special, but her hair drives me crazy).

Long hair is regarded as part of a woman’s beauty in Ingushetia, too, where young women wore their hair behind back, without tying it in braids, while older women parted their hair in two (mesash) and tied it up with a piece of cloth and a thread, so it didn’t get greasy and stayed in place. The lost dead hair (choish) was usually not discarded and kept throughout life time and put into a grave with the deceased person. Lately the lost hair was burned, particularly by those parents who lost a son.

Vainakh women usually did not make a single tress. Such hair style was prohibited to women who had a father or a brother. It was commonly believed that a single tress spelled a life as a single woman. In such cases, the Allah would not give her a fiancé and leave to serve her relatives at home. A similar custom was also observed in Dagestan.

Chechen and Ingush women could frequently change their natural hair color, but it was considered shameful to cut their hair. An aged woman, as was earlier noted, parted her hair in two and attached multi-colored threaded  beads to the hair ends. Women with thick and long braids along with the beads attached an amulet or a charm against an evil eye.

Young Chechen and Ingush girls and brides (and partly married women) wore tall hairdos. And those who didn’t have their own thick hair, padded their hair artificially so that the hairdo would look tall.

Apart from hair styles, Chechen women paid a great attention to their headgear. Thus, for example, women from wealthy Vainakh families wore white or colored kerchiefs – kur-hars.  Headgear was not known as just a useful means to protect one’s head. It was also a symbol of social standing, a woman’s sacred purity and in crisis moments all other members in society would kneel before her in humility.

One of the elements of an Ingush bride’s attire was her traditional cap – kiy. This headgear was adopted from the Ingushis by many other peoples in the Northern Caucasus. Kiy caps were sown with yellow, red, blue, green velvet and silk. Their passementeries, laces and multi-colored silk welts and edgings denoting national ornaments were all a matter of pride. Young girls could wear such caps even before marriage.

A large shawl or scarf was one other indelible part of women’s wear. Married women usually tied a black kerchief underneath  the scarf. Its ends were passed underneath the hair tied in braids or a knot and tied at the crown of head. Chechen women would use as head gear long black fabric in the form of tight sacks (chukhta), instead of the kerchief, which covered her braid. The upper part of the chukhta was not sown up and stayed in place with the help of ties. The lower end of the chukhta, which fell on the back was frequently decorated with laces ( chechekh) or coins. After the adoption of Islam, all Vainakh women from the age of 15 were made to wear the chukhta. In mountainours areas of Chechnya, young girls did not wear long shawls or scarves and aged women would use them as holiday wear. They would wear a small scarf tied up in a crossed manner and laid up in a triangle. Young girls would also use smaller scarves tied up behind their backs.

It is notable that Vainakh women’s headgear for wealthy women was markedly different from those of the less affluent. But there was virtually no difference in the manner of their practical use. Elder women covered their chukhtas with kyeda bolu kortali (a large shawl), or with chechakh yolu miergya  kortali or yovlakh (laced head shawl) or shera kortali (a white silk shawl), or else boy (sprawling head shawl also used as a coat.  And both young older women would put the boy over their dresses in winter time.

Head shawls have become customary with Vainakh women and were appraised not just as a piece of garment, but also as a significant symbol. But a head shawl did not always resolve issues relevant to blood feuds. If a woman threw a scarf between brawlers at a spat, would instantly freeze them in their tracks and pacify them.

The traditional head shawl was preserved among older women, while young girls would wear smaller scarves tied up behind them. These days and in the past older women would ply up their shawls in a triangular form, one end of it would wind around the neck and the other would tie it up under the chin.

Each woman would choose her shawl in the color and design to suit her tastes and in accordance with her age. Thus, older women preferred their shawls in black, blue, brown, yellow and light blue colors, while younger women would opt for white, red, yellow and light blue colors. In addition to that, younger girls would choose silk and patterned shawls and smooth laced shawls without patterns. The shawl played an important role in the wardrobe of each Vainakh woman and therefore it was one of the most valued bridal attire in the bride’s adornment.


Decorations worn by Vainakh women were distinct for their variety. In the late 19th,  early 20th centuries, Chechen and Ingush women in rich families wore rings and earrings, bracelets, chains, chest watches, which were brought from St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as from Tiflis and Baku. But Vainakh craftsmen themselves did not shun from manufacturing decorations. And Grozny was the place where they could be manufactured and acquired.  This craft also prospered in Urus-Martan, Shali, Atagi, Vedeno and other places. Gold and silver craftsmen was practiced by the Takhiyev clans in Vedeno, by the Abdulayev clan in Urus-Martan and by the Nintziyevs in Atagi. Manufacturing of various decorations (belts, chest decorations, rings and earrings) was developed by their ancestors.

Decorations differed in the manner of their wear: to be worn around the neck, over the chest, on hands or in ears. Adornments of various kinds were worn by both unmarried girls and brides to be. After marriage the number of such decorations usually diminished but some of them, depending on the age, were worn throughout women’s lives. Some of those decorations were notable for their solemnity. Each Vainakh woman cherished them dearly passing them on from generation to generation.

The late 19th, early 20th centuries saw proliferation of adornments matching traditional clothing which reflected the people’s good taste and the clothing’s attractiveness. Such adornments could be worn separately but chest and loin decorations were usually worn in a set to match each other. They were viewed as the main decorations of women’s garments which enhanced their looks.

Over-the-chest Vainakh adornments in previous years were attached to the chest over the outfit called ‘chokhi or arkhaluka, which were tied up from top to bottom by silver buckles.

Some decorations carried their own significance, such as ‘kamal’ which was a silver-embroidered sash, occasionally worked in gold or gilded. Chokha or arkhaluk were not supposed to be worn with a belt alone. They had to be matched with over-the-chest adornments which enhanced the quality of clothing.

The Ingushis called their chest decorations ‘dato’, while the Chechens called them ‘myudargash’ which stands for loop. They presented sometimes 16 or 12 pairs of gilded silver clasps attached along the width of 8 centimeters or 12 centimeters in length running from the neck to the waist line made of velvet or woolen cloth sown on chokhi from both sides of the chest. At the waist the garment was clasped by 4-5 paired buckles – ‘chiarpaz’. Later on the wear custom for this adornment was modified and shifted it underneath the chokkha over the chest and over the dress. It looked good on the chokha’s cutout at the neckline.

In the early 20th century clasps or their imitations were made in various forms, depending on the neckline cutout form on the dress with a breast cover worn underneath. The latter fashion was prevalent primarily in Ossetia, Chechnya and Ingushetia.

In the late 19th, early 20th centuries Vainakh women widely used various waist sashes. They were recognized as the secondary chief adornment of a woman’s dress. The Georgia sash embroidered in golden colors contained a red gemstone embedded in the middle. There is also a Caucasian embroidered sash. This waist band is an embroidered sash measuring three fingers thick with an under-layer attached to it made of a strip of woolen cloth. The sash cut to fit contains five silver buckles adorned with red and blue stones. This sash is believed to be truly Vainakh. The second kind of sash is made in the form of a laced chain. It front buckles depict a bull’s head and its clasps carry a child’s image. This is supposed to depict an angel (malik), a woman’s companion safeguarding her. The Chechens themselves call this waistband ‘Cherkess’.

Adornments made of metal, gold and silver, such as earrings, rings, bracelets, beads, necklaces of coins and temple pendants, have traditionally played a big role in Chechen women’s dresses.

They used to wear their earrings – chiug – in pairs to each each simultaneously. Large flat earrings – khalkhanash – were additionally strung with a thin chain, hanging underneath the chin. Bracelets were wide and massive adorned with turquoise or emeralds and sometimes devoid of any gems at all. Neck adornments included coral or crystal beads, silver and gold chains of varying colors and sizes. Vainakh women also treasured earrings and little girls had their ears pierced as early as 4 or 5 years and were given to wear intricate and sophisticated earrings. Girls from wealthy families usually wore gold and silver earrings.

Unmarried women wore decorations of all types – over the neck, on the chest, at the waistline, on the hands, on the ears and at the wrist. After marriage they removed their over-the-chest adornments – tiydargash – removed them from the waist – doykha – and the bracelet from the wrist – khioz . A bride would put on those adornments at marriage but she was also supposed to wear an additional brooch and more than one ring on her hand. Becoming a wife, the woman removed those decorations and preserved them carefully for her future children.

Vainakh women and children used to wear an amulet – khiaykal – to keep them protected against an evil spirit. This was a piece of paper with a verse quotation from the Koran. The paper was folded in a triangle and sown into a leather covering. This good-luck piece was worn around the neck.

Thus, it might be stated with certitude that from ancient times Vainakh women treasured and cultivated decorations. They wore them with everyday clothing, as well as garments meant for festive and solemn occasions. This tradition has been preserved to our days. The number of such adornments diminished but more developed and evolved forms of them emerged. Vainakh women’s decorations were both locally made and brought over from neighboring and distant areas which had long maintained good-neighborly relations with them.

Children’s Wear

In the period under review, as well as in our days, the Vainakh family was and is traditionally numerous. It was not customary to acquire children’s wear before the child was born. After a child’s birth it was the responsibility of the mother-in-law to  take care of the child’s wear and its cradle. If there was no mother-in-law, then this responsibility went to the elder woman in a man’s family.

The birth of a child always brought a great joy to each family, particularly if a boy was born.  It was the privilege of the elders in each family to give a name to a newborn child. Customarily, a newborn boy was given the name of a young man in a family who had passed away untimely. If it wasn’t the case, he was given the name of an ancestor. A name for a girl was chosen by the grandmother from her family at her discretion.

It was a custom that a mother with many children who were all alive, was invited to put the baby into the cradle for the first time. To keep a child from the evil eye, it had a black bead put over its wrist. And one over the cradle they would hang a black bead and a bear’s or a wolf’s claw or a tooth.

After carrying out this ritual, the invited woman was given a good treat and generously gifted.

If a boy was born, his first shirt would be made out of his father’s shirt. If that was a girl, her mother’s shirt was used. This tradition originates from the desire to have the child grow up like his or her parents, to live a happy life and to wear out both the old and new shirts until late in life. This shirt would reach up to the child’s knees. The shirt would be folded with the back of it to the waist, when putting the child into a cradle, and the front of it would be lowered to the knees.

The shirt would be made in the same fashion as the parents’, but the seams would be sewed on the outside so as not to injure the baby’s delicate body. The shirt usually had a round form about the neck and had long sleeves. When taken out of the cradle, the baby was wrapped in a cloth blanket. After 2 or 3 months, warm clothing of the jacket type was put on it, reaching to the waistline. A small kerchief – yovlakh –  folded in a triangular form was put on its head, lowering it to the forehead and secured on the head with a piece of cloth two  fingers wide, called tuhch. The child’s feet were covered with short woolen socks. Such clothing was designed for infants from 5 to 6 months. After the child begins walking, his or her clothing added pants reaching to the ankle and narrowing below the knees called khecha. They were sewed from the waistline to the pant seats, while the pants’ front remained open at the crotch. The child would wear these half-sewed pants until the age of 4 or 5 and occasionally until 6 years old. It needn’t be changed when the child wetted himself. Boys would have their pants sewed from dark cloth, while girls would have them of any color.

From the age of 5 to 6 Chechen children would wear regular pants. It is notable that the cut and the designation of children’s wear elements are the same as for adults. A 5-6 year-old child would wear warm clothing made of sheep’s skin, sewed from fabrics or woven and reaching to the knee. Pants were usually tucked into socks and children’s feet were covered by ‘nejarmachash’ or ‘malash’ and the head would be covered with a kerchief folded in a triangular form, with the loose ends wound around the chin and tied at the back.

Vainakhh families never wove for their 5-6 year-old children ‘chokhu’ or ‘arkhaluk’ as at this age such clothing was uncharacteristic. It was believed that a child should be inspired for growth, good health, appreciation for work so that by the age of 12 or 14, they should have both the ‘chokha’ and ‘archluk’ and by the age of 15-16 they get decorations on the chest made of gold or silver.

The next element of children’s wear, as was noted above, would be the pants, called ‘khecha’. This element was different from the pants that were worn before the age of 5 to 6. Between the trouser leg cut to size, a triangular  patch was inserted made of different cloth. If the width of the cloth permitted it, the patch was neglected and the trouser leg from the crotch to the ankle was gradually narrowed, leaving the crotch part of the pants loose and the trouser leg was sewed from top to bottom. At the waist, the pants were tied with a waistband. Girls would wear clothing akin to the ‘arkhaluk’ over their shirts, but it was somewhat different from the real thing. It was cut at the waist and at the front and was completely flung open, shorter than their shirts, padded with cotton with the sleeves cut straight. The top of this clothing was made of satin or wool but cheaper fabric was used for the padding. This clothing was worn in chilly weather, its front and bottom were embroidered with lace.

Children in the most part of Chechnya and Ingushetia usually made do with the clothing remade from adults’ clothes or from elder brothers’ and sisters’. From the age of 13 to 14 children would don ‘chokha’ made to the usual adult cut. At this age they were already considered to be part of the circle of girls of age and were required to comply with all the Vainakh customs in clothes wear. The clothing of 7 to 12 year old children was usually devoid of decoration. Their mothers did not particularly care about the attractiveness of their children’s wear. And all their attention seemed focused on to the clothing for girls to be shortly wed, and a great deal of time was devoted to the wedding clothes’ embroidery and decoration.

Winter wear, usually  sheep’s skin coats – ‘khakhan ketar’- were sewed for children beginning from the age of 3 or 4. Such coats were sewed for all ages, almost to the same cut, but there were some nuances. Such clothing was needed for winter wear. It was made of sheep’s skin, but for young3er children lamb’s skin was used because it was fine and had tender softer wool. The same skin was used to warm up the feet of new-born babies.

Children from an early age would wear woolen home-made socks. It was observed in Shatoi and Vedeno regions that socks were made with the help of spikes. Socks for both sexes reached to the knee. “Nejarmachashes’ were used for footwear. In the summer time children would usually go about barefoot.

It is notable that Vainakhs, at least 2 or 3 times during adolescence, would shave off their girls’ hair completely so that their hair grows thick. Many methods were used to help girls’ hair grow thick. From young age, girls were shown how to comb their hair. If  there were girls of different ages in a family, they would help each other. Girls would comb their hair in 2-3-4-6 braids, the ends of which were tied together with a piece of thread completed with a charmed bead or an animal’s tooth.

Girls from the age of 3 to 12 would use for décor beads or earrings made of glass or coral, and girls from the age of 3 had their ears pierced and initially, until the age of 4 or 5, a simple thread was strung through their earlobes. Later on they would use simple earrings or beads, although there were rich families that could afford to have expensive decorations for their children.

From the above said it may be concluded that Vainakhs in general did not pay much attention to their children’s wear. Up to the age of 12, children would wear various clothing, testifying to the proprietary division of Vainakh society. There were families in which children would have only a single home-made woolen shirt, which in winter time would be supplemented by a sheep’s skin coat worn over the shirt. The cut of children’s clothing was in many ways similar to the cut of adult clothing. At sewing, however, there were many elements of adult clothing missing. The designation of clothing, head wear and foot wear, both for children and adults, was similar, except that the number of elements for adults, was more numerous.

One Comment »

  • Reynardine said:

    A charming and informative article, but needs greater clarity in exposition and some cleaning up in grammar and syntax.

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