Perhaps you’re not such a North Face fan. You are that maverick. Or maybe you only want to blend in a bit more in this snowy little village. Follow our advice. When that vegan muscle shoots into a cramp – stretch. You will look the part.
Coats and jackets
For fashionable city dwellers, the fur coat vs down jacket debate is raging, with no clear winner in sight. In the village, fur is still highly prized. Where temperatures hit Siberian lows, most people wear wolf, fox or even bear fur. Other popular coats of yesteryear are dublyonka and karakul. Dublyonka is a leather coat filled with sheep wool on the inside. Karakul, less fashionable nowadays, is made from curly lamb wool. Rabbit fur coats, cheaper and not so warm, are popular with girls in more moderate climes. They are often dyed in exuberant blue, red or even leopard hues.
In the villages, you can also still spot the fufaika, a Soviet import. It was (is?) standard issue in the army, prisons and former Stalinist concentration camps. Basically, it is an extra thick cotton jacket. Not waterproof, does not wick away sweat. Perhaps good for a few hours of hard labour, but definitely not recommended over a fur coat.
In places where it doesn’t get so cold, and showing off is the primary goal in life, mink is popular. In this case, you should always have an accompanying mink hat – the bigger, the better.
Old people in the village wear myasy with kaloshy. Myasy are thick leather socks with warm padding on the inside. You wear it inside the house. If you are going outside you simply wear your kaloshy (rubber waterproof boots) on top.
Valenki are traditional Russian felted woolen boots. They are good against snow and cold, but not waterproof when the snow is melting. Thus they are not the footwear for southern climes, they remain popular in Siberia. These are village boots; don’t make the fashion faux pas of wearing them in the city.
Most people wear leather boots with thick sheep fur inside. Those who cannot afford real ones buy fake leather boots, to their own detriment: when you sweat, the moisture stays inside and makes your feet cold. Among youngsters, Ugg boots are still the height of fashion in certain parts of Central Asia.
Hats and scarfs
Hat fashion is a special topic in Central Asia that deserves a book of its own, with all the regional differences in kalpaks, tubeteikas, doppas, etc. In winter, many people will wear the famous Russian fur hat with ear flaps. In the Altai, a traditional hat made from fox fur is the mark of a true hunter – or that of a hip teenager whose dad is connected in government. Kirei tymak is a square-shaped version, while a round one is called naiman tymak or malahai.
Turkmen custom dictates large, shaggy sheepskin hats that resemble afros. Black and grey are the most common colours,. White is for special occasions.
The village lady likes to wear a shal, a grey shawl made from goat fluff. It is usually very thick and unattractive, but believed to protect you against any cold. Women will wrap their shal around the head instead of a hat, or even wrap it around the belly or chest. Wherever they feel the evil spirit of Skvoznyak (a draft) can attack them, a shal is their defense.
Thinner, much more attractive variations of goat fluff shawls exist in different colors, to be worn as a scarf by the more fashionable, yet equally skvoznyak-fearing city-dweller.
Good thermal underwear is essential when it’s -40 outside, but no one wears the highly engineered, outdoor gear from Western brands, which is still too recent an import and associated solely with skiing. Thermal underwear for women looks like boxer shorts and is made from thick cotton. S nachesom is the word to use while shopping in the bazaar, which means “with extra layer of fluffy cotton, please”.
On top of this, most women will wear cotton or woolen leggings (gamashy) and extra socks on top. Only then come the trousers. Men wear triko underpants: cotton sweat pants. Outside of the winter, these are worn at home.
Socks and Gloves
Most people wear regular socks in several layers or thicker winter socks variations. Every winter bazaar will have old people selling colourful knitted woolen socks. They are very warm, if a little big. Makes for an excellent souvenir.
Gloves are often made of leather with a warm layer of wool or synthetic fabric on the inside. Mittens (varushki) are also still popular. The cutest are the ones hand-made from goat fluff.
The following article has been based primarily on experiences in Kazakhstan. Additional info on styles common in other cold countries like Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Mongolia etc. are very welcome.