Afghan Clothes

As shown by today's news stories, Afghans wear every kind of clothing, including some interesting blends of western and Afghan clothes. One whole street in Kabul was lined with bazaars selling used clothing. We were told that many of the clothes that Americans donate to charity groups are shipped and sold in bulk form for resale in poor countries. One shop specialized in ladies' slips, another in shoes, another in sweaters, and another in shirts. Premium items were heavy wool coats. We once saw a U. S. army jacket sewn into an Afghan tent alongside animal hides and wool blankets. The tennis coach at the American compound, a man from India, always wore a Cub Scout cap. We didn't see it, but we heard that one year's high fashion item was the band uniforms from a university that had donated its jackets to a charity when new uniforms were purchased.

Hanalea, who worked as our bacha (dishwasher and general household helper) often wore a sweat shirt from Many Pines summer camp. We once invited an American couple, who were on a round-the-world trip, to come to dinner. They acted as if the most exciting thing they saw on their whole trip was Hanalea's Many Pines sweat shirt. Their children had gone to the Many Pines summer camp in Minnesota. Hanalea couldn't understand why they grew so excited when he carried in the dinner.

One of our surprises was how many boys, and even some men, we saw wearing striped pajamas. We assumed they had bought them at the used-clothing bazaar and just didn't know they were for sleeping. Then we discovered that Middle Easterners had both the design and the name before we did. We are the ones wearing pajamas in a way different from their origin.

Out in the rural areas where people wore traditional clothing, we occasionally saw women doing the family laundry in a river and laying the clothes out to dry on bushes. If we hadn't known better, we would have thought we had come to a land of giants. Unwrapped turbans are about nine or ten feet long, the men's big blousy pants are more than a yard wide, and their shirts are made to come to their knees or even to their ankles.

Woman in chaderi religious dressThe religious law dictated that women wear chaderis (pronounced shaw-dree) but the religious and the civil law were separate and so women could decide for themselves whether to wear the chaderi. Today the religious law and the civil law are the same and so all Afghan women must wear the chaderi. When we were there, nearly all the women in rural villages wore chaderis but in Kabul it was about half of the women. Girls under the age of twelve do not wear chaderis nor do women wear them when they are at home among their own families. As a foreigner and a non-Muslim, Alleen was not expected to wear a chaderi, but she did feel obligated to dress modestly.Former Queen of Afghanistan greets American children.

At the Jeshan celebration, when the Queen was sitting up in her royal box she wore large sunglasses and a white scarf around her hair. But when Alleen and the children from the American school met to present her with a gift she had removed the scarf and the glasses.

Women in nomad tribes did not wear chaderis, although the ones we visited for picture-taking did appear shy, and when the photographer approached they pulled scarves partially in front of their faces.

Persian lamb, or karakul, has always been an expensive and high fashion kind of fur. In Afghanistan, the most successful businessmen wore karakul caps. Less successful men wore turbans. Some were pure silk--spotless and crisp--while others fit the image expressed in the derogatory term raghead. Ragheads used the hanging part of their turbans as napkins and all-around wipe-up cloths. In the summers when it was hot, field workers would remove their turbans, dip them in water, and then put them back on as portable air conditioners. The poorest of the men wore only little caps. Some of these were crocheted while others were made of stiff cloth and embroidered.

Although we took many, many photographs, we never took a picture of a man wearing the kind of tailored wool hats with the rolled brims that we see in pictures today on members of the Taliban. That is because this kind of hat is worn by men of the Pashtun tribe, and these people did not come into the cities or deal with foreigners.