What did people wear in Central Asia?
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Central Asian Clothing

Tocharian plaid
Plaid wool fabric from about 1000 BC, western China

Central Asia is pretty far north, so it's pretty cold there. Clothes were really important to keep you from freezing to death. A lot of clothing inventions got started in Central Asia. The world's oldest bone and ivory needles (if they really are needles) come from Kostenki (modern Russia) from about 40,000 BC, so probably Central Asian people invented sewing.

But also, a lot of different groups of people lived in Central Asia. These groups of people moved around a lot, finding pasture and water for their cattle and camels. So people used clothing to be able to tell quickly what group a person belonged to, and if he or she was an enemy or a friend.

Scythian
Scythian man riding a horse

By around 3000 BC, Indo-European herders living in Central Asia were weaving sheep's wool into plaid cloaks and skirts. Different color and width in the stripes of the plaid allowed people to tell what group you belonged to. Probably these people also used hemp cloth. By the 400s BC, people in Central Asia were also making and wearing wool felt, which helped them to stay warm and dry in cold weather.

Scythian
A Scythian man
(Behistun frieze, about 490 BC)

Around 500 BC, Scythian people living in Central Asia wore robes belted at the waist, like this man riding a horse. Sometimes the robes were long and sometimes they were short. According to Herodotus, Scythians made cloth by spinning hemp. To show what group they belonged to, some Scythian men wore tall pointy hats. Scythian men wore long hair and beards, too.

Scythian pants
Men wearing pants, from a Scythian comb (Hermitage Museum, Russia)

Underneath their robes, Scythian men wore pants made of woven hemp or leather. Central Asian people invented pants, because they were useful for men and women who spent a lot of time riding horses. When the Medes and Persians moved from Central Asia down into Iran in West Asia, they brought their pants with them.

Mongol Clothing
Russian Clothing

Bibliography and further reading:

Mongol Clothing
Russian clothing
West Asian clothing
Chinese clothing
Indian clothing


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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