Dresses of Afghanistan in early 19th century

The earliest reliable set of illustrations of Afghans of all ranks, albeit men only, dates to the early nineteenth century and was published by a British diplomat, Mountstuart Elphinstone.

 Elphinstone describe the dress of Yousafzais as,

“The ordinary dress of the men is a cotton tunic, made to fit the body
down to the waist, and then loose and full down to below the knees; it
is either dark-blue, or dyed grey with the bark of the pomegranate tree.
They also wear a large, loose, white turban, a pair of cotton trowsers,
and a pair of sandals; but their dress is not complete without a Loongee (blanket),. which hangs over the shoulder, and reaches below
the middle, both before and behind. I t is sometimes used for a cloak,
and sometimes for a girdle. They have always a better suit of clothes
for Fridays and great occasions. The tunic is then made longer and
fuller below, and is puckered up about the waist in numerous plaits.The
rest of the holiday clothes are of coloured silk, except the turban”

A Yousafzai

The accompanying illustration in Elphinstone’s book illustrates the clothing and weaponry of a Yusufzai from the beginning of the nineteenth century. His weaponry
includes a long dagger and a curved sword, both tucked into a sash that
is wound around the waist. The dagger has a straight back. It is no
other than the famous Khyber knife. The sword has a hilt with a flat
pommel, which is Indian in style (talwâr), very different from the
(mainly Persian style) shamshir weapon carried by the (western) Durrani
Pashtuns. Across his chest there is a strap that holds a long gun, and
in his right hand he holds a lance. At his back he carries a shield.

Afghans of Daman

has following remarks about the dress of Pashtuns of Daman; (Daulat
Khels, Miya Khels, Gandapurs, Babars and Ustaranis)

“They have
less of the look of Indians than the others, though their summer dress
is nearly the same as that of India. Instead of the long wide shirt and
cap of the Afghauns, they wear a close dress of white cotton, tied
across the breast, and reaching a little below the knee; even in winter
they wear turbans, but they are extremely large and loose, while those
of the Indians are rolled close round their head, in a regular shape
that has little grace or elegance. At that season, they also wear brown
and grey woollen great coats, and posteens.”

An Afghan of Daman

Durrani shepherds 

illustration shows two elderly men, who both sport a beard and a
moustache. The man to the left has his beard dyed, perhaps with henna;
the other has a white beard. They both wear a low cap consisting,
according to the author, of a lower rim made of black silk or satin and a
crown made of gold brocade or of another, brightly coloured material.
Their feet, Elphinstone continues, were
sometimes protected by half boots of brown leather, which were laced or
buttoned up to the calf. In the illustration, one of the men goes
barefooted; the other actually seems to wear the boots described by the
Scottish diplomat.

On their body, the two Durrani shepherds are
said to wear a pair of loose trousers of dark coloured cotton, and a
large shirt, with wide sleeves and reaching down to the knees. This
garment, says the Scot, was called a Cameess. The shepherd illustrated
to the left is showing his shirt. It has the traditional side opening
that is still found on Afghan shirts, and it also shows one of the two
slits at the bottom, again characteristic for traditional Afghan

One of the shepherds in the illustration, holding a branch that is used as a walking stick, wears a large, felt cloak with a cape. Elphinstone tells that the shepherd’s
cloaks were made either of sheep skin, with the wool inside, or of soft,
grey felt. It was thrown loosely over the shoulders and it had false
sleeves hanging down the sides. The sheep skin coat described by
Elphinstone is the pustin, still worn in many parts of Afghanistan and
neighbouring Pakistan. . The cap of the Durrani shepherds remains
somewhat enigmatic; if it was, as told by Elphinstone, a single-piece
garment, rather than a skull cap with a turban wound tightly around the

Durrani villagers of standing

Elphinstone tells us that Durrani villagers of some standing, as well as urban people and well-to-do shepherds, used to wear more sophisticated garments than the simple,
‘authentic’ dress of the poor shepherds. He adds, as referred to
earlier, that it resembled the clothing of the Persians. The dress of
these more affluent Durranis, according to the ambassador, was
very decorous and included an under shirt16, which was covered by a
close fitting under tunic, called the ulkhaulik. The latter garment, he
continues, had skirts reaching to below the middle of the calf, and
crossing in front of the chest. This tunic, he says, was mostly made of
chintz, and preferably that from Masulipatam, which was imported via
Persia. It was fastened to the body with strings. During the winter
months, the wealthy Durranis, according to Elphinstone, also wore wide,
coloured trousers, made either of silk or cotton, and short stockings.

A Durrani villager with his arms

On top of the under tunic (ulkhaulik), still according to the British diplomat, some of the middle-class Durranis wore an upper tunic, which was called a kubba. It was
very similarly shaped to the ulkhaulik, and either made of coarse brown
wool, or of a very strong, cotton cloth called kudduk. Sometimes of a
bright colour, it was mostly dark, often bottle-green. The kubba, or
cubba, the Scot continues, was tied across the chest, but the ties were
concealed, and so were the silk buttons that were attached to one side
of the opening in front with a line of silk loops on the other side. The
sleeves, Elphinstone continues, were closed by a row of silver buttons
and silver loops that ran up the inside arm. On top of the kubba, these
more affluent Pashtuns wore a cloak, which in winter was made of sheep
skin or felt.

The men wore, still following Elphinstone, so called Persian shoes, made of brown leather, which were round and broad at the toes and narrow at the heels. Inside, close
to the heel, was a piece of wood covered with a thin plate of ivory
with black, inlayed carvings. The Durrani villagers, Elphinstone tells,
covered their head with a cap that was made of quilted silk or chintz
and was sometimes 15 cm high. Elphinstone recounts that older men used
to wear a so-called loongi, which was wound around their cap. He
continues by saying that all villagers wore a loongi wound around their

The depiction of a Durrani villager and townsman in
Elphinstone’s book shows the garments described by the British explorer.
The man has a beard and moustache and his head is covered by what looks
like a woollen cap, but probably is meant to be a traditional skull
cap. This would be the still ubiquitous kulâh (Persian/Dari; a common
Pashto word is khwalej) worn by almost every Afghan, with or without a
turban tied around it.


 The illustration of a Ghalji shows the peculiar way in which they used
to wound their white turban around their head. The cap, which they used
to wear according to the British envoy, is missing. The shirt he is
wearing, with an opening in the centre. He is also wearing a cloak or blanket, which cannot be identified, but which seems to have a decorated hem. He goes bare-footed. Elphinstone tells that the man is a Khawtee,
which is a name hitherto unknown from the borderlands, but perhaps the
Scottish diplomat refers to the Ghalji tribe of the Kharotis

A Khawtee Ghilzai in his Summer dress

Durrani gentlemen

 According to the British explorer, the upper echelons of Durrani society used to wear Persian dress, including a cubba (qabâ) that was made of silk, satin, brocade,
or a mixture of silk and cotton that was called gurmsoot. They also
used to wear a sash around the waist and a piece of cloth that was wound
around their cap (the turban). Their cloaks were made of broad cloth, often red, or of silk of various colours. The illustration in Elphinstone’s book shows a proud Durrani leader, his horse adorned with a saddle blanket.

A Durrani gentleman

The Durrani leader, as depicted, has a beard and a moustache, and his head is covered by a cap and a turban. The cap seems to be rather high, elevating the turban in the Persian Zand-style of the eighteenth century. This cap may be very similar to the high cap worn by the Durrani villagers (up to 15 cm, according to Elphinstone). The Durrani gentleman is armed, on his left side, with a sabre (shamshir). The horseman is wearing a shirt of yellowish
material, and over that a long robe (obviously the qabâ) with pointed
sleeves, also of yellow material. The robe is lined with a reddish
material. The robe with its pointed sleeves is very much in the Persian
Safavid tradition (AD 1501-1722). The Pashtun gentleman also has a sash
wound around his waist, and a long cloak thrown loosely across his
shoulders, leaving the sleeves empty. Pointed boots with high heels
cover his feet.


 The man from Kabul illustrated by Elphinstone is wearing a broad
turban, a shirt, a pair of white baggy trousers, a long robe, a sash,
and (Persian) slippers .The shirt is obviously very colourful, being
decorated with a print of flowers. The coat that the man is wearing is a
simple Persian-style qabâ left open in front. It misses the rectangular
inset at the front and may thus be more
‘fashionable’ and comparable to contemporary Persian garments than the
qabâ worn bythe higher class Durrani Pashtuns. The whole outfit, perhaps
apart from the turban, is singularly Persian in character and very
different from the Pashtun outfit of the poorer strata of Durrani
society and that of the Ghalji and Yusufzais.

A Tajik in the summer dress of Kabul


The depicted man has a short beard and a narrow, pointed moustache, quite unlike the facial hair of the Pashtuns . He wears a long qabâ of old-fashioned, Safavid cut.
The white shirt underneath has a high and straight collar, which is
comparable to Central Asian/Chinese examples. The shirt has its opening
at the right side. He does not have the baggy trousers of the
neighbouring Pashtuns; instead he wears
what appear to be socks or very narrow trousers. According to
Elphinstone, the Hazaras used to roll bands of cloth around their legs,
like the Uzbeks, but that is not clear from the illustration.

A Hazara

The Hazara man, as depicted in Elphinstone’s book, has a decorative sash
wound once around the waist and tucked in at the front. His headdress
is remarkable, and resembles mostly that of a Chinese dignitary.
Elsewhere, Elphinstone describes the Hazara headgear as a conical cap of skin, with the wool appearing like a fringe around the edge. The illustrated headgear is obviously very different and remains without parallels, but the cap described by Elphinstone is shown in many other illustrations, including photographs, from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.


Elphinstine tells that Uzbeks were wearing a shirt and cotton trousers, a coat or tunic called a chuppaun of silk or wool, tied with a girdle. On top they wore a gown
that is made of wool, felt, or skin. He adds that some wore in winter a
little cap of broad cloth, lined with fur, while others donned a
calpauk, which is a pointed silken cap. Most Uzbeks, according to Elphinstone, wore a white turban wound around their calpauk. All Uzbeks wore boots; the rich had a special type called muhusee.

A Khojeh of Uzbek Tartary

These they wore all the time, putting on another extra type of boots in winter and when travelling.The muhusee, according to the Scottish diplomat, was made of thin and light shagreen and had no heels or soles. The man wearing them also had to wear shoes when going
out. Elphinstone tells that all Uzbek wore bandages around their legs
instead of stockings. They all had a knife hanging down their girdle, and a flint and steel to make fire. The illustration of the Uzbek Khoja,
a holy man, shows an Uzbek who, according to Elphinstone, lived near a
town . His attire may therefore differ from that worn by an Uzbek from
the countryside. He shows the white turban and the calpauk that the
Scottish observer mentioned. He also wears the bandages around his legs.
He is wearing shoes, and these may be the shoes that cover the boots
that Elphinstone referred to. In modern times, Uzbek still wear boots
with soft leather soles (called maksis, probably the muhusee of
Elphinstone), over which they wear leather sole-covers or rubber
overshoes when going outside. It is not clear from this illustration,
but the Uzbeks (and Turkmen) in the north of the country tend to wear
more close fitting trousers than the Pashtuns in the south; they
obviously are still more geared towards their horse riding traditions.

There are some obvious parallels with Hazara clothing: the bandages around the legs, but also the fur lined cap recall Hazara outfits. The illustrated man has a thin moustache and a short beard. He is wearing what appears to be shirt underneath and a
coat on top. The coat is fastened around the neck, and it has extra
material put in (a gore) on both sides of the skirt.


 Related to the Hazaras, but Sunnites and living further to the northwest, are the so-called Chahar Aimaq. Literally this means ‘Four Aimaq’, and the name is applied to four closely related ethnic groups, who until recently led a predominantly nomadic life. Like the Hazaras, but unlike the Pashtuns, they speak Persian/Dari. The Taymanis, one of whom is depicted by Elphinstone , live south of the upper course of the Hari Rud (river), southeast of the town of Herat. Nowadays some of them have adopted many Pashtun ways, including the use of the
Pashtun-style black tent, but other Aimaq often still use the more
Turkish Central Asian circular yurt.

Man of the Tymunee Aimak

Elphinstone tells that the
appearance of the Taymanis resembled that of the Persians, but, and
this point applies to the present day, they are often distinguished by
their Mongolian facial features,very much like the Shi’ite Hazaras.
Elphinstone adds that the illustration provided a good image of a
Taymani, but that they more often wore a cap of black lamb-skin than a
turban. Muhammad Hayat Khan, writing in the mid-nineteenth century,
correspondingly tells that the Chahar Aimaq wore clothing very similar
to that of the Persians, but that the Taymani resembled in dress their
Uzbek neighbours. Chahar Aimaq dress, in general, included, according to
Hayat Khan, wide trousers and a short jacket (kurta). The upper classes
also wore a woollen mantle (choga) or jacket (kaba). Turbans are rarely
seen; most people wear the pupakh, or Kazalbash high hat. The kurta, or
short jacket, is unknown from earlier sources, and may be a nineteenth
century innovation in Afghanistan. The Taymani man in Elphinstone’s
illustration goes barefooted, and he has a small beard and moustache,
very much like the Hazaras. He wears very baggy trousers and a
Persian-style qabâ, which has the fastening on the person’s left. It is
of the ‘old-fashioned’ Safavid type. He wears a shirt underneath and a
kamarband around his waist. The turban that he is wearing is placed on
top of what appears to be a cap..

A Hindkee in the Winter dress of Peshawer

The Chaous Baushee in his dress of office


‘The Umla Baushee in his dress of office’.

References: (1) Account of Kingdom of Caubal by Mountstuart Elphinstone. (2)What Afghan Men Used to Wear in the Early Nineteenth Century by Willem Vogelsang


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