Kalfak avaThe kalfak headdress used by Tatar women is one of the most popular women’s accessories in Tatarstan. This cap remained in use even when most ladies switched their folk outfits with modern “city clothing” in the early-mid 20th century. Traditional kalfaks became smaller but just as ornate and cute, although the shape of this hat might seem a bit unusual to strangers. And despite the Russian gradual depersonalization of invaded nations (Tatarstan was invaded by Russia in the mid-16th century), some elements of Tatar national dress, such as a kalfak cap, are still alive, barely.

A kalfak is a traditional festive stocking cap of Tatar women. It appeared in the 18th century. It is often made from expensive fabrics, like velvet or brocade, and richly adorned with silk embroidery, gold and silver embroidery, beading, sequins, appliques, etc. As the material of the cap is soft and there is no hard frame, the end of a kalfak freely hangs down, sometimes to the shoulders. But modern kalfaks typically are shorter and just lie sideways on the head. A band keeps the hat in place. Though basically, there are several designs of a kalfak that differ from one another.

This headdress looks adorable (even if somewhat strange), the more so because almost the whole surface of it is covered with decorations, especially embroidery. This makes such a Tatar folk accessory rather eye-catching.


Traditional embroidered kalfak cap
Young Tatar girls in folk clothing, including velvet kalfak caps with goldwork. Photos from Folkcostume.blogspot.com


Usually, the patterns seen on kalfaks are Tatar traditional motifs that survived centuries of fashion changes and globalization. The most typical is floral 3-dimensional needlework. Often, pieces of silk fabric are folded, curled up, and formed into flowers or other shapes and sewn to the kalfak surface to create the needed texture. Embroidery is complemented with beads, sequins, seed beads, gems, etc.

Earlier kalfaks were rather richly embellished and multicolored. Later, in the 19th century, the design of a Tatar kalfak changed – women started wearing smaller velvet kalfaks mostly with gold and silver embroidery, the amount of which was sometimes smaller. These headdresses look sophisticated and stylish.


Traditional embroidered kalfak cap
Early kalfak complete with hair jewelry that covered the braid. The kalfak is white, embellished with plenty of decorations


Unfortunately today, too few Tatar women continue wearing kalfaks, even for special occasions and various festivities. No matter how strong the Tatar cultural tradition is, modern globalization and Russian politics toward the national heritage of “minorities” (Tatarstan is a part of the Russian Empire and then Russian Federation since the 16th century) did their job and folk clothing traditions are dying out gradually. Some Tatar folk motifs still can be seen in the local contemporary clothes, but they’re mostly ethnic prints and simple motifs used as decoration, without the deep meaning of each symbol, as it originally was. Only some folk accessories remained popular, like traditional Tatar ichigi boots with beautiful embroidery. The kalfak these days is a very rare accessory.

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