Fashioning Central Eurasia

My first book project tentatively entitled, Fashioning Central Eurasia investigates how a single garment type, the kaftan, enabled a transcultural system of communication for diverse communities across Iran, Central Asia, and the Caucasus in the second half of the first millennium CE.

Previous scholarship has treated the kaftan as a nomadic riding costume adopted by settled populations for practical reasons. My research, however, illustrates that the kaftan was a new garment that emerged in the fifth century CE,  and the ways in which people wore the kaftan were complex. These practices ranged from who could wear a kaftan, when the kaftan could be worn, and how the kaftan could be styled. Some practices were unique to a community, while others would have been mutually intelligible across diverse cultures. Many of the protocols for how one could wear the kaftan were dependent on the social occasion, and thus my book is built around four case study chapters exploring the banquet in Sogdiana (Uzbekistan and Tajikistan), the hunt in Iran, veneration of divinities in Kucha (western China), and the funeral in Alania (northern Caucasus, Russia). I argue that the kaftan’s versatile design provided the denizens of diverse Eurasian communities with a sartorial language that could articulate mutable social distinctions across cultures and for various social occasions. This unprecedented sartorial system allowed locals and foreigners alike to navigate the globalized and polycentric political landscape of Central Eurasia.

This project builds on my doctoral dissertation to be defended in March 2020 in the Department of the History of Art at Cornell University entitled, “The Age of the Polychrome Kaftan: a Sartorial System of Central Eurasia 400-900 CE.” 

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fresco from the cave of 16 swordbearers, Kizil in the Kucha oasis; Museum für asiatische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin [image credit: Le Coq, Die buddhistische Spätantike in Mittelasien, 1922]