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9 Jan, 2010 23:49

Traditional Caucasian headgear helps men in love

Thousands of dollars for a hat made of sheep skin may sound like a lot - but not in Russia’s Caucasus region. Local men measure esteem by the hat, and some can't even get married without one!

The method of making these hats has been passed down through generations. And the tricks of the trade haven't changed over the centuries either. In the summer or winter, papakha can save you from all kinds of weather.

“It's traditional headwear in Dagestan. It will always be in,” says milliner Shaihu Shugaipov.

And not only in Dagestan. The hat made of sheepskin is traditional headgear for men throughout the Caucasus region.

It even gained popularity in the military in the days of the Russian empire and in Soviet times, when high-ranking officers wore it as part of their winter uniform.

But how can you tell a good papakha from a poor quality one? Well, it’s all about the shine of the wool, the length of the curls and the beauty of the weave. The price for some items can reach as much as $10,000.

Many would say it's too high a price for a sheepskin hat, but when it comes to your love life, the papakha's value can’t be underestimated. In the old days, the headgear was a tool for… matchmaking!

Boys used to throw their hat at the window of girl they wanted to propose to. If the girl kept the hat, the boy was in luck. So, although some may see it as just a hat, for many in the Caucasus region it's much more than that.

“If I go into the hallway without my papakha, they don’t greet me, as they don’t recognize me. I say to them, ‘girls, why don’t you say hello?’ And they say ‘oh, we didn’t recognize you without your hat,’” said local official Omar Begov.

The papakha is a symbol of honor and dignity. In the Caucasus, they say if there's a head, there should be a papakha on it.