Russian Dress in IX-XVII Centuries
(with Focus on Women’s Dress)
Collegium Caidis Notes by Liudmila Vladimirova doch’
with the editorial assistance of Mistress Soraya Evodia
Early, or Kievan, Period: IXth through XIIIth Centuries
So far, archeologists have not found complete pieces of ancient Russian clothing from the IX-XIIIth centuries, only parts and decorations. These serve as primary sources for the study of Rus' costume, along with the pictorial material of frescos, illuminations, icons, and decorated objects. These materials can be compared to the written sources (chronicles, lives of saints, various deeds and wills) and to the later period clothing to establish the terminology and learn about construction. (Rabinovich, p. 40.)
Application of modern research techniques to the ever-growing fund of archeological evidence allows for better understanding of materials and techniques used in making ancient clothing, according to Rabinovich. Newfound evidence, such as a group of ritual metal bracelets with various male and female figures on them, provides valuable clues as well.
Fabric and other materials
The majority of the population wore shoes and clothing created of homemade materials. In most families, women spun and wove flax, hemp, and wool at home, as evidenced by numerous archeological finds of implements for these crafts. (Rabinovich, p. 41.) Linen was woven on a horizontal loom, in simple weave or in complex patterns, ("bran," damask). The thickest linen (or hemp) fabric was known as "votola" and used for outer wear, the thinner though still coarse fabric as "tolstina" (for thickness) or "uzchina" (for narrow width), while the finest bleached linen was called "poniava" or "bel'." Coarse woolen fabric destined for plain coats was "sermiaga," while finer wool was called "volosen." Like linen, wool was woven either plain or in patterns. By the XIIth century, woolen checkered fabric, later known as "ponieva," became widely used. (Rabinovich, p. 42.)
According to the frescos, noblewomen's clothes in that period were brightly colored, with red favored above other dyes. More than half of all fabrics found in archeological digs is some shade of red. (Pushkareva, p. 161.) However, green, blue, and yellow were also frequent. Dark, somber colors, especially black, were reserved for mourning and for widows. Rabinovich (p. 42) maintains that linen fabrics were mostly white, while wools were either natural or brightly dyed in the colors mentioned by Pushkareva.
expensive fabrics such as silks and gold brocades were imported from the East
Furs and animal skins were widely used to make outer clothing, and as linings and trim. Leather footwear (tanned or not) replaced bark and bast, ancient materials for Slavic footwear, for all but the poorest in the Xth century. While the production of leather remained a household chore in the countryside, in the cities it was developing as a separate craft. (Rabinovich, p. 42.)
Dress was subdivided into undergarments and overgarments, which were often similar to each other in cut, but not in decoration. The undershirt, or "srachitsa,” is mentioned in many primary sources of the X-XII centuries. Srachitsy were made out of bleached linen, thin wool, or even silk, and cut long and straight with triangular gores widening the hem and diamond-shaped gussets inserted under the arms. The sleeves were usually narrow and longer than arm length. They were pushed up on the forearm, held at the wrist by hoop bracelets ("naruchi") during everyday activities, and let out for holiday occasions/dancing. Women dancing with their sleeves dangling can be seen on bracelets from the XII century, and the Russian fairytale of the frog tsarevna (princess) has an episode that takes advantage of extra-long sleeves. The neck opening was small and round or, rarely, square, with a straight short slit in the center or offset to either side, buttoned or tied at the top (Rabinovich, p. 43; History of Ukrainian Costume, p. 25). The question of whether the undershirt was belted is still debated, though prevalent opinion is that it was. If there were belts, they were decorative lengths of trim or twisted cord, not leather. (Rabinovich, p. 44.) The hem of the undershirt was often embroidered in red, though the designs and technique of this embroidery appear to be lost now. (Pushkareva, p. 156.) Rabinovich also suggests decorative appliques of different colored fabrics along the hem, at the neck, and on the sleeves of women's shirts.
The undershirt was most often topped with "ponieva" - a garment most likely worn around the waist like a wrap skirt. Again, there are no actual surviving examples of complete ponievas in early period. Later ponievas were made of plaid woolens and consisted of three panels gathered at the waist without side seams, or sewn only a short way down. However, many authors believe that the early ponieva was of one-piece linen fabric, possibly even the same color as the undershirt, held at the waist by a knitted woolen belt. (Pushkareva, p. 157.) Rabinovich (p. 44) supports the notion that the name "ponieva" for a checkered wrap skirt appeared no earlier than the XVIth century.
The History of Ukrainian Costume (p. 25) discusses a maiden's garment, "zanaviska," while proposing that only married women could wear a ponieva (which was certainly true in later times). The same garment is described by Kireyeva (p. 8) as "zapona." Zanaviska or zapona was a tabard-like garment, made simply of a folded length of linen with a round opening for the head. The sides were left unsewn, and either pinned together at the waist, or tied up with a belt. Note that neither ponieva nor zapona were, at this time, required elements of clothing - a shirt alone, or with another, fancier overshirt ("navershnik") was sufficient for the lower classes anywhere and for nobility at home.
Surviving frescos and chronicles indicate that noblewomen of that time wore loose, straight dresses with wide sleeves, made of imported silk and brocade, richly adorned along the hem and round collar with gold trim. These dresses were worn belted with fabric belts, (not leather), embroidered in gold or made of gold cloth or trim, and were usually shorter than the undershirts. Over the dresses they draped rectangular capes, similar to men's, also richly adorned and lined.
It should be noted that these dresses are often referred to as "dalmatics," alluding to Byzantine influences. While there were, of course, such influences, Pushkareva insists that Russian clothes of that period were closely related to that of earlier Slavs in style and still had three distinctive types. These types were "nakladnyie" - put on over the head (rubakhas, dresses), "raspashnyie" - buttoned up the front (coats), and draping (capes). The known examples of ornamentation designs are also distinct from the Byzantine and persistent through the centuries. The same patterns are found in early frescos and ornaments, later illuminations and embroideries, and post-period embroideries.
Embroidery was used both as decoration and as protection from evil, guarding all openings of the garb. (Rabinovich, p. 61.) Clothing was often embroidered with gold thread in stylized flowers and grasses, circles, and geometric patterns. Early embroidery (up to the XII century) brought the gold thread through the fabric, with short stitches on the inside and long on the outside. (Pushkareva, p. 161.) Later, gold thread was couched down with silks. During this period, pearls were not used as freely as in later times, but applied sparingly, in single grains or as outlines of silk-embroidered ornaments or metal plaques. (History of Ukrainian Costume, p. 17; icons from Giliarovskaia.). Furs were often used for decoration as well, with stripes of fur along the hem often wide enough to reach the knees. (Pushkareva, p. 160.)
(p. 47) suggests that the custom of married women covering their hair, and the
underlying superstition that seeing their uncovered hair can lead to harm, have
roots in pre-Christian Slavic beliefs. In XIIth century
The evidence in support of more complex headdresses in that period is fragmentary, though there are numerous reconstructions based on the available parts. (Rabinovich, p. 47-48.) It appears, however, that headdresses similar to later kokoshniki on stiff foundations and softer kiki with stiffened decorative front parts existed before the XIIIth century, and certainly before names such as "kokoshnik" and "kika" appear in written documents. While povoy were spread all over the Russian lands, kokoshnik was found mostly in the North, and kika - mostly in the South.
Maidens had no head covering restrictions, and usually wore their hair loose or braided in one or two braids. The hair was held in place with a "venchik" (later - "venets"), a narrow metal diadem or a narrow strip of bright, decorative fabric tied at the back. Rabinovich (p. 47) refers to more complicated, highly ornamental venchiki as "koruny," and mentions remnants of such koruny found in treasures buried before the Mongol invasion. Neither venchik nor koruna covered the top of the girl's head or her long hair.
girls' heads were probably the most ornamented parts of their figures. Various
metal decorations were attached to their headdresses, braided in their hair, or
used as earrings. Most such flat decorations are known to archeologists as
temple rings. (Rabinovich, p. 52.) The design of the temple rings varied by
region. For example, for Slovenie in
Strings of beads were another decorative element of women's costume that used to be tribe-specific and then became common due to the development of city craftsmanship. Early on, most beads were imported, but while some were popular across all Eastern Slavic lands (such as the Middle Asian blue glass beads known as "fish-like beads"), many became particular favorites of one tribe or the other. Thus, Novgorod Slovenie preferred multi-faceted crystal and silver beads, while Viatichi wore pink double pyramids of "serdolik" and white balls of crystal or glass. The styles became more uniform as bead making developed in Russian cities. (Rabinovich, p. 55)
"Kolty" also developed in the cities. Kolty were hollow metal ornaments (shaped something like closed clamshells or flat balls) decorated with enamel, granulation, or blackening, and secured to the headdress at the temples. Sometimes larger kolty had chains of smaller medallions dangling from them at the sides of a woman's headdress.
Women also wore "grivny" - torques, various bracelets, and rings. Unlike the Western torques, grivny were at least sometimes worn with the opening at the back, since the front parts of them were most ornamental. (See Rabinovich, ill. 13, p. 54, for a grivna with a twisted front and plain back). Pushkareva (p. 167) mentions round wire, scaly, and twisted grivny, with regional preferences for some of the types. Most commonly, grivny were made of copper or bronze, with the most expensive ones fashioned from a silver and copper alloy. The bracelets were most popular in the cities, with metal hoop bracelets used in ancient times supplemented in the XIIth century by wide hinged silver bracelets that depicted ritual dances and fantastic animals. (Rabinovich, p. 57.) Hoop bracelets of colored glass were worn by rich or poor city women, sometimes with several of them on each arm. Rings were popular with either city or country women, and could be decorated with enameling or filigree.
(p. 48) refers to the footwear during the IXth through XIIIth centuries as
being made of bark, leather, and perhaps even fur, never cut from wood as known
in the West. The most common form of men's and women's footwear was woven from bark
or bast. Such shoes were known as "lapti"
or "lychaki" ("lyko" is "bast" in Russian), and
were made by
other elements of clothing, lapti
differed by region. In Western Rus' (later
"Porshni" were the simplest kind of leather shoes. According to Rabinovich (p. 50), porshni were commonly made from a single rectangular piece of leather (not tanned, just kneaded and oiled). The corners of a rectangle were connected in pairs, and a leather thong was then threaded around the top edge. Porshni made from two pieces of leather are found by archeologists more rarely than those made from single pieces. Rabinovich also speculates that early porshni were made not of leather but of untreated animal skins. Sometimes porshni were decorated with cutouts or embroidery, in which case they could be lined (Pushkareva, p. 173). Even decorated, porshni were shoes for the peasants or the poor.
Both lapti and porshni were worn over "onuchi," the leg wraps. They were secured on the lower leg by long leather strips or hemp cords crossed several times along the leg. On many pictorial documents of the time, diamond patterns resulting from this can be seen on the legs of people wearing lapti or porshni. (Rabinovich, p. 50.)
Richer peasants and many city residents wore "chereviki" - leather shoes made from several pieces of leather, with sewn-on soft soles and the edges covering the foot to above the ankle. In the front, the edges at the top were separated to allow for freedom of movement (see pictures). Unlike lapti or porshni, chereviki were most likely made by professional shoemakers due to their complexity.
The remnants of sapogi are found in the archeological digs of the cities much more often than any other footwear. Sapogi of this period had soft multi-layered leather soles, slightly pointed or round toes, and ended below the knee. The top edges were cut on a diagonal, so that a sapog was higher in the front than in the back. Sapogi were made on a wooden form without side differentiation, with seams on both sides of the leg. Dressy sapogi were adorned with fabric cuffs and embroidery in silks or even pearls, and for the rich came in better kinds of leather and in a variety of bright colors - red, yellow, green, etc. (Rabinovich, p. 51.)
Brief notes on men's clothing
Men wore the same kind of a shirt, "srachitsa," as the women. A man's srachitsa was knee-length or longer, worn over his pants with a narrow leather belt (with a metal buckle and metal plaques for decoration) or a tasseled cord. Like women's, men's shirts were commonly decorated with embroidery at all openings. The pants, "porty," were narrow around the legs and wide at the waist, with a gore inserted at the crotch. The top of the porty had no slit, and was secured around the waist with a drawstring ("gashnik"). Porty reached below the knees but above the ankles, and were always worn inserted in sapogi or onuchi. For the poorest, srachitsa, porty, and onuchi (or woolen socks, "kopytsa") were all the clothes they wore at home or at work in the summer.Very little is known about the outerwear of Ancient Rus'. Written sources of the period mention "svita" as men's clothing worn over the srachitsa. Rabinovich (p. 45) speculates, based on period pictures, that svita at this time was long, form-fitting, and could have a decorative fold-down collar and cuffs. It had a slit at the top, opening to about the waist level. Giliarovskaia (p. 65), referring to a similar garment as a "Kievan kaftan," suggests that this could be women's clothing as well, in which case it was longer and with wider sleeves (to show off the undershirt).
The most common cape-style clothing, "votola," was made of the coarse linen or hemp cloth of the same name. It was a knee-length or ankle-length cloak (possibly hooded) worn over a svita and fastened at the neck with cords (for the poor) or special fastenings like fancy safety pins ("fibuly"). Period documents mention several other kinds of cloaks, such as "myatl'," "kisa," or "kots', " but their cut and design are unknown (Rabinovich, p. 45). There was also a special cloak worn only by the Dukes, "korzno." The korzno was very long, to the heels, and fastened at the right shoulder so that the left arm was hidden, and the right arm was free. Giliarovskaia (p. 66) suggests that the korzno made of especially heavy brocade had a cutout for the left arm (see picture). Korzna were made of rich Byzantine fabrics, often with some fur trim.
In the winter, men and women both wore "kozhuhi," forerunners of later "shuby." Kozhuhi were made of animal skins, with the fur on the inside. For the poor, they were sewn from sheepskins and left unadorned. For the rich, they could be covered in imported fabrics, and/or decorated with gold metal lace and stones. It is likely that the nobles wore their kozhuhi when it wasn't cold as well, to show off the fancy furs and the rich decorations. (Rabinovich, p. 46.)
Men's pre-XIVth century headwear is not well known, since most pictures show the men bareheaded, especially if a Duke is in the picture. Rabinovich (p. 46) and Giliarovskaia (p. 82), based on limited evidence, speculate that men wore round or pointed hats made of fur or felt, or woven of roots or straw. The ducal hats are studied better. Their traditional and persistent shape through the ages was a hemisphere made from bright fabric, with a fur border. This design is reflected in the famous "Monomakh Cap".
Late, or Muscovite, Period: XIIIth through XVIIth Centuries
There are few surviving examples of clothing from that time period. Mostly church vestments survived from before XVIIth century, though the researchers suspects that some items in XVIIth century collections were made in XVIth century. There are several shirts, found in burials, that are dated precisely to the XVIIth century. Thus, archeological material is not as substantial for this period as for earlier ones.
Most numerous are the written sources, such as various wills, dowry inventories, pleas, merchants’ ledgers, and, again, foreign travelers’ journals. The surviving illustrated ABC books provide invaluable clues for matching terms found in written sources to pictures and objects.
Fabric and other materials
The dress of peasants and commoners was, as earlier, most often produced of homemade linen and wool. Later in period homemade cotton fabrics appear as well. Linen or cotton basket-weave fabrics were known as “holst,” and could be bleached or dyed in various colors, or even block-printed. There was also fabric of a more complicated, ornamental weave, known as “bran’,“ and apparently similar to a two-color damask. Homemade woolen fabric, as well as clothing made out of it, was known as “sermiaga.” Until the XVI century woven plaid fabric, “ponieva,” remained in widespread use, which was probably diminished when a “ponieva” skirt made of it was displaced by other garments.
assortment of imported fabrics for the rich was very broad, with more than 20
kinds of silk and cotton fabrics imported from the East listed in various
period sources. Wool was imported mostly from
Red remained the favorite among clothing colors, with black gaining use, followed by yellow, green, and dominating white of shirts and other underwear. Black, however, appears to be used mostly by older people, widows, and those in mourning, unless it was richly decorated with embroidery and trim.
course, were widely used throughout
Both man and women, as before, wore tunic-like shirts (“srachitsa,” “sorochka,” or “rubakha”). Women’s shirt was always long, to the feet, and so were the shirts of children of both sexes. However, adult peasants wore their shirts to the knees, and city dwellers even shorter. Men commonly wore “porty,” narrow simple pants, as well. This period saw the shirt actually turn into undergarment, because it became improper to wear it alone. Thus, two shirts were worn at a time, with a fancier one covering the plain undergarment. The outer shirt was known as “koshulia,” “verhnitsa,” or “navershnik.” Navershnik is a better known type, described as a tunic-like feminine garment with wide sleeves, shorter than the undershirt.
The shirts were very simply cut from a whole length of fabric, without waste. The body was built of folded length of fabric, without shoulder seams. The neck opening was cut around at the fold. Since the fabric was not broad enough, rectangles half as wide as the fabric were inserted in the side seams, often with additional gores at the bottom of all four resulting seams. The sleeves were narrowing to the wrist, with triangular gores widening them along the upper arm. Diamond-shaped gussets, often red, were inserted under the sleeves. Oftentimes a triangular “podoplieka” was sewn from the inside to the shoulder portion of the shirt, to make it sturdier. In male shirts, there was a slit at the bottom of the shirt’s front.
At least on the noblemen’s shirts, all seams were adorned with red and gold trim, red ribbon, or embroidery. The seams themselves were done in double lines of red silk on top of the two folded edges placed one over another. Sleeves were adorned with “voshvy” – applied rectangles of fabric with vertical slits, with slits sometimes made in the garment itself as well. Voshvy, neck slits, and bottom front slits were decorated with embroidery and/or applied trim in horizontal rows. Rows of trim formed loops and knots at the openings, which allowed to button up the slits. The neck openings were held together with decorative cord ties. (T. N. Koshliakova)
Women wore a shirt with some type of an overgarment. Earlier in period, it was (at least for lower classes) described earlier ponieva. By late XIVth century, it was replaced in the cities by sarafan-like garments. Sarafan is probably the most debated garment in this area of research, since there is no clear connection between the dress itself and the name “sarafan.” Until the XVIIth century, “sarafan” or “sarafanets” is found in sources as a name for men’s long garment that buttoned up the front. However, there are period names (“shushun,” “shubka,” “sayan,” “feriazi,” etc.) for a women’s dress put on over the head that later co-existed with “sarafan” as terms for women’s light clothing worn over a shirt. Thus, what later became known as “sarafan” probably existed in period in some form, but by other names. The researchers suggest that it evolved either out of a lengthened ponieva that acquired straps, or out of a dress that lost its original long sleeves, with later view more prevalent. Still, there are no surviving items or verified pictures that could document the cut of this garment clearly. Note that any future use of the word “sarafan” in this paper will refer to the variety of garments with the names given above.
“Shubka” (not to be confused with “shuba,” a winter garment with fur) was a most frequently encountered in period sources variety of a sarafan-type dress. Giliarovskaia (p. 98) describes it as a floor-length garment widened with gores, with straight neck opening, where a small slit was buttoned using loop closure. The sleeves were very long, often reaching the hem, but were not actually used. They had arm slits at the top, and were either simply thrown back or tied one over the other. Fancy shubki were made out of sturdy, heavy silk brocades, velvets, and other fancy fabrics and lined with silk taffeta. They were not decorated other than occasional trim along the bottom, but were worn with a detachable rich collar on special occasions. Plain shubki were made of woolen fabrics or dyed linen and lined with taffeta only along the hemline. Apparently, tsaritsa’s shubka was a special garment, made out of rich golden brocades. It was, in this case, a buttoned dress with over 15 precious buttons, richly trimmed along the hem, sleeves, and front opening. The sleeves of tsaritsa’s shubka were only wrist length, but up to 35 cm wide at the end. This, apparently, was a derivation of Byzantine-like garments worn by Russian rulers throughout the period.
|“Sayan,” “sushun,” and “feriaz’,” three other sarafan-type garments encountered in period written sources, are better known from post-period examples (cited here from Sosnina & Shangina). In more archaic version sayan was made a length of fabric folded in half, with gores. Arm holes were very wide, and round or rectangular neck openings were often supplemented by additional vertical slits. Sushun was similarly made, with a square neck hole and gore-like widening strips of fabric inserted at the side seams. It’s most prominent characteristic was the addition of the long, narrow false sleeves at the back of the armholes. These sleeves were completely non-functional and either tied at the back or tucked into the belt. Feriazi’, like sushun, had false sleeves, but was built out of either separate front and back pieces with gores, or two front and one back pieces with gores. The later type of feriazi’ could be either sewn shut at the front, or buttoned with loop closures. Similarity of these garments to older shubka suggests the likelihood that their names found in period documents refer to garments resembling these post-period clothes.|
|Telogreya was a button-front dress similar in construction to shubka, and, according to Rabinovich (p. 75), was often worn over it or over some other sarafan. Telogreya always had sleeves, either arm length and narrowing to the wrist, or very long with arm slits at the top. It was very long, down to the heels, and very wide, about 425 cm at the hem (Giliarovskaia, p. 98). Telogrei usually had a great many buttons (or at least ties), up to 24, which were usually not done all the way. They were extremely dressy, made of heavy silks, brocades, satins, and velvets, and adorned with gold lace (usually not made from gold thread but made by jewelers from metal) and other fancy trimmings. First mention of a telogreia is found in Kurbsky’s letter to Ivan the Terrible, in the middle of XVIth century (Rabinovich, p. 76).|
|One of the
most characteristic women’s garments in period was “letnik” -- a wide, ankle length dress. Its most prominent feature
were wide angel-wing sleeves known as “nakapki.”
These sleeves were floor length, often longer than letnik itself, half as wide as hey were long. They were sewn
together only up to the half-length or a little more, with the lower parts
dangling freely. Nakapki were adorned
with “voshvy,” richly embroidered in
gold and pearls pieces of fabric that was heavier and more expensive than the letnik’s fabric. They were made of about
105-140 cm long, and over 35 cm wide rectangles, cut at the diagonal with
rounded narrow ends. Voshvy were sewn
to the sleeves so that their wider ends were at the wrist, while the narrow
ends dropped down to the hem. In order to
maintain stiffness, they were treated with fish-derived paste from the back
(Giliarovskaia, p. 97). Voshvy were
kept separately, and could be attached to different letniki (Rabinovich, p. 75). Of course, in order to show off the voshvy and to prevent them from
wrinkling, a woman had to hold her hands folded at the waist level, which made letnik exclusively upper class or
special occasion garment.
In addition to voshvy, letnik was adorned with rich pieces of fabric around the neck and on the chest, and even at the wrist on top of the voshvy. Winter and fall letniki (“leto” means “summer” in Russian, but this was an all-seasons dress) were trimmed with fur (usually beaver’s) stripes along the hem and at the neck. In cold weather, letniks were worn with a “beaver necklace” – a round fur collar put on over the head, with hidden slit at the front. The fur was often dyed black to emphasize the whiteness of the face, and decorated with pearls, gold, and precious stones. Letniks themselves were made of a variety of fabrics – cottons, silks, or even gold brocades, with one-color brocaded silks more prevalent. If there was lining, it was of some light fabric such as taffeta. Completely fur lined letniki were worn as well, but under separate names – “kortel” or “torlop.”
| There were several garments that, unlike those already
described, were worn by both genders. A between-seasons garment for fall and
spring, “odnoriadka,” was made of
woolen fabrics without lining (“odin riad”
means “single line” in Russian). It was similar in cut to telogreia, but with hem at the front made shorter than in the back.
Buttons (at least 12) appear to be odnoriadka’s
chief decoration (Rabinovich, p. 76). Another comparable in cut garment, “opashen’, “ was made of summer-weight
silks with silk or cotton lining. Opashen
had arm length or longer sleeves, wide at the top and narrowing towards the
end. It was cut at the neckline on diagonal to make it a continuation of the
front opening (Giliarovskaia, p. 99, Rabinovich, p. 76). Like odnoriadka, opashen had a front that was shorter than the back, but unlike odnoriadka, it was never belted. Opashen, as its name implies in Russian,
was often worn in the summer thrown over the shoulders like a cloak – “naopash.”
Another unisex garment was “privoloka,” known as “podvoloka” in XV-XVIIth centuries. It replaced korzno, a long cloak that used to serve as a necessary attribute of nobility in earlier times. Privoloka was relatively short and wide, made of gold brocades with fancy buttons, and often adorned with gold embroidery of birds and beasts (Giliarovskaia, p. 99). A women’s privoloka could also be decorated with trim and voshvy (Rabinovich, p. 78). Privoloka and similar cloak-type garments were not very popular in described period, though they gained fashionableness when European styles were introduced into
| Finally, almost any Russian, male or female, rich or
poor, had a “shuba” (from eastern
“dzhubba”). While varied in cut, all shuby
were fur-lined. Poor, both in the city and in the country, had sheepskin shuby not covered with fabric on the
outside, known as “kozhuhi.” Any
well-off person, though, wore a shuba
(and often owned more than one) of carefully selected, often very expensive,
fur covered in rich fabric and adorned with embroidery and gold lace. Even if a
noble had a kozhuh, that kozhuh was fancifully decorated with pearl embroidery
and gold or silver plaques (Rabinovich, p. 78). Though Kireyeva (p. 16 in
Mistress Tatiana Tumanova’s translation) claims that “so inexpensive such fur
was, it was used only for linings,” it appears that fur was worn on the inside
for practical reasons even when it was costly. In fact, other authors don’t
refer to fur as “lining,” but say that it was “covered” with fabrics. Period
written sources mention sable, ermine, and marten furs, none of which were
particularly cheap even in
While quite a bit is known about shuby’s materials, their construction did not fare so well. It appears that the cut and the length varied with time and fashion. All shuby were generally wide garments, but so-called Russian shuby of XVth century were cut more to the figure than later Turkish shuby. Russian shuby had turndown collars and traditional hem-length sleeves with fur-trimmed slits at the top. They were either buttoned up or tied with long cords with tassels (Rabinovich, p. 79, Giliarovskaia, p. 71). Turkish shuby had similar collars but different sleeves: either wide, wrist length, or double sleeves where one pair was used and the other, false, hang behind as a decoration (Giliarovskaia, p. 71). Besides different names due to their varied design, shuby had different names due to their varied purposes. For example, a shuba for sled rides, or “sannaya shuba,” was different from a shuba for sitting at the dinner table, or “stolovaya shuba.”
shuba was not a casual garment
(Kireyeva, p. 17), but a required part of boyar’s and boyaryna’s clothing, worn
in particular to meals in company. Domostroi requires shuby to be worn during various wedding
meals and rituals by all participants in any season, even by the bride and the
groom right after the consummation of the marriage (in that case, “nagolnyye shuby” without fabric cover). Domostroi also requires the
bride and female guests to wear yellow letniki
with red shubki on the day of the
marriage ceremony, white letniki with
red shubki for the guests and white letnik with gold cloth shubka for the bride during the next day
festivities, and the bride to wear a telogreia
to her marriage bed. This suggests that at least some other aspects of life in
Women's headwear, though varied in shape and style, was subject to one of the strictest regulations: no married woman could be seen in public (and often even at home) with her hair showing. Maidens, on the other hand, were expected to have at least tops of their heads uncovered, and were free to show off their hair. They wore their hair long, parted in the middle and either left free or braided in loose single braids. During the XVI-XVII centuries, maidens sometimes curled their hair, perhaps to avoid appearing straight-haired and bring bad luck to others (Rabinovich, p. 80). Braids were adorned with gold thread, ribbons, or "kosniky." The later were triangles or other shapes made of decorative fabric on a stiff foundation and attached to the end of the plait.
Maidens often wore various headdresses made in styles that left the tops of their heads bare. One of the most common was "perevyazka," a silk or cloth-of-gold ribbon tied around the head. When the front part of a perevyazka was decorated with embroidery or pearls, it became "chelo" or "chelka," from an Old Russian word for "forehead" (Rabinovich, p. 80). If the ornamental decoration went all around the head, the headdress (usually on a stiff foundation) was known as "venok."
Yet another variation, "venets", was made on a foundation of birchbark or leather with ornamental cut-outs at the top, in the shape of spikes, embattlements, or leaves. These cut-outs were known as "goroda," or "cities." Venets usually had detachable accessories similar to those for married women's headwear - "riasy" and "podniz." Riasy were strands of pearls, either strung in single file or woven/netted, and sometimes adorned with metal decorations and gemstones. They were attached to a venets or another headdress at the temples. Podnizi were pearl nets of varied configurations -in diamond patterns "v refid," in square patterns "reshetkoy" or "kletkami," and in chechkerboard pattern "v shahmat."
Another semi-shared element of maiden's and married woman's headwear was "chelo kichnoe" - a povyazka that looked like a front part of a kokoshnik or kika worn by married women, and commonly misnamed "kokoshnik" in modern times. According to Giliarovskaia, the name "chelo kichnoe" originates in the XVth century, but a crescent-shaped or otherwise designed broad povyazka on a stiff foundation with ribbons at the back was probably known earlier as well.
Married women's headwear usually was composed of many parts, with only some of them required for all occasions. "Podubrusnik" or "povoynik," a soft light fabric cap covering a woman's two braids wrapped around the head, was worn under any additional headdresses. The construction of a period podubrusnik is not clear, but can be inferred from post-period practices since this and other Russian head coverings remained largely unchanged throughout the ages. According to Shangina (Sosnina and Shangina, p. 221), a povoynik had a round or oval cap attached to a relatively narrow border that was gathered on a drawstring and tied at the back. Alternatively, it could be a made of a single rectangular piece of fabric gathered at the top of the head and tied at the back with narrow ribbons. The front of a povoynik was often embroidered and was allowed to show underneath other head coverings. In addition to povoynik, women wore "pozatylnik," a rectangle of the same fabric as the povoynik covering the nape of the neck. Prior to the late XIXth century, it was improper to be seen in povoynik alone, even at home, so it was always worn with "volosnik," "ubrus," "kika," "soroka," or "kokoshnik." A volosnik was simply a net cap with an embroidered fabric border. It was worn over a povoynik, or either over or under an ubrus. The net was knitted or woven of gold, silver, or silk threads. The border was made of satin or taffeta in white or shades of red. It was commonly embroidered in silk or gold thread, and sometimes adorned with buttons, gems, and dangling pearl attachments (Giliarovskaia, p. 101).
Ubrus, one of the most ancient Russian head coverings, was an embroidered rectangle of linen or silk (usually red or white) closely draped around the head, with the ends left dangling over the woman's shoulders in front and back. Special decorative pins were used to hold the ubrus in place (Giliarovskaia, p. 100). A XVIth century ubrus of Anastasia Romanovna, first wife of Ivan the Terrible, is made of scarlet taffeta 2 meters long. In the front middle part it is adorned with a blue silk damask rectangle, 40 cm long and 16 cm wide. This rectangle, "ochel'ie," is richly embroidered in pearls and gold with enameled inserts. The embroidery runs along the main body of the ubrus towards its ends. The ends themselves are trimmed with the endings made of 36.5 cm of the same fabric with slightly different embroidery (Iakunina, p. 74 and Figure 32). Unfortunately, my source does not allow establishing the width of the ubrus.
When the ubrus was not worn, a married woman's head was often adorned with a "kika." A kika was a soft cap surrounded by a hard "podzor" - a strip of varied width and shape, often wider on top. According to Giliarovskaia (p. 101), fish paste was used to glue plain fabric to a stiff foundation, all of which was then covered in satin or other silk fabric. The front of the podzor (mentioned earlier chelo) was decorated as richly as the owner's income allowed. At the back a piece of velvet or a sable skin covered the nape of the neck, while at the front pearl riasy and a podniz emphasized the whiteness of the wearer's skin.
"Soroka" and "kokoshnik" are the headdresses
mentioned in XVI-XVIIth century written sources, but the details of their
construction in period can only be inferred from headdresses of the same names
While soroki could be of any shape in any
region, Sosnina and Shangina (p. 117) describe 4 territorial types of kokoshniki. In Central Russia (
Of special interest is a tsaritsa's
headdress, "koruna." Koruna was a venets, a crown,
surrounding a round hat topped with a precious gem or a cross and ornately
decorated (Giliarovskaia, p. 101, 103). This was a headdress not to be worn by
anyone else, and only worn by tsaritsa herself on state occasions.
Giliarovskaia cites a memoir of Arseniy, bishop of Elasson, who visited
variety of women's headwear was replaced during cold months of the year (most
of the year in some parts of
Accessories (belts, jewelry, etc.)
A belt was a very important element of Russian costume, be it boyar’s or peasant’s. Many garments required a belt, and when several of such garments were worn in layers, a man or a woman could be sporting several belts as well (Rabinovich, p. 84). Most common belts were woven, braided, or twisted, and used to belt a rubakha or a sarafan. Belts of a similar construction were still in use in Russian countryside up to XXth century (Sosnina and Shangina; Rabinovich).
Coats and other upper garments were belted with leather belts or with wide fabric “kushaki.” Buckles and metal decorations (tips and plaques) for leather belts are common finds in archeological digs (Rabinovich, p. 83). Note that the buckles were not unlike the modern ones, and had a tongue. Kushaki, on the other hand, were made of bright fabrics with specially decorated ends. High nobility wore precious gold belts as well, and such belts were often listed in Great Dukes’ wills.
men nor women had pockets (men’s clothing acquired detachable pokets, “kisheni,” and sewn-on pockets, “zepi,” by the end of the period), belts
served to hold various objects, just like in the West. A belt box of precious
metal, “kaptorga,” or a leather pouch,
“kalita” or “moshna,” could serve as a purse. Kalita was not unlike purses worn on a belt or over the shoulder in
While most garments were collarless, separate collars known as “ozherelya” were either attached (with buttons or ties) or simply worn over some of them. Such embroidered in silk, gold, and pearls collars were made of rich imported fabrics or of furs. One type of ozherelya was round and lay flat on the shoulders, either with opening at the back or with hidden closure. Another was a standing collar attached to shuby or letniki.
Similarly, separate from clothing cuffs, “zarukav’ia,” were worn by both men and women on the wrists, holding up shirts’ sleeves. They were made of imported fabrics and embroidered in gold and/or pearls, sometimes with addition of gemstones. Zarukav’ia belonging to nobles are mentioned in period written sources (Rabinovich, p. 86), but only surviving examples are zarukav’ia of high church officials (see Iakunina or Manushina for illustrations).
Women in period usually did not wear gloves. During the cold season, the poor used mittens for work, while women from the upper classes hid their hands either in warm long sleeves or muffs ("rukavki"). According to Giliarovskaia (p. 102), rukavki were quite narrow and made of silk, velvet, brocade, or gold cloth, with fur lining and often lots of gold and pearl embroidery and even gemstones. Men wore mittens or gloves, which could be made of soft leather, velvet, or silk, and either sewn or knitted. The gloves or mittens of the rich were usually fancifully decorated, especially along their cuffs and, on mittens, along the back of the hand. There were "warm," (fur-lined,) and "cold," (fabric-lined,) mittens and gloves. (Rabinovich, p. 90, Giliarovskaia, p. 82.)
A necessary attribute of a woman's wardrobe was a "shirinka" - a handkerchief embroidered in silk or gold (sometimes pearls as well) and trimmed with fringe and tassels (Giliarovskaia, p. 102). Shirinki were not only decorations, but displays of a woman's craftsmanship, so they were often very elaborately made. There are several examples of shirinki dated to the XVI-XVIIth centuries in the Zagorsk Museum collection, all of them square or almost square, ranging from 45 to 55 cm, with double-sided embroidered borders (Manushina)
Apart from clothing-related decorations, noblewomen possessed numerous items of jewelry, such as earrings, rings, necklaces, and chains, not to mention headwear accessories such as riasy. On the neck, women wore “monisto,” a necklace of various beads or pearls, and metal plaques (Pushkareva, p. 168). Pearls in particular were very popular, and sometimes worn in multiple strands. Chains were very valuable adornments, and could be made with links of various shapes. They were often used to hold a cross, something no woman was without. Finally, an older type of neck jewelry, “grivny,” still existed in described period, though perhaps they were no longer very popular (Pushkareva, p. 168, Rabinovich, p. 87).
were almost a necessity for any women. They were made as gold or silver open
rings or hooks with attachments made of wire with metal beads or gems.
Depending on the number of attachments, in later period earrings were known as
“odintsy,” “dvoyni,” or “troyni”
(Rabinovich, p. 87). According to Sosnina and Shangina, “troychatki” or “troyni”
with three attachments became popular in XVth century (p. 320), while “dvoychatki” with two were known in the
central and northern
Various rings were very popular, and are among the most common archeological finds. They could be braided, twisted, or made of interconnected plates. Signet rings made an appearance in the XIIIth century, and were decorated with animals, birds, and geometric shapes. They remained in wide use at least until XVth century, along with Novgord rings with colored glass inserts (Pushkareva, p. 172).
Finally, women wore various bracelets, though those appear to be waning in use as compared to earlier centuries. They could be glass or metal (copper, bronze, silver, or gold), with latter appearing in many shapes and styles. The bracelets were worn at the wrist or on the upper arm, sometimes several together and on both arms at once (Pushkareva, p. 173).
Peasant men and women, just like in the earlier times, predominantly wore “lapti” with “onuchi” – woven bark shoes over cloth wraps. Lapti were made either from inner bark of foliose tress (usually linden), or from birch bark. To make one pair of lapti for a woman (and women in period had small feet) three or four young linden trees had to be used. Usually lapti, even with a double sole, wore out in a week at best. Sometimes lapti were made from leather strips, and while they lasted longer, they were also more expensive (Pushkareva, p. 172).
Another form of lower class’ footwear, “porshni,” was in use in the cities as well as in the countryside. According to Rabinovich (p. 50), porshni were commonly made from a single rectangular piece of leather (not tanned, just kneaded and oiled). The corners of a rectangle were connected in pairs, and a leather thong was then threaded around the top edge. More rare archeological finds are those of porshni made from two pieces of leather. Sometimes porshni were decorated with cutouts or embroidery, in which case they could also be lined (Pushkareva, p. 173). According to Pushkareva, the seams on porshni were made with waxed linen thread, and ornamental seams in this thread could be used to decorate everyday porshni. Porshni for women were usually of softer leather than those for men. Porshni, like lapti, were secured by means of thongs crisscrossed along the lower leg and tied below the knee.
The city dwellers preferred to wear “choboty,” “chereviki,” and “sapogi.” “Sapogi” were mid-calf length boots, while “choboty” and “chereviki” were shorter (Rabinovich, p. 88). The archeologists find choboty and chereviki that either are embossed or have lacy cutouts. Rabinovich (p. 89) speculated that the latter probably had colored thread laced through the holes to create patterns. Most choboty and chereviki were black, but fancier ones could be in bright colors and made of materials pother than leather – morocco, satin, or velvet, often embroidered.
Sapogi were the most popular form of
footwear in the cities. Rabinovich (p. 89) cites an ambassador to the Russian
court, baron Gerbershtein, who visited
More ancient shoes were made from thin leather and were soft, with soles made from several layers of leather. While sapogi made in this fashion still existed even in the XVIIth century, hard soles made an appearance in the XIVth century. This was also the time when footwear became asymmetric, and not the same for both feet. The soles were sewn to he shoes and secured with nails, as well as with a little horseshoe at the heel. At the back most shoes, except for women’s half-boots, had birch bark inserts. Until the XVIth century all footwear was flat-soled. The high and medium-high heels were then made of multiple layers of leather, often secured with a metal brace and protected from wear with a horseshoe at the bottom. The toes of sapogi and choboty, depending on the regional fashion, could be round or pointed, with the latter often raised and secured to a special slit at the top of the boot’s front (Rabinovich, p. 89).
Most people wore their sapogi or other footwear over onuchi, wool or cloth wraps that could be fur-lined in winter. Sometimes “nogovitsy” – leg-warmers, and knee coverings were added to onuchi. Sewn and knitted stockings of varied length (“chulki”) became more widespread during this period. Knitted stockings probably appeared in the XVth century, and could be either made locally or imported. The stockings were held to the legs with ties. (Rabinovich, p. 90)
Men’s clothing and headwear (brief notes)
The base for all male dress ensembles was the shirt, "sorochka," (also called "srochka", "scrachitsa", etc. in period), described in detail in the "Undergarments" section. In addition to the shirt, men wore "porty" - narrow cloth trousers that clearly outlined the legs and were always worn inserted into sapogi or onuchi. (Rabinovich, pp. 44, 68.) Porty extended below the knees but didn't quite reach the ankles. (Rabinovich, p. 44.) By the end of the described period, porty were completely relegated to the role of underwear, and outdoors were worn topped with outer pants which could be made of fancy fabrics, leather, or even fur. The exact cut of these pants, however, is not known. (Rabinovich, p. 70.)
to other authors, Rabinovich (p. 70) suggests that throughout this period men
wore a "zipun" over their
undershirts and under other layers of clothing. A zipun was a short, narrow jacket with narrow sleeves. Its
construction, however, is not well documented in period sources. Like "kaftan," the word "zipun" is Turkish and could have
entered the Russian language either from
Kaftan was men's outerwear (rarely - women's as well), for use at home or outdoors in warm weather. The word itself appeared in written sources in the XVth century, and by the XVIIth century came to refer to a variety of garments united by their basic design - a lined, buttoned coat, at least knee-length, where the right front opening covered the left front opening. Kaftany were made shorter in the front than in the back, so that they would show off the boots and not interfere with walking. The sleeves could be either the type with arm slits at the top (made in the upper part of the sleeve, on the seam, or at the armhole seam under the arm), where the dangling sleeves are thrown back or tied together at the back, or wrist length sleeves, in which case they were worn with zarukav'ia (ornamental cuffs).
The Turkish kaftan was long, loose in cut, with very long but relatively narrow sleeves worn either scrunched up on the arm or dangling, with arms coming out through openings at the top. It buttoned only at the neck, had a narrow standing collar, and was usually worn belted. (Giliarovskaia, p. 70, Rabinovich, p. 72.) Dressy ("vyhodnoy") kaftan, also long, was worn either buttoned up or open, over a zipun. The sleeves of such kaftany were wide, and only wrist length. Dressy kaftany were made of light weight silk fabrics with lining (which could come out to the outside of the garment, forming borders at the edges), decorated with gold and silver metal lace. (Giliarovskaia, p. 70.) Several other types of kaftany appeared in the late XVIIth century and will not be discussed here.
Terlik, another one of kaftan-type garments, was a favorite of Ivan the Terrible. It was more narrow than other kaftany, fitted at the waist (sometimes with the top part cut separately). The loop-and-button closures run to the waist from collarless triangular neckline, with lower part of the front opening left unbuttoned. At the neck, along the opening, the hem, and around the sleeves terlik was usually decorated with fancy trim, gold cord, pearls, and even gemstones (Giliarovskaia, p. 71). Terliki could also be made with fur lining, and worn with separate fur collars 12 cm wide. This was a garment suitable for state occasions until the XVIIth century, when it became a service uniform.
"Feriaz" was a kaftan-type garment that was ankle length, without a waist-line, and with long sleeves, narrowing to the wrist. It could also be sleeveless. The feriaz was worn over another kaftan by the upper classes, over a shirt by commoners, and was either left open or buttoned to the waist with long decorative horizontal button and loop closures. Buttons were round or egg-shaped, made of metal (often gold or silver) and sometimes incorporated gemstones. Feriazi were made from cottons and silks, as well as from wool, velvet, and brocade, with metal lace or trim decorations, sometimes applied in double rows along all the edges. In addition, appliques of tasseled cord were used as adornments for feriazi, which lacked any kind of collars. Feriazi could be lined with fabric or fur. (Giliarovskaia, p. 73, Rabinovich, p. 74.) Outdoors, commoners often wore loose coats made from homespun wool known as "armiak," from the Persian "urmak.” These coats were similar in design to feriazi, and existed in the wardrobes of nobility as well, made for them from more costly fabrics. (Rabinovich, p. 77, Giliarovskaia, p. 77.)
As mentioned earlier, both men and women wore odnoriadki, unlined loose coats with long sleeves, and opashni, (sing. - opashen'), similar in cut to odnoriadki but with lightweight lining. Men also could wear an okhaben’ or opashen' - odnoriadka with a large fold-down square collar. Okhabni were sometimes worn over the shoulders, like mantles, and had long, thrown back sleeves with underarm slits. (Rabinovich, p. 76, Giliarovskaia, p. 71.) Men wore the actual mantles or capes, privoloki, as well. This garment, along with odnoriadka and opashen, is described in the women's clothing section, together with shuby, the fur-lined coats worn by men in the winter.
During the XIIIth century, men commonly wore their hair loose and almost shoulder length. In the north, this style changed in the XIV-XVth cc to long braided hair. The XV-XVIIth centuries brought short haircuts, cut round or square at the back, and even shaved heads. The short hair may be related to the custom of wearing "tafia," a skullcap, at home and under other hats. (Rabinovich, p. 83.) At this time, long hair was worn by the clergy and by those in disfavor with the tsar. Long, wide beards were always popular, though shaving was common as well, until Ivan the Terrible decreed it to be illegal. (Giliarovskaia, p. 82.)
In the XIII-XVIIth centuries, especially towards the end of this period, the "kolpak" was the most popular form of men's headwear. A kolpak was a tall conical cap turned out at the bottom to form a sort of a cuff, which could have one or two holes for attaching decorations: buttons, clips, tassels, or fur trimmings. (Rabinovich, p. 83.) Kolpaki were either knitted or sewn of any kind of fabric, depending on the owner's income. There were kolpaki for sleeping, wear at home, everyday and dress wear. (Rabinovich, p. 83.)
Those well off could also wear "murmolki" - tall caps shaped like cut cones with fur borders fastened to the crown in two places with loops and buttons. Murmolki were made of silk, velvet, or brocade, and decorated with metal plaques. (Rabinovich, p. 84.) Late period boyars also wore tall fur caps known as "gorlatnaya shapka," as described in the women's headwear section. Among fur caps of the time, there was a "treuh" or "malahay," a round flat-topped cap with three flaps similar to modern Russian fur hats. (Rabinovich, p. 84.)
Period written sources mention items of children's clothing for the wealthy - the same shirts, kaftany, and shuby as adults wore (Rabinovich, p. 96). It is, however, reasonable to propose that Giliarovskaia (p. 11) is right to claim that children of the poor ran around just in shirts, regardless of their gender. Archeologists also find child-sized sapogi and other footwear, with some evidence that they could have been made from worn-out adult footwear. (Rabinovich, p. 96.) The Domostroi (Old Russian version, p. 42; Pouncy trans. p. 128,) recommends being careful when cutting out children's clothing, and to allow reserves at all the seams and at the hem for growth, to be let out as needed. This advice, however, is only for "dress that is not to be worn daily," since simple clothes would not last the five or six years desired by Domostroi.
Note: Pouncy's translation of this passage mentions specific items of dress which are not listed in the original Old Russian text. The original says: "And if you happen to cut any dress ("platno") for a young son or daughter, or a young daughter-in-law, be it men's or women's dress, anything good, then when cutting, allow two or three inches ("vershka") at the hem, and at the edges, at the seams and at the sleeves; when they grow up, two, three, or four years later, rip the seams and straighten the allowance, and the dress will fit again, for 5 or 6 years. Cut this way anything not worn all the time."