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Russian Clothing Tradition

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Russian traditional costume manifests folk art and conveys the spirit of the past and old bright culture of Russia. Transformed to fit the present day fashion some of the traditions are still alive.

Two young Russian girls in traditional clothes

Kokoshnik

Kokoshnik is patterned to match the style of the sarafan and can be pointed or round. It is tied at the back of the head with long thick ribbons in a large bow. The forehead is sometimes decorated with pearls. The woman or the girl usually wears her hair in a plait. Kokoshnik was worn by peasant girls and women on special occasions until the Russian Revolution. After the Revolution kokoshnik was introduced into the Western fashion by Russian emigres.

Today kokoshniks are worn chiefly by girls and women in Russian folk ensembles. Kokoshnik is also a part of traditional costume of Snegurochka, the niece and assistant of Ded Moroz (the Russian Santa).

Sarafan

A Russian woman in a Russian folk dress

A Sarafan is a traditional Russian long, shapeless jumper dress (pinafore) worn mainly by peasant girls and women until the 20th century. Russian women from the upper and middle classes stopped wearing traditional Russian costume, apart from the kokoshniks as part a court dress in the 18th century, during Peter the Great's modernization of Russia.

Sarafans could be of single piece construction with thin shoulder straps over which a corset is sometimes worn, giving the shape of the body of a smaller triangle over a larger one. It comes in different styles such as the simpler black, flower- or check-patterned versions formerly used for everyday wear, or the elaborate brocade versions formerly reserved for special occasions. Nowadays traditional embroidered sarafans are worn during folk music and dance performances and are produced as souvenirs. Plain sarafans are designed and worn today as a summer-time light dress without the traditional Russian blouse. It is no longer a dress for peasant women. Russian and Ukrainian designers are re-imagining the sarafan for the 21st century as a modern, summertime light dress that can actually be part of a woman's wardrobe. Traditional forms can be brought apart and recomposed from a contemporary perspective, like adding V-necks and zippers to the knee. Breezy evening dresses can be constructed like sarafans around a short bustier or a shoulder pad design and look extremely feminine. Sarafan with blouse put on underneath was a traditional Russian wedding dress. Today silk sarafan is not only a favorite summer outfit but sometimes basic design for a wedding dress due to its simplicity and elegance.

Rubashka, kosovorotka, tolstovka

A portrait of a girl in Ukrainian costume

Fine linen "rubashka" shirt has been the basic clothing for both women and men for thousands of years. This is a long calf-length dress or long shirt originally made of homespun linen and, over the years, with commercial materials. The garment is normally embroidered. The rubashka was more commonly worn in rural areas rather than the cities. "Rubakha" was a base of Russian women's costume. It was made flaxen embroidery, silk lace, golden threads and spangles. Collars and sleeves were decorated extensively. Younger unwed women wore the rubashka alone, but when married, they wore it an under dress.

Hand-embroidered blouse ablaze with red and a colorful woven skirt are parts of traditional Ukrainian costume. Nowadays polycotton hand-embroidered Ukrainian blouse - Vyshyvanka - along with other authentic items are produced in the Carpathian Mountains, Vinnitsa or Lviv, Ukraine and are in demand both locally and abroad.

Another male's part of clothes was kosovorotka, long sleeved and reaching down to the mid-thigh traditional Erussian shirt. The shirt is not buttoned all the way down to the hem, but has several buttons at the collar. The collar and sleeves of kosovorotka were often decorated with a traditional Slavic ornament. Generally associated with Russian peasants, the kosovorotka was worn by peasants and townsmen of various social categories into the early 20th century, when it was rapidly displaced as an everyday garment by more efficient and less elaborate clothing after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The garment is also known as a tolstovka, or the Tolstoy-shirt, because the writer Count Leo Tolstoy customarily wore one in his later years. Since the late 20th century kosovorotkas appear mostly as souvenirs and as scenic garments of Russian folk music, song and dance ensembles.

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Russian Shawls

A Russian beauty with a shawl

For years a Russian shawl has been an essential part of traditional costume. According to Russian Orthodox tradition a woman, who is entering the church, should have her head covered with a shawl. This tradition preserved till today. Besides, married woman could not be in public without a shawl on her head. Each woman had many different shawls for any season and any occasions. Russia has old and significant traditions of making shawls.

There are two famous varieties of Russian shawls - the Orenburg goat down shawls and the Pavlovo Posad woolen shawls. The Orenburg Shawl is one of the classic symbols of Russian handicraft. This type of finely knit, down-hair lace shawl originated in the Orenburg area about 250 years ago, in the 18th century. In the English-speaking world, they are often called "wedding ring shawls" because, although the shawls are quite large, a shawl knit in the traditional fashion is so fine that it can be pulled through a wedding ring. There are several kinds of Orenburg shawls. The first is the grey (seldom white) thick down hair shawls. These shawls started the tradition of Orenburg down-hair knitting. The second is the quite dense kerchiefs and pautinkas. They are used for every day wear and they give a similar warmth to shawls. Each shawl or kerchief/pautinka is an original piece of art, produced through much work and patience of down-hair knitters. Each knitter has her own secrets and patterns. At the heart of a traditional Orenburg shawl pattern there are ancient magic signs. Each shawl presents a picture of the Universe the way the knitter imagines it.

Pavlovsky Posad Wool Shawls are made at the Pavlovo Posad factory which is a small town just outside of Moscow. Factory has been there since 1812. Up till today the Pavloposadskaya factory produces an wide range of gorgeous wool shawls and scarves, favored by many women. Traditionally, women use them as headwear or wear them around their shoulders or waist.

Valenki

Valenki are a traditional style of Russian boot made of wool felt. They keep feet insulated from snow and cold and are said to have healing properties associated with the way the boots naturally warm and massage the feet. Special galoshes that fit over valenki allow them to be used even in wet weather and in cities - the waterproof rubber creates necessary traction and prevents moisture from soaking into the wool felt. Russian leaders, soldiers, and peasants have all worn valenki. For awhile, valenki fell out of fashion and were associated with rural life in Russia or purely utilitarian wear for the police or the military. Today valenki have been making a comeback as a stylish element to today's Russian wintertime wear and have even appeared on runways.

The most common valenki are made of gray wool felt. However, some valenki come in various colors and are embroidered with designs or made with fur trim. Valenki can either be tall, reaching to just below the knee, or short, like a slipper. The finest valenki are made by hand, and these will wear the best on the foot. Created by a process during which the wool is worn, molded, moistened and dried

Ushanka

An attractive young Russian woman in a fur coat and ushanka

Russian Civil War, brought a popular Russian fur hat, Ushanka (originally kolchakovka) . It became a winter uniform during WWII. The Ushanka became a symbol and media icon of Soviet Russia. Since 1940 ushanka has become a part of the uniform of Russian army and militsia (police). Made from sheepskin rabbit or muskrat fur, ushanka was designed to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold due to ear flaps. The word ushanka derives from ushi (уши), "ears" in Russian.

The hat is also not exclusive to Russians - many people in Eastern European countries wear the ushanka. Identified with Soviet rule and issued in all Warsaw Pact armies, it became a part of winter uniform for military and police in many other western countries as well. The ushanka hat has now made its way to the United States and the rest of the world and is a very popular hat. It is mostly men's hat, but modern ushanka may also be worn by women, simply because it is a useful hat during cold weather. Today modern variants of ushanka are available in many different colors and styles made of nutria, beaver and mink. Leather ushanka with real fur parts is a hunted fashionable vintage-style accessory.

Boyarka

Young Russian woman in boyarka fur hat

A more elegant variant of ladies’ hat is a Russian fur boyarka hat. A rich fluffy fur of boyarka hat is designed around the head, while the top is made of a shorter fur, leather or chamois. The hat is warm and looks rich and feminine at the same time. It owes its name to Moscow boyars wearing beaver hats.

Originally beaver fur hats were worn by Russian boyars only. Later, the style was favored by rich merchants and atamans (chieftains) of Free Cossacks. The hat modified into the part of Russian military uniform in the 19th century and was in use till the beginning the 20th century. The generals wore hat that was made of beaver fur with red wool cloth top and silver lace, while the lower ranks had lamb hats.

A much similar is kubanka hat made of lamb fur with flat fur or woolen top was a popular hat of Cuban Cossacks. The hats of such design were later widely produced in the Soviet Union. Mongolka hat is like boyarka, but usually has a fluffy tail attached at the back.

Modern modifications of mongolka and boyarka are favorite exclusive headwear of modern Russian women. Their popularity did no decline since the Soviet times, when all time favorite soviet film Irony of Fate with Polish actress Barbara Brylska wearing fox fur boyarka made it a fashionable accessory. A round top of boyarka hat makes similar to Monomakh's Cap, one of the symbols of Russian autocracy.

Modern tendencies in clothes

Modern Russian clothes and fashion is greatly affected by the weather conditions and lifestyle. Russian Fur is very popular and loved by both men and women. Fine fur coat looks elegant and keeps a woman warm in severe Russian winters. Leather is another popular material and leather jacket is a must have for many Russians. Other natural materials as wool, cotton, linen, silk are favored and preferred to polyester, fleece, acryl and other synthetic fibers. When it comes to foot wear and accessories like purses and bags, leather is highly appreciated and is often one of the criteria to choose a thing. Leather imitation is often despised. Russians tend to buy one accessory that is well made of fine natural materials and matches most of the clothes rather than several cheaper ones. Therefore quality things are being worn for more then one season or a year and are carefully chosen. Comparatively more Russian women are slender and slim and thus often wear mini and tight clothes exposing their figure. Females in Russia prefer high heels either with trousers or jeans or skirts and dresses. As for the color preferences, many Russians prefer dark colors and find white and black elegant.

The styles and fabrics often depend of the weather, season and the region. Moscow and St-Petersburg citizens are usually better dressed and wear world-known and expensive brands and highly fashionable items. Rural population is much less hooked on the fashion and wears simple inexpensive things. People of southern areas demonstrate more relaxed styles and casual clothes as well as fewer clothes in general. Those living in northern regions most usually have fur coats and warm leather footwear. Muslim regions of Russia (Chechnya, Tatarstan) have their own restrictions on clothes and strong national traditions. Women are often seen wearing long dresses and have their heads covered. Clothes of all styles and brand names are available in fashion boutiques of major Russian cities. The prices however tend to be higher than in Europe and the sales are much different from what people are used to in the West. The retailers keep the prices high and thus Russians prefer to shop online or on vacation. Shopping tours to Greece, Italy, Poland, France, Arabian Emirates are offered by the travel agents and Duty Free shops are much favored by Russians. Outdoor markets cater for a big part of Russian population and mainly sell clothes from China and Turkey. There is number of second hand shops and thrift store selling mostly western clothes for the prices of a few US dollars. Even new things for a small price can be found there. Those having plenty of time to search for nice new things there compete in style with ones dressing up in boutiques. With the great number of population of Russia under the pressure to make ends meet second hand stores are an option to buy inexpensive used things.

Russian clothes market can hardly compete with ready-to-wear manufacturers of other countries. Besides the domestic products are in the middles class price segment and thus the customers usually prefer cheaper items produced in China or Turkey or exclusive clothes of Western brands. Tailor-made suits and dresses are no longer popular as the prices for fabrics are high and the service is not cheap as well. The stores offer a wide choice at any price and many women no longer sew or knit for themselves or the whole family on the regular basis as they used to back then in the Soviet times.

Gold adornments are specifically approached in Russia. Women love them and wear a lot. A golden ring or earrings or a chain is considered an all time good present and number one choice for a birthday or another special occasion from parents, relatives, a boyfriend. Traditionally girls usually get a golden item for her 16th and 18th birthday from the family members. Moms and grandmas keep their adornments to present to grown up daughters. Most exquisite ones with diamonds and other precious stones are considered family jewels. It is often a case when a young girl wears all gold she has. In general outfits of Russians often contain a big number of details, bright colors and eye-catching features Visitors to Russia admit that Russian women tend to dress much more lavishly and seductively than westerners

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