Clearing Up Some Misconceptions about Russian Clothing

for the SCA Costumer

by Liudmila Vladimirova doch'


Beading: Unfortunately, there is no evidence that seed beads were used on Russian clothing in period. There is plenty of evidence for fresh-water pearls, though, and they were usually doughnut-shaped (drilled horizontally) or baroque.

Belts: From the earliest times, Eastern Slavs used a belt buckle with a tongue, resembling modern belt buckles.  They also used decorative fabric and rope belts, especially in female clothing.  In any case, the traditional SCA belt with a round buckle does not seem to be appropriate.

Black: Though practical and attractive for the modern eye and for other cultures in period, black in Russia was (and is) a widow’s color, reserved for mourning and some religious garments.  It was also used in decorative elements such as collars, cuffs, and gloves, in which case it was richly embroidered in silk, gold and pearls, not plain.

Buttonholes: There weren't any. Button closures were of a loop type, with buttons usually fairly large and spherical or egg-shaped.

Cotton: Cotton was widely imported from Asia in late period (at least XVth century), and should be appropriate to use (in particular, as cotton velvets).  However, most undergarments were probably cut of homemade linen.

Female headwear: Russian maidens did not cover their hair, nor did they always braid it.  Oftentimes they wore headwear that left the hair showing, such as various wrap-around and crescent-shaped headdresses.  Russian married women always covered their hair, but not necessarily with a "kokoshnik" or other hat.  A simple veil, (or one embroidered in silk and/or pearls and gold) is appropriate, but it should be rectangular and worn closely draped around the head, with ends dangling over the shoulders.

Head kerchiefs: "Platok," the square or almost square decorative head kerchief known in the U.S., in some styles of wear, as "babushka," came into use in the XVIIIth century.  It replaced the more ancient "ubrus," a long rectangular veil that was a required part of many headdress styles.  Coincidentally, lovely knitted Orenburg shawls are not period either (just like the city of Orenburg itself).

Lapti: Bark shoes, "lapti," were worn only by peasants and lasted a week at the most.  In the city, even the poorer people wore leather boots and shoes.

Male headwear: Men wore hats that were cylindrical and very tall, or round and close about the head.

Pants: In period, men did not wear wide “sharovary” pants known later and popular in the SCA.  Period trousers,  “porty,” were narrow and always worn inserted into boots or leg wraps.

Sarafany: The popular sarafan dress is not conclusively proven to be known until the 1600s.  There is some evidence that sleeveless dresses appeared in late period as a derivation of shubka-type garments that lost their long sleeves.  This means that a period sarafan was not held up on straps, but was a one-piece garment with a cut-out neckhole, put on over the head.

Shirts: A male shirt in period did not necessarily have an opening to one side.  Left, right, or center openings are all correct.  Female shirts did not acquire puffy sleeves gathered at the wrist until at least late 17th century.  The cut of a Russian shirt for male or female was all on straight lines, rectangular construction, with some triangular gores.  All shirts were either collarless or with a standing collar. A separate decorative collar could  be attached as well.



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Originally publsihed in Slovo, Summer 2001