Add to favorite
Subscribe to our Newsletters Subscribe to our Newsletters Get Daily Updates RSS

National Russian Dress: Basic Costume Garments
March 2, 2009 16:34

 Balakhon is loose overall men’s or women’s outerwear, which was widely spread in the northern and western provinces of European Russia, and somewhere in Siberia in the 18th – early 19th cc. It was made of sackcloth or twill.

Most often the balakhons had the tunic-like cut: it was sewn of a width of fabric folded at the weft and cut in front, with gores inserted between the back and the laps. The balakhon was wrapped from right top left and belted with a sash, a braid or a tape in front, with the ends tucked in behind the sash not to hang down. It was mainly used for working. In summer it was worn over the basic dress and in autumn and winter over a caftan, a sheepskin jacket or other outerwear while doing some outdoor work or in inclement weather. In some villages of Smolensk Province the balakhon was everyday or sometimes even holiday clothes of the elderly people.

 Armiak (aka ermiak, labamakh, ormiak, riabik, sermiak, kharapai, yarmiak) is a heavy cloth coat mainly worn by men and put on over a caftan, a fur coat, a sheepskin jacket or a sheepskin coat in bad weather at any season and upon the road. It became known in Russia from the 16th century.

It was made of armiachina (i.e. camel's-hair cloth) of natural colours, such as white, yellow-brownish, or pea-green; or of homemade union cloth of black, white, grey, or brown colour; or sometimes of thick cloth dyed dark-blue. In the late 19th – early 20th century the armiak was sewn of dense factory-made cloth. It was robe-like, broad and long (to the ankles) and single-breasted, with a deep right to left wrap over, broad straight sleeves and a large collar.

The armiak was belted with a broad sash or a cloth girdle up to 3 meters long, with its ends brought together in front and tucked in behind the sash on the right and the left side. The armiak was also worn open or put on she shoulders like a cloak. In cold and rainy weather the collar would be raised and tied up with a scarf at the neck.

In the 18th- early 20th cc the armiak was mainly peasants’ dress, yet it was also worn by coachmen, and sometimes by town cabmen. Not too wealthy town dwellers also used it as outerwear, made of armiachina, though. Boyars and rich merchants would wear armiaks at home only and those were made of expensive thin fabrics.

 Beshmet is men’s outerwear widespread in the south-eastern regions of European Russia, among the Cossacks of Don, Kuban, and Ural, as well as among Nekrasovski Cossacks living in Turkey.

The beshmet of an affirmed colour and style was part of the uniform of all Cossack forces. During out-of-service hours Cossacks could wear beshmets of any colour and cloth. The beshmets were used both as outdoor and home clothes. Young Cossacks would put on beshmets in summer on holidays and festivities. Old Cossacks worn wadded beshmets at home.

Beshmety were usually made of factory-made fabrics, such as wool, silk, reps, satin, or glazed cotton. Elderly Cossacks worn beshmets of dark-blue, black and brown colours, whereas the young preferred red, wine red, green and blue colours.

The beshmet was a garment of knee-length, with the back trimmed at the waist, straight unbroken laps, hooked at the waist, and wedges at both sides. The collar was always stand-up, and the sleeves were narrow and long. The beshmet was girded with a sabre belt, i.e. a leather belt decorated with copper and silver pendants and serving as a fastener for a sabre or a dagger.

 Dokha (yaga, yargak) is winter men’s and women’s outerwear worn over basic winter clothes on long-distance sleigh journeys. It was widely spread in the Urals, the Low Volga Region, Siberia and Altai in the 18th- 20th cc. Dokha was made of autumn fells of deer, marals, wild goats, wolves and even dogs. Dog dokhas were considered the warmest ones. Dokhas covered one from head to heel, protecting from frosty wind. They had long broad sleeves and large turn-down collars, which could be raised to cover one’s head completely. The Dokha was wrapped right to left and belted with a sash. The collar was wound with a warm scarf or a shawl and tied at the throat.

The term “dokha” was adopted by Russians from the Kazakhs that roamed around the South Ural and the Low Volga Region.

Dushegreika (dushegreya, karataika, korotena, podserdechnik) is a type of women’s throw-open single-breasted garment on stripes, as a rule sewn of expensive factory-made fabrics, such as velvet, velveteen, brocade, and silk, and often lined with wadding or flax noil. In the 18th-19th cc three kinds of dushegreika were known.

 1. Dushegreika made of a rather narrow cloth cut with wadding, fastened with one hook on its top. On the back of such dushegreika there were dense fillets with wadding.

2. Short dushegreika, a little above the waist, without lining. It was sewn of three straight pieces of fabric (two for the laps and one for the back) and several gores at the sides. When spread out, such dushegreika had the shape of a circle.

3. Dushegreika on wide stripes, up to the waist or thighs, with straight laps and pleats beneath the back, which was cutoff at the shoulder blades or waist. It was buttoned with silver or tin buttons and silk loops.

The dushegreika went together with sarafan and was spread in the same area – in the northern and central provinces of European Russia, as well as in some regions of Southern Russia, in Volga area, and in Siberia. This garment was known as early as the 16th – 17th cc and was worn by girls and married women from boyars’ and merchants’ families. In the 18th-19th it was mainly used in the urban area, among merchants and rich residents. It was comparatively rare in peasants’ dresses and could be found only in rich families living in suburban, trade or industrial settlements.


 Epancha (epanechka, epantsa) is a women's waist-long sleeveless breast garment of a cloak type. In the Russian North – in Arkhangelsk and Vologda Provinces it was sewn of silk or brocade, decorated with golden lace or fringe. It had no buttons and was tied at the neck with long silk ribbons in a bow. In the 18th – 19th cc silk or brocade epancha was worn with a shirt of some fine-spun fabrics and a silk sarafan (pinafore).

In Siberia the epancha was even made of squirrel fur. The fur epancha widely spread in Siberia was a festive apparel of maids and married women.

The epancha was known as early as the 16th-17th cc. This term denoted then a cloak-type fur garment, as well as a dress of broadcloth or thick felt, below the knees and with long straight sleeves.

 Zhilet is a men’s vest-type garment sewn of factory-spun fabrics, such as wool, broadcloth, nankeen, tricot, velveteen, or velvet, with a lining of calico or home-made canvas. It was a single-breasted or double-breasted sleeveless jacket to the waist, with copper or glass buttons. The collar was cut as a triangle or a circle around the neck. In the latter case a short stand-up collar was stitched to it. The zhilet was usually put on over a shirt, which was worn outside trousers. In villages and settlements of Russia it appeared in the last third of the 19th – early 20th cc. it was worn by young men and guys from rich families on high days and holidays.

 The shirt (rubakha) was always the basis of man’s costume. The traditional Russian shirt was of knee-length and had a vent at the neckband – it could be either in the middle of the chest, or on one side (in case of kosovorotka). It had no collar, and yet, a narrow round cloth necklet would be fixed to a holiday shirt, with the sleeves fastened by bracelets at the wrists. The necklet and the bracelets were made of some fine fabric and richly embroidered with pearls and gems. The shirts were sewn of linen or cotton, as well as of silk.

In the folk costume the shirt was a door garment, whereas among the nobles it was used as underwear. There was also the home type of shirt worn by boyars at home; it was always made of silk.

Shirts were of different colours, but the white, blue and red were most common. They were worn outside trousers and belted with a narrow girdle. Young men would belt the shirt at the waist, whereas the elderly put the belt a bit lower, allowing a blousing in front to produce an impression of a portly figure.

The shirt usually had long narrow sleeves. For the sake of free movements a gusset was added in the armpit area. The shirt had a lining on the chest and back. Above the shirt zipun was usually put on.

 Zipun is men’s or women’s outerwear. The term became known in the 17th century. Back then it stood for men’s short jacket outlining the figure and with narrow sleeves. It was worn over a shirt and under the caftan. In the boyar costume of that period it probably played the role of the modern vest. In the 18th – early 20th cc zipun as a shoulder garment was part of the Don Cossacks’ costume. It was worn on a shirt, beneath the beshmet.

In most parts of Russia in the 18th-early 20th cc zipun was spread only as a coat. It was used by peasants as everyday or festive dress in spring and summer, or else, as outerwear worn above basic door costume on a journey or in foul weather. Holiday zipun were made of factory-spun canvases of black or blue colour, while everyday zipuns were sewn of grey or white home-spun cloth. As a rule, it was a double-breasted jacket without a collar, or with a short stand-up collar, and was buttoned right to left with hooks or leather buttons and leather loops.

Zipuns used as additional outerwear were produced of grey or black home-spun canvas. It was belted with a sash or a cord, its ends tucked in behind the sash on the sides. The zipun was widely spread in most of the European Russia, as well as in Siberia and Altai.

 Kazakin is men’s or women’s outerwear for spring, summer, autumn, and, in some areas, for winter.

The kazakin was an open-up double-breasted garment of knee-length, with a back cutoff at the waist and gathers behind or around the waist. It had a stand-up collar or a collar along the neck. The kazakin was sewn of factory-spun fabrics, such as broadcloth, moleskin, nankeen, etc., usually with a lining. Winter kazakins had wadding or fur lining. It was buttoned to the waist with hooks or bow-buttons, which were sewn on in two rows often.

Festive kazakins, especially those spread in the Arkhangelsk Province were decorated with worsted and silk braids that were stitched along the collar, coat-breasts and pockets. In the 19th century kazakins were widely spread in settlements, villages and towns of almost all provinces of European Russia. It was mainly women’s wear in the southern regions, and men’s garment in the central and northern areas. All around the kazakins were holiday apparel of young people from rich families.

 Sarafan is the traditional sleeveless women’s dress, popular among peoples of the northern and central parts of Eastern Europe. There were a number of varieties of sarafan. The same name was used in the olden days to denote a men’s long caftan of a specific cut.

It is mentioned as a men’s outerwear in the 14th century documents. Before Peter the First sarafan was customary among boyars; the tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich also had various kinds of sarafans.

The sarafan was also widely used as women’s long dress in Russia from olden days. From the 19th century it was mainly worn by peasant girls and women in the northern and central regions of Russia, in the Volga Region. Until the dress-related reforms it was also popular among townsfolk.

The oldest type of sarafan was closed and almost straight, i.e. it was like an ordinary sleeveless dress put on over a shirt. Later there appeared the sarafan with a seam in front, or buttoned through, the edges and middle decorated with galloon. A wide bell-shaped sarafan could have flap sleeves. In the 19th century a straight sarafan on stripes was widely spread. The latest type of the sarafan, a skirt with a bodice stitched to it, was popular in several regions in the second half of the 19th – early 20 cc.

In some parts of Russia old type sarafans still exist.

The Kaftan

 Over zipun rich people usually used to wear the kaftan. The Russian kaftan was the most widely spread garment in Russia before Peter the First. It was a push-open dress broadening downwards due to gores sewed into its side seams. The kaftan was to close the knees, and sometimes even reached the ankles. The kaftans were sewn of a wide range of fabrics; common people would wear kaftans of canvass or coarse heavy cloth, while boyars would put on kaftans of silk, broadcloth, velvet and brocade.

Noble or elderly people usually wore the kaftans at home; whereas the youth also put them on to go out. Depending on its purpose it could be warm or cold, long or short (as the riding kaftan), outerwear or underwear.

The main types of the kaftan were as follows:

1. Usual kaftan was a broad gown, buttoned line-in-line, with six to eight tabs on the chest. Underneath on sides the kaftan also had slits with tabs. The kaftan had long sleeves, and from the 17th century it also had a high up-stand collar, richly decorated.

 2. Home kaftan was the nobility’s garment that was worn at home only. It was a long gown, reaching the floor, with a slight wrap over and the left lap cut off slantwise from collar to the waist. The buttons could be metal (hollow), knotted of cord, or wooden, as well as golden and pearl.

3. Waist kaftan was sewn to close fit the figure and had short elbow-length sleeves.

4. Polish kaftan that appeared in the 17th century was cutoff at the waist. The bodice was close fitting, whereas the lower laps were broad, made of stitched together and bunched gores. The sleeves were very broad and puffed at the shoulders and narrow from elbows to wrists.

5. Terlik was a special type of kaftan that tsar’s body guards used to wear. Just like the Polish kaftan, it had a cutoff bodice, wide bell-shaped laps, and sleeves with puffs above the elbows and very narrowed to the wrists.

6. Chuga was a special kaftan for riding and for military men. It had short sleeves and a turn-down collar, as well as two side slits on the hem.

 7. Feryaz, a peculiar type of kaftan made only of expensive fabrics was one of the holiday and ceremonial dresses of the nobility. It had a lining, sometimes a fur one. Feryaz was very broad, up to 3 meters, at the hem, and had extremely long sleeves hanging down to the ground. It was put on in the following way: only one hand would be passed into the sleeve, which was gathered in numerous tucks, whereas the second sleeve would be hanging along the figure to the ground.

This garment was the privilege of the nobility and emphasized their class status, as well as disdainful attitude to physical labour. It is this type of kaftan that brought about the well-known Russian expression “to work with sleeves lowered down”, which means to slack one’s work.

In summertime over the kaftan often the odnoryadka (“one-row” gown) was put on. It was a garment sewn of one row of cloth, i.e. without any lining. It served as a rain coat and was made of cotton or woolen fabrics. It was of ankle-length, buttoned line-in-line and would often be belted.

The porty (pants) were naturally an indispensable part of man’s costume. Their form almost did not change from the pre-Mongolian period: they were narrow, without any fly, and were fastened with a lace. The noble people wore two pants at a time, the outer usually made of broadcloth or silk. Winter pants could be lined with fur.

 The nobles also used to wear the okhaben spread in the 15th – 16th cc. It was a rather narrow throw-open ankle-length dress buttoned line-in-line on tabs in front. It had narrow and long swing-aside sleeves, yet the arms were usually put through the vents in the armhole on the front, whereas the sleeves were tied behind at the waist. The okhaben had a big quadrangle folding collar reaching almost to the middle back. It was sewn of expensive fabrics, such as satin, velvet or brocade.

The opashen was a variation of the okhaben. This summer garment was put on over the shoulders. It also had long swing-down sleeves that hanged down along the figure. It had neither collar nor tabs and it was never girdled.

One of the most specific Russian garments was the shuba (i.e. fur coat). All layers of population, from peasants to noble boyars and even the tsars, used to wear the shubas. In the old Rus shubas were never sewn with the fur outside. No matter how expensive the fur could be it always served as a lining. Peasants usually used sheepskin, or hare fur, whereas the nobles had shubas of marten, sable, blue fox or silver fox furs.

 Outside the shuba was stitched with various types of fabrics, such as broadcloth, brocade or velvet. On festive occasions it could be put on even in summertime and indoors.

There were several types of shubas. The most popular of them were the “Russian” and “Turkish” ones. The “Russian” shuba was massive, long to the floor, and broadening downwards up to 3.5 meters at the hem. In front it was tied with laces. The shuba had long sleeves sometimes reaching the floor; they had holes to the elbows in front to put the arms through. The broad turn-down collar and the cuff were made of fur.

The “Turkish” shuba was considered extremely festive apparel and was usually put on the shoulders. It was long, with comparatively short and wide sleeves.






Tags: Russian Traditions Traditional Russian Dress    

Next Previous

You might also find interesting:

On Folk Tales of Russia National Russian Dress: Costume Decorations Father Frost the Red Nose Happy Old New Year! Household Furnishing and Utensils of the Old Russians

Comment on our site

RSS   twitter      submit

Astrakhan  Pskov Region  Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week   Winzavod  Russian business  Russian Cinema  Russian scientists  Artistic Gymnastics World Cup 2015  Musicals in Moscow  Emergency Response  Alexander Dymnikov  Subway  Varlam Shalamov  Sberbank  St. Petersburg  Dagestan  children  ZDDZ London  Soviet Symbols  Graffiti  Russian painters  Russian economy  health  Exhibitions in Moscow  Frantz Josef Land  Colour Photography  Penny Whistles  Water  Pavel Chukhrai  New Films  transport  Russian tourism  Dmitrov  Russian Premier League  animation  Yakutsk  Sayansk  Happy Birthday  Penza  Russian science  Moscow  Russia-German  odd news  IKEA  Visa   tourism  Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Russia  Arkady Dvorkovich  Cars  Perm Territory 

Travel Blogs
Top Traveling Sites