Outfits >>> Read about >>> Head Dress.

Russian peasants considered head dress as an important part of an outfit. All members of village community had to cover their heads (and, for women - hairs) completely when they went outside their homes. Bare head was a shame (for women), and an insult for other people (for men). Russian language still keeps words and proverbs connected with that tradition.

As a whole, headpiece was kind of passport for village people. It reflected age group of a wearer (to be more precise - her/his ability to have offspring), her/his marital status, number of children, etc. According to ethnographers, usage of a headdress (or, of a hairdo) as a marker of physical maturity was common for all traditional cultures around the world. And, Russia was not an exception. Head covers of Russian peasants expressed any changes of wearer's health and/or family situation very precisely and carefully. Therefore, people could switch from one hat to another every year (or, even more frequent, e.g., during adolescence).

Being a marker of maturity, headdresses were forbidden for "mladency" (children before their age of 8). At his 8th birthday, boys got their first hats (along with the first porty - pants). Girls of the same age started to wear modest kerchiefs and earrings. However, later, between ages of 11 and 15, headpieces became bright and fancy. New details reflecting process of maturation had been added to them almost each month.

Young man's hat. Semipalatinsk, 1880s.
Kartuzy (hats) for boys after their 15 (age of marriage, for village youngsters) had been made of more expensive and stylish textiles than before. Young men, who were searching for bride, wore city-style hats with wide brim and high crown.

Tradition didn't require any particular shape of color. The only rule was: the fancier, the better. When a boy found a girlfriend (not a bride yet), he started to decorate his headdress with small gifts made by her: tassels, bows, etc. After engagement, a groom-to-be beautified his headpiece with wide silken bands, paper flowers, beads, and pearls - depended on his family's wealth. And, for wedding ceremony, embroidered plat (a ritual towel) carried symbols of fertility and prosperity had to be tied around groom's hat.

Right after his wedding, newlywed switched from his previous bachelor-style hat to a traditional headpiece (special for each region). From now on, his capability to be a proper husband and father was symbolically expressed by an expensive fabric of a hat, not by an arty-crafty decoration. Usually, men's hats were made of woolen coating, duffel, and fur. Any tassels or bands were allowed only until the first child's birth.

Men's headpieces were very diverse in fashion, decoration, and fabric used. All those differences caused different names of hats.

Senior man in a greshnevik.
  • "Valenka" ("made of felt") - a round hat for a spring-summer time.
  • "Greshnevik" - a high felt hat of a dark-brown color, which resembled a color of buckwheat (grecha means buckwheat in Russian).
  • "Papakha" - a cylindrical hat made of fur and velvet.
  • "Kolpak" - a conical hat trimmed with a narrow stripe of fur. Sometimes people added an adjective to define a type of fur: belichi kolpak (made with squirrel's fur), sobachi kolpak (with dog's skin), etc.

  • The very word "hat" could be substitute by a name of textile a hat was made of: pukhovaa (made of down feather), plisovaa (made of velvet), mekhovaa(made of fur). A hat fully made of fur (like ushanka) was very expensive. Therefore, it passed from father to son as a legacy.

A "venec" (a diadem).
Archangel region, 1850s.
From a private collection of A.V.Maraeva

In contrast to men's hats, which were pretty similar around Russia, women's headdresses of each region were totally different in their shape, color, decoration, and name. For instance, headpiece shown on a photo had been worn in Archangel region only. And, its true name was not "kokoshnik", but venec ("a diadem").

A "crown", replica.
Archangel region, 1850s.
Made by Tatiana Val'kova

In general, girls' high crown-like headpieces on a birch-bark base, embellished with golden embroidery, beads, and semiprecious gemstones, existed in Northern Russia only. Young peasant women of Southern regions wore wreaths, headbands made of expensive fabrics, or simply kerchiefs.

Kokoshnik of an engaged girl.
Kostroma region, 1870s.
From Museum of Traditional Crafts collection

Embroidery ornamented a girl's headdress had to depict Tree of Life. It was an allusion to a future motherhood of a wearer. And, from peasants' point of view, that was also a magical guarantee for a proper and well-timed maturation of a girl. Engaged girls should add swans of geese to their headpiece designs (in accordance to Russian paganism, swan symbolized love, marriage, and wife).

The main difference between girls' and married women's headdresses was that girls' ones allowed seeing hair and vertex of a wearer. Contrary, wives must cover their braids completely. The reason for that requirement lied in archaic beliefs that hair was a source of magic power. Therefore, covered hairdo of a wife (and, ritual cutting of a bride's hair during wedding ceremony) symbolized her submission to a husband.

Design and ornamentation of married women's headpiece expressed and honored their motherhood. That idea could be shown in two ways. A headdress could carry high (up to 2 feet) bright-cololred horns (as an allusion to a second nature of Mothers of the World: female elk). Or, a symbol of Delivering Mother (so-called "a pretty frog") should be embroidered with golden thread.

Soroka-kerchef with kichka-hat.
Tambov region, second half of the 19th century.
From State Historical Museum collection

Soroka-kerchef with sderikha-hat, replica.
Archangel region, Kargopol district, 1870s
Made by Sonia Krugloff

Words used for naming of women's headdresses often reflected a type of textile, or a fashion of a headpiece: "borushka" - one with folds, povoinik - encircling one, barkhotka - made of velvet. However, the most ancient terms expressed an archaic idea that being mother was symbolically equal being a bird: kokoshnik (kokosh means "a hen" in ancient-Slavic), soroka ("a magpie" in Russian), ptakha ("a bird").

Borushka, replica.
Yaroslavl region, 1700s.
Made by Irina Zhoukova
Soroka, replica.
Voronezh region, 1880s.
Made by tatiana Teodorovich
Headband with down feather, replica.
Archangel region, 1890s.
Made by Olga Mamaenko
"A crown".
Tula region, second half of the 19th century.
From a private collection of Sergey Glebushkin
Orel region, 1900s.
Made by Polina V. Egorochkina (on the photo)
Ryazan region, 1890s.
From a private collection of Sergey Glebushkin

After their 40s, women lost their right to wear "horns of motherhood". Also, a "froggy" became more modest. Instead of golden fiber, "seniors-to-be" had to use woolen thread. And, after a menopause, "grandmothers" wore just plain black or white kerchiefs.

Sources (in Russian)
  1. N. Sosnina, I.Shangina, "Traditional Russian Outfit" (a directory)
  2. "Russian Traditional Life" (encyclopedia)
  3. "Men and Women (male and female aspects of a traditional Russian culture)" (a directory)
  4. M.M.Gromyko, " Everyday Life of Russian Village of the 19th century"
  5. "Russian Costume of the 15th - early 20th centuries" (a photoalbum)
  6. "Folk Russian Embroidery" (a photoalbum)
  7. V.Ya.Propp, "Morphology of a Folktale" (avaliable in English)
  8. G.S.Maslova, "Designs of Traditional Russian Embroidery"
  9. "Chudesnye Mgnovenia" (Wonderful Moments, a magazine), iss.#1, 2002
  10. B.Sokolov, Yu.Sokolov, "Everyday village life and traditions of Belozersk region"