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Being a kind of an "ID", Russian traditional outfit carefully indicated all changes of a family and social status of a person. Traditionally, the age of 25 was counted as the latest possible age for a marriage for village people. So, the main difference reflected in adults' clothes was "married / not married".

Married woman (baba).
A married woman's outfit consisted of:

As 4 regional types of clothes existed in Russia, so the difference between womens' and girls' outfit depended on a region.

A Sarafan-type (Northern and North-Western Russia; Siberia).
In some regions, unmarried girls wore shirts (underdresses) only. In this case, after marriage, they must add a sarafan (dress) with an apron to their outfit. At the same time, if a local tradition allowed unmarried girls wearing a sarafan, then after being married, young women started making their sarafans of more expensive materials.

A poneva-type (Southern Russia).
In Southern regions, a sarafan was worn by unmarried girls only (it was thought as "stylish" and "up-to-date" costume). Contrary, married women put on a traditional and "approved-by-ancestors" poneva- skirt.

For andarak-type and kubilek-type outfits, only women's headdresses should be changes after marriage.

Village beliefs taught that for couple of years right after marriage (so-called "years of beauty") a young wife radiated mystical "fertility rays" - in other words, a young wife fertilized everybody and everything around her. In different villages, this period was counted in different ways. It could last for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, "till the first baby was born", "till the third pregnancy", and so on. And, for the whole "years of beauty", a young woman's costume reflected her extreme fertilizing ability by a large amount of red color, golden trim, pearls, and rich embroidery.

Tradition allowed a young wife to continue wearing unmarried girls' outfit. However, there were 2 limitations there. First, whereas a girl's venec - "a diadem" - did not cover a wearer's hair completely, married women must hide their hair under a modest povoinik on weekdays, and bright and festive soroka, lobaznya, borushka (depending on a local tradition) for celebrations. Second, a married woman should not include any "city-style" items (like long gloves, umbrellas, and boots) in her costume.

Also, during "years of beauty", a woman was allowed adding colored ribbons for your headdress, as it was for unmarried girls. The difference was that girls entwined their hair with ribbons, whereas a married woman should attach ribbons to a headdress, not to her hair directly.

Embroidery designs for a married woman's cloths decoration became "more mature" from a village point of view. Girls have worn Swans and Trees of Life, as a sign of their readiness to be mothers. But, actual mothers wore lyagushechka ("a pretty frog") - a formalized image of a delivering goddess.

When a woman gave birth to her first child, she symbolically became "a horned mother", and, consequently, added horns to her headdress. In some regions, these horns were up to 2 feet high. In other villages, contrary, just two small pompoms over a woman's forehead alluded to horns. Also, mothers with kids embroidered lyagushechkas on their outfits using golden thread, gemstones and pearls, whereas childless women depicted a goddess with red silk thread.

When "years of beauty" were over, a woman's outfit turned to less colorful and less festive one. It included less amount of red than before, and a red color itself became darker and darker with ages. However, an expensive fur coat ("shuba") was a must for a married woman after 30. Symbolically, a woman "put off" her "fertility radiation" and "put on" signs of wealth and success.

Married man (muzhik).
Man's outfit consisted of:

  • a shirt
  • pants
  • boots (made of leather or of bast fiber, depending on regional specifics and wealth of a particular man)
  • a waistband
  • a hat
  • outerwear

Right after a marriage feast, a man changed his outfit dramatically. Young bachelors wore something non-traditional, bright and "city-styled", adding chains, watches, decorative canes to their outfit. All this "show-off" was strictly prohibited for a married man. A young husband should wear only traditional clothes: shirts with embroidered signs of fertility and wealth, long pants, leather boots, a dark woolen hat, and - last but not least - a kaftan: a light woolen coat. Also, for married men after 30, an expensive fur coat was a must (as for their wives). As an everyday and working clothes, men could wear shirts made of "motley" - a specific type of homewoven cloth (it had a woolen warp and a linen/cotton/hemp weft).

Speaking about a color palette, men's clothes kept bright colors only for several years after marriage (along with "years of beauty" for women). After this period, a men's costume became darker. And, when a man came to "head-of-extended-family" position, he put on a dark-blue shirt, as a sign of his high family status.

Unmarried woman after 25 (stara'a deva (spinster)).
For village people, as spinsters could not produce offspring, so they were symbolically "equal" to old women. And, similar to old women, they could not wear neither girls' nor women's articles of clothing at all. No red color, ritual embroidery, jewelry, fur coats, colorful headdresses were allowed for spinsters. Moreover, they even might not wear sarafans (dresses) or ponevas (skirts). A spinster's outfit included only an ankle-long white shirt (underdress), a dark kerchief (grey, brown, black), and a dark woolen jacket. Protective embroidery for spinsters was made in a very light pink color, and designs were narrow and must not include any symbols of the Goddess. In fact, only signs of male gods protected these women.

However, there was one more type of unmarried women in a village. It was so-called chernichka - "a pretty black one". Chernichkas were women who declared their unwillingness to be married (of course, they must do this declaration before their 25 years). These women were thought like nuns living outside a monastery. Village people treated chernichkas with a high respect.

For sure, chernichkas' clothes was of dark colors: black, brown, grey. However, in contrast to spinsters, chernichkas wore modest sarafans and dark long skirts of a different cut than poneva (as poneva itself was a sign of a marriage). Also, a leather boots were allowed for chernichkas.

Unmarried man after 25-30 (bobyl' (looser)).
Strictly speaking, a "marriage limit age" for men was not 25, but 30 years. However, an unmarried man after 25 became a "suspicious" figure for village people: is he healthy enough? Is he smart enough?, etc. He lost his right for a decorative "groom's hat". If he continued including "city-style" details to his outfit, people counted it as silly, not attractive. And, these who did not find a spouse till 30, moved to the next status: bobyl'.

A bobyl' must not wear red color. Protective embroidery for bobyl's shirts used a light-grey color. Only the simplest versions of ritual symbols were allowed.

Also, as a bobyl' could bot be a head of a family, he should not wear a blue shirt, leather boots and a fur coat. To extend humiliation, colorful wide kushaks (woven waistbands) were forbidden. In fact, the costume as a whole should emphasize that a bobyl' was a looser from a village point of view.

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Sourses (in Russian)
  1. "Men and Women (male and female aspects of traditional Russian culture)" (a directory) (St-Petersburg: Iskusstvo-SPb, 2005)
  2. M.M.Gromyko, " Everyday Life of Russian Village of the 19th century"
  3. I.Shangina "Russian Traditional Life" (encyclopedia)
  4. "Chudesnye Mgnovenia" (Wonderful Moments, a magazine), iss.#4, 2004
  5. B.Dm.Pokrovsky, memoirs (a manuscript)
  6. M.N.Shmeleva, "Russian Clothing Style"
  7. F.M.Parmon, "Traditional Russian Costume as a Source of Ideas"
  8. I.Kremleva, "Russians: Family and Community Life"
  9. B.Sokolov, Yu.Sokolov, "Everyday village life and traditions of Belozersk region" (issued originally in 1915, re-printed in 1997)