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Outfits >>> Read about... >>> Seniors' Clothes (after 40 years old)

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After his/her 40, a Russian farmer went through 3 social roles/statuses. So, the person's outfit reflected these roles accurately.

1) 40 - 50 years old. Social maturity, leading a family (! NOT an Extended family yet, but an immediate family only).

Russian farmers married being relatively young. However, a new family was not counted as an independent economical/social subject until a husband reached his 40. Before this, a new family should obey a head of a husband-side Extended family.
After the 40th birthday of a man, he became a Bolshak ([bol'-SHAK], he-who-is-the-biggest-and-the-most-powerful). His wife obtained a name of Bolshuha ([bol'-SHOO-khah], she-who-is-the-biggest-and-the-most-powerful). Bolshak was an independent, one and only ruler of his immediate family (except emergency situations, when the head of an Extended family took power).

The Bolshak's outfit was similar to a regular man's clothing. It consisted of the same items: a shirt, pants, boots, a waistband, a hat, outwear. The Bolshak status was emphasized by:

  • using a high-quality and expensive materials,
  • changes in a color palette of clothes.

Speaking of a color palette, a Bolshak's shirt (even an everyday one) should be of a dark-red color (a purple tint was acceptable too). This was a contrast to a bright-red shirt of a young just-married man. Bright-red visualized vital energy and fertility of a man himself, whereas dark-red symbolized a reliable and stable energy source supported the whole family, family's livestock, grain field, and orchard.

Bolshak's waistband usually was made slightly wider and longer than a regular man's waistband. The main difference was symbols placed on a waistband. Again, for a younger man, sacred signs of Fiery Male Gods were applied (for a better childbearing). Contrary, Bolshak worn motifs dedicated to ancestors and Mother Earth.
On his waistband, Bolshak carried several keys (the more the better). For sure, these keys were fake, they just symbolized that "this man has a lot of goods and money to lock". Real keys were kept safely in a certain hidden place.

Bolshuha (usually, a wife or a widow of a Bolshak) was responsible for cooking. It was her one and only housework in a farmers' household. This responsibility (and a status of a "Cooking priestess") was reflected in Bolshuha's outfit by adding an extra apron. A short non-decorated piece of a cheap cloth (motley, or hemp) was put on top of a regular apron (that was with sacred signs and decoration). This extra piece of cloth supposed to be a hand-dryer and table-wiper. However, if a woman really used this "extra apron" for wiping and drying, it was counted as an ill-mannered behavior.

On her belt, Bolshuha also carried keys - but, they were real in this case. They were keys for closets and pantries with food and house-work supplies.

2) 50-65 years old, "the first senior ages". A person of this age could be of two different social statuses. Consequently, two different outfits for "first-time seniors" exist.

a) "The old ones". In Russian language before 1900s, the word "old" meant not "being of senior ages", but "being a mainstay, footing, support". In Russian epic poems, the leader of Kiev Household Division, the divine warrior Ilya Muromets, is titled as "the old Cossack". Another character, Mamelfa Timofeevna, the lady-head of Chernigov's merchants guild, is honored with a name of "the old and mature lady". So, "the first senior ages" are counted as ages of mainstay: "the old" person is, on one hand, still strong and healthy enough, and, on the other hand, he/she already has enough knowledge and experience to lead a family (this time not only his/her immediate family, but an Extended one). A head of an Extended family was responsible for his own family, his siblings' families, his cousins' families, and his parents (if they were still alive).

"Old ones" (both husband and wife) wore dark-blue outfits heavily decorated with golden trim. It is interesting, however, that "olds" should not have rich embroidery on their clothing. Only narrow bands of basic protective symbols were allowed.

Why dark-blue? The blue pigment (indigo) appeared in Russia in the fifteenth century only, as an imported merchandise from Persia (it is impossible to make a reliable blue pigment using natural resources - plants, minerals - of Russian nature). Being imported, indigo was extremely expensive. Only rich people could afford it. Consequently, dark-blue outfit signified wealth of a wearer. It is obvious that farmers rarely had enough money for buying indigo. And, for sure, 50-60-year-old farmers were richer than young people. So, indigo was absolutely unaffordable for young farmers, and partially affordable for seniors. Starting as a token of wealth, dark-blue gradually became a token of age.

Of course, farmers included "a new color" - dark-blue - into their palette of symbols. Dark-blue is not red (a color of blood, vital energy, youth), but it is not black (a color of death). Symbolically, it stays "in the middle of red and black" - so, people started count it as a color of aging and extinction.

Later, after cloth-dying manufactures emerged in country-side Russia (around 1780s), dark-blue pigment and cloth became affordable for any farmers' family. However, as dark-blue was already symbolically defined as "a color of seniors", it continued to be this way until 1930s.

Why not much embroidery? In Russian needlepoint, a lion's share of symbols were "graphical spells" for fertility (both human being's and grain field's). And, people after their 50s were significantly less fertile than youngsters. They could not demonstrate (or share) their vital energy and childbearing ability (because, it was barely something to demonstrate). So, rich embroidery's show-off and "radiation of fertility" did not make any sense for seniors - for them, it was enough to have basic self-protection on their shirts.

"Old ladies"'s headdresses were made of expensive materials (silk, brocade, gemstones). However, they could not have horns on them (as horns were attributes of Mothers of the World - and, senior women lost their ability to be mothers). At the same time, for these "old ladies" who obtained this title earlier than their menopause happened, it was allowed to embroider "pretty frogs" (delivering goddesses) on headdresses.

b) "Not old ones". If a person of his/her 50s-60s did not become a head of an Extended family, he/she was called "not old one" (i.e., "not a leader, not a mainstay, just a senior"). "Not olds" wore clothes of dark colors (grey, brown) with a tiny bit of protective embroidery. For women, there was no embroidery on paliki - shoulder details. For headdresses, if a woman still kept her childbearing ability at this age, she should embroider "pretty frogs" on her hat using dark woolen thread (and, sure, there should not be any horns there). For men, there was no decoration on "shields" of their shirts. Waistbands for "not old" men had not sacred symbolic designs on them any more. "Not olds" wore not "belts", but "kushaks": wide soft monochrome home-woven pieces of cloth, with no any designs or decoration. Kushaks should not be tied with any knot. A man turned a kushak twice (or more) around his body, and hid its ends under a kushak itself, on back.

"Not olds" could wore a leather footwear (if they still had it from younger ages). However, if they needed a new footwear, it should be made of felt (so-called "valenki" - traditional felt boots).

3) After 65, "the second senior ages", "decrepit", "dilapidated". This age was counted as the very end of life, as "age of the Border". People after 65 stopped being members of society and community. In terms of a social status, they became equal to babies and toddlers. Sure, "second seniors'" cloth was the same as for toddlers: ankle-long white shirts for men and women, no belts, no hats. Women could have dark kerchiefs on their heads. Men wore white linen underpants only, but no pants.


Sources (in Russian)
  1. "Men and Women (male and female aspects of traditional Russian culture)" (a directory)
  2. "Russian Traditional Life" (encyclopedia)
  3. Boris Dm. Pokrovsky, Memoirs (a manuscript)
  4. N.A. Minenko, "Senior members of Russian Siberian village community in the eighteenth - nineteenth century"
  5. M.N.Shmeleva, "Russian Clothing"
  6. I.Kremleva, "Russians: family and community life"
  7. Boris and Yuriy Sokolov, "Everyday life of Belozerie region farmers", 1915.