This set of webpages is my attempt to organize my notes on early Russian clothing. As such, it is a work-in-progress and the information is often incomplete and sometimes contradictory. It is published "on-line" as an invitation for others to share information that I don't have (Thank you!) and to help others who are treading the same ground I already have.
It may seem repetitive at times, when I have a paragraph about an item based on Pushkareva, followed by a paragraph with slightly different information from Stamerov. But I have found it useful to carefully indicate where the different information came from, so I can double check it later or make judgements based on the reliability of the source.
Since the terminology of ancient clothing is often controversial, authors frequently seem to use different terms for the same garment. This is why I set up the "layers" system of organization, so that similar garments being used in similar ways would be discussed on the same page for comparison. The terms svita and shuba are an example of garments that have a lot of similarities and may (or may not) be overlapping terms. (I've noticed that Russian researchers tend to be splitters rather than lumpers.)
Fabrics and Furs
Colors and Dyes
Decoration and Ornament
Collars, Cuffs, Voshvy, Borders
Belts, Purses, Gloves, Mittens
Clothing in early Rus', as in other
cultures, reflected societal norms, and the individual's originality and
conception of beauty, and indicated rank, wealth, profession, family
status and locality. (Pushkareva97)
Rus had close political, economic, and cultural ties with the Byzantine empire which
had a noticeable (but fiercely debated) affect on the form of clothing in Ancient Rus,
particulalry for the upper classes. At the same time, Rus was not isolated from Europe,
the controversial Viking origin of the Rus rulers, the interaction with Finnish neighbors
in the north, and trade with Western Europe meant that clothing in Rus was not completely
isolated from styles in the rest of Europe.
The climate of Rus was fairly cool. Long winters and cool summers made closed up clothing
with many layers and furs practical. (Kireyeva)
In distinction from peasants - city dwellers and the representatives
of the ruling class were "all in boots". The leather shoes of the
10-13th cent. - porshni, soft shoes, "half boots" and boots without heel
and stiff base - were cut simply and crudely, but then brightly colored.
In general, the garments of nobility had more detail
than those of the lower classes. (Pushkareva97) The clothing of the
representatives of the feudal nobility also had more items in each of
the layers of clothing. (Pushkareva89)
Aristocratic ceremonial clothing also demonstrated wealth with
multicolored cloth, silver and gold embroidery and expensive furs. One
princess owned a red coat lined with fox fur when a single fox pelt
worth was more than a silver ruble - a year's pay for a peasant.
Fine imported fabrics (pavolok) were reserved for outer garments and festival costumes.
The main imported fabrics were taffeta, brocade, stamped velvet, golden velvet
(velvet embroidered with gold thread). (Kireyeva)
Fur was used extensively. Winter clothes were lined with it, and trims and edgings were
made of it. Peasants used wolf, fox, bear, rabbit, squirrel and especially sheepskin.
Nobility enjoyed beaver, otter, sable, and marten. (Stamerov)
The other required item of male clothing was the trousers (porta). It was worn
belted with a drawstring (gashnika) and could be tucked into boots or wrapped with onuchi
(cloth leg wraps). Peasants would wear coarse linen, while wealthier Rus wore finer
cloth, even silk - as second pair of trousers. (Kireyeva)
The basic trousers worn against the skin would be linen, and and often a second pair of trousers was worn over them made of more expensive fabric, linen, wool, or possibly silk. Thus the linen under-trousers would serve as underwear. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)
The trousers and rubakha seem to have functioned as underwear and, possibly, sleepwear.
information about the garments in layer one.
Layer 2: svita, shuba, opashen, dalmatika
Svitas to be worn in winter were fur-lined. (Kireyeva)
The shuba seems to have been very similar (identical?) to the svita.
The opashen was worn later in this period. It could be ankle-length, or it could be only just long enough to cover the svita underneath. Like the women's version, it could be worn over the shoulders like a cape.
Noble men also might wear a garment much like the women's dalmatika on formal occasions. This is depicted in the Radzivill chronicle, for example. I have not yet run across a "Russian" name for this robe.
information about the garments in layer two.
Layer 3: Cloaks and plashevidonoj (cloak-like) garments
The nobility might wear a cloak called the korzna over their clothing. It was
rectagular or rounded in form, usually hanging down to cover the knees, and was fastened
over the right shoulder with a fibula. Some cloaks were also fastened in the middle
front to hang over both shoulders. (Kireyeva, compare with Stamerov on ceremonial clothing)
information about the garments in layer three.
Over the rubakha was worn a long tunic reaching to the
ankles with narrow sleeves, then over that a dalmatica with wide
straight sleeves shorter than the sleeves of the tunic. The dalmatica
was considerably shorter than the tunic reaching approximately the calf,
and it was belted at the waist. Over the dalmatica was often worn a
mantle (fastened in front) or, more rarely, a korzna (fastened on the
right shoulder). (Stamerov) or
The cloak-cape was long preserved in the costume of the ancient Rus in
celebratory clothing. Comparing the Radzivillovski Chronicle
with frescos of Sophia Cathedral of Kiev, one can conclude that the over
garment was loose and long, supplemented with "raspashnym" clothing (a type of
cloak), a collar, a "podol" (lap of skirt?) and a "styk" (joint?) of
fabric which was otorocheny (edged?) with a border. On frescoes of St.
Sophia's in Kiev, the women were dressed in just such dresses and edged
cloaks (plashi). Sometimes, that edge or border was sewn on and
represented itself as a wide silk braid, embroidered with gold.
Galloon/braids of such type are found in burials. (Pushkarva89)
For the 9-13th cent. Rabinovich was not concerned with the clothing of ecclesiastical figures and the ritual clothing of orthodox clergy, because it was Byzantine clothing. A different opinion of researchers is only in that the set of clothes of monks and priests already from the very beginning was penetrated by objects of folk clothing like the svita, worn over the monks khiton, or the votoly [cloak] over the vestments of a bishop. (Rabinovich, 9-13th)
In the 13-17th cent. clerical figures in daily life were dressed the same as their parishioners, but over the usual dress the priest wore first an odnoryadka, and then a cassock [ryasa] with wide collar and sleeves, while a bishop wore also a special mantle of white silk “with many embroidered stripes of white satin in width of 2 fingers” and klobuk [clerical hat], which in various bishoprics the tradition was not identical (for example, in Novgorod the Great – is known “white klobuk”, about the origin of which was composed a legend). About the clothing of monks, Fletcher says briefly that it consisted of white flannel rubakha, mantle with leather belt and cassock. An undercassock [podryasnik] with narrow long sleeves they wore under the cassock, but sub-deacons and in general the lowest parish clergy wore it even as everyday dress. (Rabinovich, 13-17th)
Until 15-16th cent. the beard and long hair and dark color of clothing was not required even for clergy. (Rabinovich, 13-17th)
Monks wore a rubakha-khiton reaching to the feet with narrow sleeves over the hands,
belted with a wide belt; and a cloak-mantiyu hanging just below the knees and fastened
in the center front. They wore a pointed hood and bast shoes or boots. (Stamerov)
wore the usual clerical vestments when appropriate, but with the epitrakhil (the long
scarf with crosses that hangs down the front) over the khiton, and a cowl (a fairly close-
fitting pointed hood with a cross over the forehead) on the head, over the hood (?), which
was pulled down low over the brow. (I’m still not sure what all that means. I am told that the epitrakhil is to be worn only by ordained priests, whether monastic or not. Deacons wear a similar item, but over one shoulder only, since they do not have the priests' double portion of grace. A monk who is also a priest is a hieromonk. See below for further information.) Black
clothing was not required in Kievan Rus, even for cloistered monks. Khitons could be dark
brown, gray or dark blue. Mantles were dark brown or dark red. Fine crosses were
embroidered in red on the epitrakhils and hoods. (Stamerov and Kireveya)
After seeing my confusion in the above paragraph, Justin Griffing, aka Iustinos, shared the following information:
A coarse wool fabric was called "vlasyanitsy" (hairshirt); monks and
nuns wore it directly on the body as a form of self-torture.
At the beginning of the 10th century especially, noble costume was
ornamented with beads, nachilniki, and sequins. (Stamerov)
Earrings were not particularly common from the 10th-13th centuries (but more common for men than women), but
bracelets, rings, beads and necklaces were. The majority of jewelry was
made of metal. Peasant jewelry was of copper, bronze or low-grade
silver. Noble jewelry was of silver, and sometimes gold. (Stamerov)
Jewelers techniques included pearlwork, silverwork, filigree and enamel.
Small embossed coins, engravings, stampings, castings, zern (solder
for making tiny metal grains), filigree, and black and partitioned
enamel were among the techniques mastered in Kiev. (Stamerov) Tin
sequins of various forms were sewn in ornamental bands and stripes on
the yoke, etc. of clothing and frequently had gems attached to them.
Jewelry was often designed for individual commissions. Gold and
silver jewelry with precious and semiprecious stones was often passed
down for many generations. (Pushkareva97)
See Jewelry Page and Accessories Page.
The rubakha could now have a side neck opening, but still had no collar. (Kireyeva)
Trousers were essentially unchanged. (Kireyeva)
The zypun replaced the svita, but had a very similar form, although shorter. This served
as outer wear for peasants. (Kireyeva)
Kaftans of several forms came to be worn by the upper classes over the zypun. (Kireyeva)
Over the kaftans could then be worn the feryaz, okhaben, opashen, or odnoryadka for
A couple of variations of shuba developed to also serve as outerwear. (Kireyeva)
The traditional favorite color of clothing remained red. (Pushkareva89)
15th cent. cloaks and capes were used more rarely, and together with
changes of form clothing was changed and also the set of its traditional
accessories. Fibuly became a rare ornament.
But the belt remained a necessary accessory.
Onuchi and sandals continued to serve as footwear in the countryside, but city dwellers
preferred boots. Boots with heels appeared in the 14th century. (Kireyeva) The shoes
became significantly more complex in cut and design with openwork
appearing, along with composite manufacture at the end of the 15th century.
Hats became more diverse, but were generally conical like the kolpak. The tafya, skull
cap, was often worn at home. (Kireyeva)
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