Men's Clothing in Early Rus

by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies
Updated 8 November 2007

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.)

Contents of this page: General Notes
Ideal of Beauty
Class Distinctions
Materials and Colors Overview
Basic Clothing Layers
Ceremonial and Clerical Costume
Ornament and Jewelry Overview
Later Changes
Other pages with more details: The first layer. - shirt and trousers
The second layer. - light overgarments
The third layer. - heavy overgarments
The fourth layer. - cloak-like garments
Hair and Accessories.

Fabrics and Furs
Colors and Dyes
Garment Construction
Decoration and Ornament
Collars, Cuffs, Voshvy, Borders
Belts, Purses, Gloves, Mittens

General Notes: The material culture of early Rus that I will discuss here appears in the historical record in the 10th century, and survives with gradual evolution of styles, until Moscow takes control of the Rus lands in the 15th century. This time span covers the historical periods of Kievan Rus and Appanage Rus (or Rus under the Mongols). My primary interest is in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, a time of irritatingly poor documentation it seems. (Hence the use of information from the 10th-15th centuries.)

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)

Ideal of Beauty: The male ideal of beauty was a broad full beard, with a static immobile- appearing figure, properly covered up. Short clothing was considered indecent by all classes of society. The cut of clothing de-emphasized the form of the body, and was not very wide or full. (Kireyeva)
Class Distinctions: The class and wealth was indicated in the outerwear of 10th-15th century Rus in fabric treatment, not in cut. These outer garments were the primary place to display the owner's wealth. (Pushkareva97) Peasant Costume: The richer a village inhabitant was, the more prominent were all kinds of ornament, the higher the quality of their manufacture, and the more expensive the utilized materials, especially for holidays. (Pushkareva89)

City-Dwellers: The composition of the costume of ancient Russian city dwellers was more complicated and included greater number of items. The number of garments depended on the season and material circumstances of the family. (Pushkareva89)

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. (Pushkareva89)

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. (Pushkareva97)

Fabrics and Furs: The primary fabrics used were wools and linens (including hemps), as with the rest of Europe in the middle ages. Linen ranged from coarse to fine woven. Coarse, homespun wool (sermyaga or seryachini) was used for peasant clothes and also for the undergarments and everyday clothes of the merchant classes, and even boyars. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)

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)

Color: The clothing of Rus was very colorful. The raw color of unbleached linen predominated in peasant clothes. White would appear in various parts of the costume. Linen could be dyed, especially if intended for the nobility, and called “krashenin”. Colors included blue, green and red. Imported pavalok fabrics generally had Byzantine style ornamentation in dark-red (cinnabar), crimson (carmine), purple and azure. (Stamerov)
Layer 1: rubakha & trousers The most basic item of Russian clothing was the rubakha, a long shirt. Peasants would simply wear one coarse linen rubakha. Wealthier Rus would wear a second, more expensive (fine linen or silk) rubakha over it. In that case, the linen under-rubakha functioned as underwear. The rubakha reached nearly to the knees and always girdled with a narrow sash or belt at the waist. It was considered indecent to wear a rubakha without a belt. (Kireyeva and 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.

More information about the garments in layer one.

Layer 2: svita, shuba, opashen, dalmatika

The svita was the wool outer clothing of the typical male in the 10th through 13th centuries (and probably longer – Stamerov only discusses that earlier time period.) It pulled over the head with an opening down to the waist and covered the torso fairly closely, gradually widening toward the bottom using side gussets. It had a slight collar. It was belted with a wide cloth belt. The svita was at least knee length, but could extend to mid-calf. The lower classes tended to have the shorter garments. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)

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.

More information about the garments in layer two.

Layer 3: Cloaks and plashevidonoj (cloak-like) garments

Just like the women, men in medieval Rus often wore the above overgarments over the shoulders like cloaks.

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)

More information about the garments in layer three.

Ceremonial Costume: All classes wore the same basic garments as everyday dress (see the Layers discussed above). However, the ceremonial costumes of the Rus princes were separate and heavily derived from Byzantine styles. The garments included the tunic or gown in the typical Byzantine style (the tunic-tularis with narrow wrist-length sleeves, high-cut neckline, and small side openings below, but shorter than the Byzantine – only to the middle of the shin); the cloak-korzno (imitating the chlamys of semi-circular or rectangular cut and clasped on the right shoulder, same fabric as the tunic) or cloak-mantiyu (clasped in the center front); and special ornaments such as the pectoral (ozherelya) and cuffs (zarukavya). Such ceremonial costume was worn over a rich rubakha, appropriate trousers, and with fur-trimmed hat, and embroidered boots of red, purple or green. A sword was not worn. (Stamerov, compare with Kireyeva in Layer Three, above.)

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 (Kireyeva).

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 cape or 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)

Clergy: Clerical vestments were adapted almost entirely from Byzantium. However, a half-spherical cap somewhat squared off at the top with a broad fur cuff was worn by bishops until the introduction of the bishop’s miter in the 12th century. (Stamerov)

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)

Cloistered monks 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:

"Having read over your section on monastic garb, I thought I'd give some suggestions on parts you didn't understand. I can't proclaim myself an expert on period Russian clothing, but from the sounds of your description, I think I can work out the parts of the habit this refers to.
The cloistered monks that you refer to seem to be monks who have been tonsured into the great schema (the highest level of monasticism in the Orthodox Church). In Greece, a monk is either a novice, a rassaphore-monk (a monk who has been blessed to wear the ryassa and the klobuk, or hat with monastic veil), or a monk of the great schema. In Russia, the level of a monk of the small schema or stavrophore monk, is added between the rassaphore and the monk of the great schema. Because of this distinction between the latter two levels, the monk of the great schema spent most of his time in his cell and if he was a hieroschemamonk, he would serve the Divine Liturgy in his cell, not even leaving it for services in the katholikon (main chapel) of the monastery.
The monk of the great schema adds over the rubakhakhiton (also called the podrasnik, I believe) an item that I could see being referred to as an epitrachil, though the term isn't quite correct there in the technical sense. Though, in a lingustic sense it would, since the epitrachil is simply from the Greek for "upon the neck". The item is what is technically referred to as the schema, though there is another term for it that I can't remember at the moment. I think the Russians also refer to it as a "kukol". It is a long piece of cloth that hangs down the body of the monk, bearing images of the cross, the spear, the reed, often anagrams (i.e. ICXC, NIKA) and at times other images. Examples of monks in this form of the habit can be seen at the photographs on The cowl, or analav, would replace the previous monastic headgear, being worn with a mantle about the shoulders that was also highly decorated. " Spasibo, Iustinos!

A coarse wool fabric was called "vlasyanitsy" (hairshirt); monks and nuns wore it directly on the body as a form of self-torture. (Pushkareva89)

Ornament and Jewelry in General: The jewelry on heads, hands, necks and waists displayed wealth and served as amulets agains the "evil eye." To this end, much of the early jewelry was designed to make noise, the better to scare away evil spirits. (Pushkareva)

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. (Kireyeva)

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. (Stamerov)

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.

Later Changes: After the escape from Mongol rule in the 15th century, clothing in Rus began to evolve more rapidly, and become more diverse and intricate. Nobles began to wear several layers of clothing at once as a sign of status, regardless of the season, indoors and outdoors. Various items of Tatar derivation remained in fashion. Polish influences, such as the Polish kaftan, appeared in the 17th century. (Kireyeva)

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 appropriate occasions. A couple of variations of shuba developed to also serve as outerwear. (Kireyeva)

The traditional favorite color of clothing remained red. (Pushkareva89)

In the 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. (Pushkareva89)

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. (Pushkareva89)

Hats became more diverse, but were generally conical like the kolpak. The tafya, skull cap, was often worn at home. (Kireyeva)

Selected References:
  • Bykov, Alexander and Olga Kuzmin. Translated by Lisa Kies. Costume of Russian Merchant, Novgorod XV Century. .
  • Bykov, Alexander and Olga Kuzmin. Translated by Lisa Kies. Female City Costume, Novgorod XV Century. .
  • Kireyeva, E.V. Translated by Tatiana Nikolaevna Tumanova. The History of Costume. Enlightenment, Moscow, 1970.
  • Kolchin, B.A. and T.I. Makarova. Drevnaia Rus, Byt i Kultura. (Ancient Rus, Life and Culture) Publishing House “Nauka”. Moscow, 1997. [ISBN 5-02-010174-5. Shelf # fDk72 .D737 1997 at U of Iowa.]
  • Pushkareva, Natalia. Partially translated by Lisa Kies. Zhenshchiny drevney Rusi. 1989.
  • Pushkareva, Natalia. Translated by Eve Levin. Women in Russian History. M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, New York, 1997.
  • Rabinovich, M.G. Partially translated by Lisa Kies. Древняя Одежда Народов Восточной Европы. (Ancient Clothing of the Peoples of Eastern Europe.) "Nauka". Moskva. 1986.
  • Stamerov, K.K. Translated by Tatiana Nikolaevna Tumanova. An Illustrated History of Costume. Avenger, Kiev, 1978.

  • COPYRIGHT (c) 2002-2007 by Lisa Kies. You may make copies for personal use and to distribute for educational purposes but only if the article remains complete and entire with original authorship clearly noted.