Accessories in Early Rus

Belts, Purses, Gloves, Mittens and Handkerchiefs

by Sofya la Rus, Mka Lisa Kies
Updated 12 January 2008


    Photo from Partizan Website An important role in Russian clothing was played by different types of belts, from the simple braided belt of the peasant and ordinary city dweller to the valuable jeweled gold belt of the prince-commander. A belt even once ignited a feudal battle. Since many items of clothing were belted, people wearing several garments layered to go outside would, therefore, be wearing several belts. (Rabinovich, 13-17th)

    It was believed that unclean forces could not penetrate openings protected by lacy, embroidered belts. Bracelets and belts have been found by archeologists and are depicted in manuscript miniatures. (Pushkareva97)

    Belts were also a symbol of modesty and chastity for both men and women. (Kolchin)

    Belts were usually made of fabric (or leather, about 1.5 to 2 cm wide?). The men's belts (and presumably also women's) could be of white, blue, or red fabric, embroidered or trimmed with contrasting color. They were not cinched in tightly and a slight fold of cloth was gathered above, hiding the belt. (Stamerov mentions that those of men were usually fastened by metal buckles which were either lyre-like in shape or round. This may or may not have been true for women.  See below.) (Stamerov) and (Kireyeva) and (Pushkareva97)

    The most simple belts were of fabric, braided [card-woven?] and twisted [?]. Such belts were used by peasants even in the 19th century. One patterned wool fabric belt was found in a 16th century layer in a Moscow excavation. With such a belt, or also twisted cord, was belted the men's and women's rubakha, and the sarafan. In a 14th (15th?) century Novgorod icon are shown boys in rubakhas belted with red cords with tassels on the ends. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    The svita was worn with a wide cloth belt. (Kireyeva) and (Stamerov)

    Upper clothing was belted with a leather strap belt (finds of buckles are common) or cloth sash, kushek. The sash worn over the kaftan was of brightly colored fabric, cotton commonly, or for the rich of expensive imported material, with expecially decorated ends which hung down. Among tsarist garments in the Moscow Kremlin museum were kept 12 expensive sashes woven with gold and silver that had been given to the tsar in 1612. One prince had "cotton sashes trimmed with ermine." (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    Gold belts, consisting of gilded metal badges-plate/pad/straps also appeared as signs of feudal dignity, a favorite object of blessing by princes for their relatives in their wills. Women's belts, analogous to those depicted on miniature of the Izbornik of Svyatoslav 1073, are known from olden times; they were made of silk, of cloth of gold or silver threads, velvet or leather with forged/hammered metal badges. Often expensive metal finished only the tips of belts, completed with small bells, while the belt itself was decorated with gold or silver thread - spiral twisted gold or silver fine wire. For poorer women these badges ("nauzol'niki") were copper or bronze. (Pushkareva89)

    High commanders, great nobles and princes wore also expensive gold belts. Not for nothing did foreigners call members of the Novgorod Council "gold belts". Such belts were frequently listed as family legacies in royal wills. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    The cloak sometimes gathered at the waist with a belt that was heavily decorated, like the rest of the outer garments. (Pushkareva)

    In the wealthy burials of pre-Mongol Russia belts are repeatedly found. V.V. Khvojko reports about the findings in the burials of the Middle Dnepr Region (in Sharkakh, in Belgorodke) of belts of silk with Byzantine ornament. Some belts were with the gold-plated silver plaques. Finds of the silk belts, decorated with the gold-plated plaques, are also known by the excavations of L.K. Ivanovskij in the former Petersburg province, and also in the excavations of D.Ya Samokvasova in the former Kiev province - on the Royal Hill. On the belt are gold-plated silver plaques, analogous to those found on the Rajkovetskoj fortification. They are known, also, in the treasure hoards. Thus, in the old-Ryazansk hoard of 1887 was discovered the silk ribbon, covered with a row of the same plaques, edged with beads. Obviously, such ribbons, decorated with various embossed ornamented plaques, and also with enameled plaques, could decorate not only the ochel'ya and ozherl’ya, but also belts. In Prince Vladimir Yaroslavich's tomb was found a belt from the patterned silk Byzantine ribbon, whose ornament is repeated in embroidery of the opyast'ya in the same burial. (Kolchin)

    Many belts could have been made with card-weaving/tablet-weaving. It's a traditional Russian craft and it's a technique commonly employed by native Russian re-enactors. I'm still looking for documentation.

    In the layers of Old-Russian cities frequently are encountered knitted [probably naalbinding], plaited and woven fabric belts of woolen threads. Are known leather belts with plaques. The preserved metallic plaques from the leather belts make it possible to reconstruct them. (Kolchin)

    During the 13-17th cent. as in earlier periods, on the belt, whether it was a leather strap or gold, was hung various necessary items such as a knife in a sheath or pocketbook. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    Photo from Partizan Website In the era of the middle ages there were no pockets in Rus clothing and the waist purse - kalita (money bag) - fulfilled their function. (Pushkareva89) and (Rabinovich) etc.

    The purse was an important and useful part of the costume and was worn attached to the belt. Commoners wore a knife and a drawstring pouch at the belt to hold a comb, etc. The kalita was both decorative and functional, made of cloth, brocade, leather or plaited from fine metal wire, and often decorated with embroidery, pendants, bells and little locks - thus it was often quite valuable. (Pushkareva97) and (Stamerov)

    Pocketbooks, korobochka (little box), of valuable mettal were called kaptorga. The leather pocketbook was called a kalita or moshna, however early on the later two names have already acquired the more general meaning of purse, koshel'ka. By the 14th century, the term "kalita" was a nickname for miserliness. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    Leather kalitas are found in excavations in Novgorod and Moscow. Similar pocketbooks were used by men in Western Europe, both on the belt and over the shoulder. In the 14-15th cent., the Germans called them Reisetashcen and combined them sometimes with a small dagger. The German pocketbooks were usually never decorated, however the Russian kalitas were often richly ornamented. So the belt with kalita was not only practical, but decorative. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

Gloves and Mittens:
    In the strata of ancient Russian cities were found entire gloves. Are known knitted [possibly naalbinding] gloves and leather gloves. [the term "vyazanye" means not only knitting, but also crochet, binding, tying… so perhaps these items were made by naalbinding? Sprang? Other?] (Kolchin?)

    During the 13-17th cent. on the hands ruakavitsy (mittens), rukavki (long women's gloves?), and perchatki (gloves) - rukavki perschatye, that is with all fingers. They were made of leather, Morrocan leather, "kitted", broadcloth, and also silk and gold material. Such rukavitsy were decorated with valuable embroidery. They had cuffs, zapyast'ya, which were mainly for decoration, like on the back of the hand. "Warm" mittens and gloves were lined with fur, "cold" ones simply lined. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    During the 13-17th cent. an important addition to the costume were the richly embroidered little handkerchiefs, shirinki, of linen, heavy cloth, muslin, plain calico and various silk materials. They played a special role in meals, visiting, and various rituals. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

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