Women's Layer 1 in Early Rus

Rubakha, Sorochka, Sorochitsa, etc.

Updated 23 March 2007

This unmarried maiden is wearing a belted rubakha.

This married woman is wearing a navershnik over her rubakha, which has a gathered neckline.

Already in the most ancient period (10-13th centuries) in the costume of Russian women there was a division between lower (under) garments and upper clothes. The undergarment - "srachitsa" ("sorotsitsa", sorochka, rubakha) - was mentioned in many written memorials. Since time immemorial it was made from fine linen fabric: "Bzem linen to mend mi srachitsu, pants and towel..." Linen underwear remains in use even later, in 14-15th centuries. Chroniclers, describing the destruction of Torzhka in 1373, testify: " ...while women and girls odiraxu even until lowest nakedness... even until srachitsy..." (Pushkareva89)

All Russians wore this loose shift as the basic piece of clothing, usually made of bleached linen. Peasants would wear one coarse linen "rubakha" as both under and outergarment. The more wealthy would add an outer rubakha cut a bit larger and made of more expensive fabric. (Kireyeva)

Thus, the rubakha seems to have been the only underwear of Rus women. Although 19th century peasant women apparently wore short underpants, none of my references has discussed them in the context of the medieval period.

“Rub” in the opinion of A.V. Artsikhosvkij was the all Slavic name for the set of ordinary people’s clothing consisting of the shirt and narrow pants [рубахаь порты] (Artsikhovskij, 1948, p. 234-235). This same word indicated a piece or scrap of fabric (“rubit’ – “rvat’” [рубить, рвать]) (Sreznevskij, III, stb.184). One has to think that this is the same ancient Russian root, for the name of the next-to-skin men’s and women’s garment, rubakha, that exists up to our day. (Rabinovich, 9-13th c.)

Rubakha, sorochitsa [рубахаь сорочица] were for many sometimes the only object of clothing. It was sewn of linen, or thin wool (tsatri [цатры] – goat fluff [козъего пуха], ascetics–monks wore even rough vasyanitsu of horse hair), for the wealthy it could be even of silk material. In cut, the ancient Russian shirt was tunic-shaped, cut of one width of fabric folded in-half. Wedge–shaped inserts widened the shirt to the hem, the rhomboid lastovitsy [ластовицы] under the arm. The sleeves were made narrow and long. The opening of the collar was round or quadrangular, with a slit either “straight” - in the middle of the chest, more rarely “slanted” - on the left or right side of the chest. Shirts with slanted openings are depicted on drawings from a Pskov manuscript of the twelfth century (on the left side of the chest) (Rabinovich, 1964, p. 114) and on an icon of the same time (on the right side of the chest) (Levashova, 1966, p. 116–117). In a kurgan near the city of Suzdal from the 13th century was a grave of a woman in a shirt with an embroidered standing collar, composed of two unequal parts (length 8 and 20cm), closing to the left, and fastened on three buttons (Saburova, 1976, p. 226–230). Here, thus, can be established the opening of the collar on the left side. The collar of the shirt was fastened on one or a few buttons, of cast bronze, bone, and probably also wood. [I have seen wooden buttons among the archaeological finds.] (Rabinovich, 9-13th c.)

In the 13-17th cent. as next-to-skin clothing served, as in the past, the tunic-shaped shirt [rubashka] - sorochka, sorotsitsa, srachitsa. The women's rubakha was made long to the foot. An innovation in this period was the wearing of another upper rubakha besides the sorochka - a koshulik, verkhnitsy or navershnika. With this, the sorochka was turned into proper underwear. In 1373, in describing the destruction of Torshok, the cronicle noted: "And women and maidens stripped even to the last nakedness and to the srachitsa". The wearing by Russian women of 2 sorochkas, upper and lower, was noted at the end of the 16th century by Giles Fletcher. The women's smart upper rubakha made to following impression on foreigners at the end of the 17th cent., "They wear rubashki, from all sides woven with gold, their sleeves, built with wrinkles with marvelous art, often exceed in length 8 or 10 cubits; gathering of the sleeves, continuing by special wrinkles to the end of the arms, decorated with elegant and valuable bracelets." (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

The rubakha was a long width of fabric hanging straight with half its length down the front and half down the back, and then gores were sewn on the sides, under the sleeves down to the feet, to fill out the needed width. The sleeves were long and narrow and often considerable longer than the arm so they could be pulled down over the hands for warmth. Otherwise the sleeves were pushed up and held in place with bracelets of metal, wood, leather, birchbark or glass, or narrow cuffs called poruchiv. The sleeves could be without trim, or sometimes they were finished with a zarukavya, a narrow ornamented cuff. Pushkareva states that the sleeves were held up by "naruchami" - hoops, bracelets, which are frequently found in women's burials. (Pushkareva89.)

The women’s shirts were usually made very long down to the foot (to the floor “do polu”- from this, the word podol meaning bottom edge of clothing), but could be also significantly shorter - to the calf. Extremely long were also the sleeves, gathered in folds at the wrist and kept there with obruchi [обручи, hoops] (bracelets). Let down, the sleeves were a lot longer than the hands. Evidently, usually in home life, the sleeves were worn gathered up. Bronze obruchi–bracelets, worn at the wrists in women’s graves, often having on the inside the imprint of the decayed fabric of the sleeve. Let down sleeves were proper for celebratory occasions. For example, for the rituals of the rusalka dances. Depictions of the evening women with hanging down, drooping almost to the ground, sleeves are found on the ritual rusalka bracelets of the twelfth century (Rybakov, 1967). About the custom to dance “with letdown sleeves” speak also the Russian folk story about the princess-frog (Andreev, No 402), from which we learn that long sleeves could serve also has a unique women’s pocket, and an instrument of sorcery. (Rabinovich)

Dancing women with let-down sleeves without the usual "naruchej" can be seen on ritual bracelets of the 12th cent. The portrayal of such dancers with let-down sleeves is especially characteristic on "naruche" from Old Ryazan (treasure hoard from first half of 13th cent.). (Pushkareva89)

The rubakha had no collar. The neckline was cut close to the neck and was either smooth or gathered. The short neck slash/opening in the center front was fastened by a button of wood or bone or with a fibula or sometimes tied with a cord. It (the cord) was called a goloshiikoyu. (Stamerov) and (Kireyeva) and (Pushkareva89)

The rubakha was made of homespun unbleached linen for the peasants and of fine, usually, white linen for the upper classes. For the nobility, the rubakha could be made of colored silk, such as red, starting in the 14-15th cent and became known as "shidennoy" (from the German "Seide" - silk). (Pushkareva89) But only the holiday rubakhas of the nobility were made of silk. (Stamerov) In the 14th and 15th centuries, princesses and the wealthiest boyarinas could wear silk shifts for formal occasions. The silk fabric had to be imported at great cost, so these garments were tended with care and worn rarely. (Pushkareva89, Pushkareva97)

A. V. Artsikhovskij considers that the womn’s shirt was not belted (Artsikhovskij, 1948, p. 239–241), but in depictions of women are visible belted shirts (sm Radzivill chronicle, l. 3-6 ob.). The absence in the women’s graves of metal buckles and plaques can show that women’s belts presented themselves as sashes without any additional decoration besides tassels and were simply tied, and women did not wear the strap-belt. V.P. Levashova considers for women were wool tied belts (Levashova, 1966, p. 115-117). Such belts could in graves not be preserved. (Rabinovich)

A. V. Artsixovskij believed that the lower women's shirt was not belted. However, the alternative opinion is held by the majority of researchers. (Pushkareva89) According to them, the rubakha was always worn with a narrow belt or sash, because it was considered indecent to wear a rubakha without a belt. (Ivan the Terrible is said to have flown into a rage when he discovered his daughter-in-law in the terem women's quarters beltless, and then killed his son and heir when the son tried to defend his wife. Although other suggestions have been made about the "impropriety" of the princess's attire.) The wearing of the belt was originally based on a pagan tradition meant to block evil spirits. It was believed that unclean forces could not penetrate openings protected by lacy, embroidered belts. (Pushkareva97)

Varied belts were one of the most ancient elements of costume, ornaments even in some times for protection, blocking the path of unclean forces. Parts of belts are located in kurgans, and they are portrayed also on miniatures, for example in the Radzirilovski chronicles. (Pushkareva89)

Belts were usually made of fabric (or leather, about 1.5 to 2 cm wide?). They were not cinched in tightly and a slight fold of cloth was gathered above, hiding the belt. (Stamerov) and (Kireyeva) and (Pushkareva97)

See Accessories for more information about early Rus belts.

The sleeves, hems and collars, the parts of the shift visible from under the outer garment, were often heavily ornamented. Men's rubakhas were decorated with red embroidery (nobility) or strips of red fabric (peasants) around the neck opening. Peasant women used tiny beads, embroidery, ribbons, lace or punchwork. City women preferred small freshwater pearls. Noblewomen used sequins of light metal. (Pushkareva97) In the 14th cent. the more noble ladies used pearls and drobnitsami (small metal plates in form of sequins, paws or leaves); while representatives of lower social strata used linen woven openwork. (Pushkareva89)

In the 9th-13th cent., women’s shirts were decorated with embroidery or appliques of different fabrics at the collar, hems, ends of sleeves, and probably more abundantly decorated then the men’s shirts. (Rabinovich)

An ozherelya, a circular stiff highly decorated round collar, might be worn over the outer rubakha on festive occasions. See "Accessories". (Kireyeva)

A stand-up collar was the most common form of collar, however. (Kolchin)

It is possible that on the lower part of the leg already in the 10-13th centuries were worn nagolenniki, nogovitsy [наголенник, ноговица] (Sreznevskij, II, stb. 462). In any case, the Arabian traveler Ibn Fadlan noted such gaiters in the clothing of the elite Slav men buried in Bulgaria in the tenth century (Ibn Fadlan, p. 81). But evidently, as also later, nogovitsy were accessories of clothing of rich persons. Onuchi and kopyttsa [копытца], wool socks (Paterik, p. 26) were worn on the shin also by women. (Rabinovich)

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