Fancy Schmancy Russian Garb

from class taught at Gulf Wars XVI by
Lady Sofya la Rus and Master Mordak Timofe'ivich Rostovskogo

Updated 20 March 2007

    Kievan Rus – 9th-13th century (until Mongols)
    Mongol (Appanage) Rus – up to 15th century
    Muscovite Rus - from 15th cent. until reforms of Peter the Great

    General cultural continuity, increasing Eastern influence

Cultural Influences:
    Rus had close ties to Byzantium
    Viking warrior-merchants were prominent in early period
    Finnic tribes shared the lands in the north
    Trade with Western Europe was strong.
    Trade with Central Asia/Middle East even stronger. (They had nicer stuff, after all. )
Fabrics and Furs:
    Linens and wools were primary fabrics.
    Fine imported wools and silks were for the outermost garments in holiday costumes.
    Furs extensively used.
      Peasants – wolf, fox, bear, rabbit, squirrel, sheepskin
      Wealthy – beaver, otter, sable, marten

    Russians had essentially the same dye stuffs as Western Europe and so had access to the same wide range of colors - reds, black, blues and greens were especially favored.

    Block printing–geometrical, stylized animals, plants
    Imported brocades and silks with Eastern-style
    Contrasting fabric edging and fur trim
    Galloon braid (tablet weaving?) edging
    Embroidery with silks, pearls, sequins, cabochen gems, metal plaques.
    Embellished applique/borders
    Accessories – cuffs, collars, jewelry, etc.

Decorative Motifs:
    Foliage: intricate/whimsical curved stems, stylized flowers, Tree of life
    Geometric: circles, crescent moon-images ("lunnitsy"), motifs of nets (pletenki), interwoven strands
    Religious: saints, crosses, pagan symbols
    Animals and birds: horses, ducks, lynx, dogs, griffons, etc.
    Humans: dancers, musicians, entertainers
    Architectural: arches, pillars
Brocade Examples:
    Imported brocades and silks with Eastern-style
    Embroidery decorated the clothing of all levels of ancient Russian society.

    Peasant clothes, particularly the shirt, were embroidered with simple geometric and plant forms, usually in red, but sometimes in unbleached white.

    The garments, themselves, not as heavily embroidered in Kievan period as they would be in the Muscovite period when clothes could be almost completely encrusted.

    Voshvy trimming a dress Emphasis on ornate accessories – separate/interchangeable collars, cuffs, voshvy (see below)

    Voshvy were embellished panels of cloth used as garment borders, etc. made to be basted onto other garments (to get as much use as possible out of these valuable works of art).

Embroidery Stitches:
    Running stitch
    Double running stitch (Holbein stitch)
    Split stitch
    Chain stitch
    Satin stitch

    Note absence of cross-stitch. I have not yet learned when that appeared in Russian embroidery - I have certainly seen no evidence of it prior to the 14th cent. so far.

Embroidery Thread:
    Red, blue, brown, yellow, green, white and natural silk and linen used with gold and silver.

    Embroidery with metal thread on costume not only of nobility, but also affluent city dwellers and villagers.

    Domestic workshops made fine spun-gold (or gilded silver) thread with linen.

Metal Thread Embroidery:
    11-12th cent. used a special running stitch - long stitches on front side and short ones on the back - like machine sewing with bobbin thread too tight.

    12-13th cent. thread was arranged on fabric and couched with silk.

    Closely resembles opus anglicanum.

Pearl Embroidery:
    Pearls were widely utilized in boyar clothing, and surprisingly common even in peasant clothing. By the 10th century, pearl embellishment was lavish.

    Clothes saturated with pearls were known and independent patterns of pearls began to appear.

    Seed pearls were sewn onto fabric widely spaced, or outlining a pattern sewn with thread, or "in dots" formed by the pearls themselves.

    Small freshwater pearls came from native rivers or imported from Iran.

    Cultivated pearls were used in the 10th-13th centuries.

    Most Russian period embroideries used potato-shaped pearls drilled horizontally (opposite the way pearls are usually drilled today). Apparently "rice krispie" pearls were also used.

Liudmila's Pearling Technique:

    Couch down a foundation of white cord (single or double line)

    Stitch down the pearls over this foundation, making stitches after every single pearl (I like to string the pearls first, then couch down the string down.)

    Outline your design in gold cord, which hides the white.

    If the stitches holding down the pearls and the gold, go just through the white cord foundation, and NOT through the underlying fabric…

    Then when the garment gets ruined, the embroidery can be taken off in one piece and readily attached to a new garment.


    Ruby, emerald, sapphire, turquoise, and tourmaline.
    Agate, some amethyst, rough diamonds, evidence of *some* jade from the Orient trade, jet, emerald / beryl /chrysoberyl, garnet.

    Mostly cabochen-cut, some squarish…irregular.

    Thin bands of metal around each one attached to clothing by metal pronged findings.

Metal Plaques:

    Decoration with "alamami" - silver and gold engraved/embossed badges/plates - gave clothing special splendor and festiveness.

    Mentions of "pearl alamax" are found in various documents.

    Such ornaments were very expensive and, of course, passed down in inheritance.

Male Headdress:

    Hats “required”

    Large variety, tall or short, felt or broadcloth, with or without fur lining

    Commoners tended to favor tall, conical hats.

    Nobility favored more rounded forms.

Maiden's Hair and Headdress:

    Maiden with Filet

Women's Hair and Headdress:

    Woman with small headscarf under hat Woman with large headscrarf under fur hat

Archeological headdresses:
    Per Kolchin - illustrations copyrighted, so not reproduced here.


    Highly developed - predecessors to the Faberge eggs.

    Most jewelry made of metal

      Peasants used copper, bronze, low-grade silver
      Nobility used silver and sometimes gold

    Colored glass was popular for rings and bracelets.

Earrings, Temple Rings and Kolti:
    Earrings not as common as temple rings for women in Kievan Period.

    Men wore more earrings, but only in one ear (left ear?).

    Temple rings had regional forms; attached to hair, headdress (or ears).

    Kolti – hollow metal disks, often filled with cloth soaked in aromatic oils, worn much like temple rings

    Temple rings seem to have gone out of fashion with the Mongol conquest, and the kolti soon after.

    Illustration: Temple rings are shown on the left, and kolti are on the right.

    Chains/strings hanging from headdress at the temple

    Kolodochek – little logs of metal strung together, or
    Simple chains, or
    Precious metal medalions similar to the kolti

    In early period, men wore heavy hoops of jute or braided wire (grivna).
    Very similar to Viking items.

    Small crucifixes on cords or chains were worn

    Women favored glass beads of immense variety, but also pearls, metal beads, and the heavy hoops like the men.

    Metal chains could be very valuable.

    Medallions from simple cast tin alloys up to filigreed gold with jewels were popular.

Collars and cuffs:
    Decorated detachable collars were popular

    Could be narrow stand-up collars or wide, shoulder-covering round collars

    Made of finest fabric and ornaments mounted on a stiff base (leather, birchbark - Mordak and I use felt)

    Matched similar removable cuffs

Rings and Bracelets:
    Rings set with stones were especially popular for women, but men wore as well.

    Ring forms often matched those of bracelets.

    Bracelets could be made of linked disks.

    Rings and bracelets made of metal or colored glass.

    Seal/signet rings also existed.

    Illustration Below: glass bracelets are shown with their cross-sections on the lower right.

    Illustration Below: glass rings shown on left, metal on the right.

Miscellaneous Ornaments - Priveski:
    Many served as amulets, others seem practical (like chatelaines)
    Worn on long cord or chains fastened to belt or chest of dress

    Little bells were popular with all classes.

    Belts for the rubakha were fabric or leather less than 1 inch wide, White, blue, red, embroidered or trimmed with contrasting color.
    Could have metal buckles. (Mostly for men)
    Card woven? Other decorative techniques?

    Belts for outer layers of clothing could be as extravagant as gold-embroidered silk or even linked gilded plates.

Pouches and Purses: Shoes:
    Bast shoes, lapti, for peasants woven of inner bark of trees.

    Simple untanned leather slippers also for peasants

    Fancier tanned leather shoes for wealthy peasants, city-dwellers and nobility.

    See Prof Michael Fuller's website for photos

    Ankle or knee-high boots preferred by the more prosperous.

    Common boots were rounded in the toe, with a straight top.

    Ruling class could have slightly turned up toes and tops cut higher in front than back.

    No heels until 14th century.

    Colored hides, tooling, and embroidery applied according to wealth

    See Prof Michael Fuller's website for photos

Ceremonial/Court Costume:
Selected References:
    Kireyeva, E.V. The History of Costume. Enlightenment, Moscow, 1970.

    Kolchin, B.A. and T.I. Makarova. Drevnaia Rus, Byt I Kultura. Science, Moscow, 1997.

    Pushkareva, Natalia. Zhenshchiny drevney Rusi. 1989.

    Rabinovich, B.A.. Drevyaya Odezhda Narodov Vostochnoj Evropy. Science (Nauka), Moscow, 1986.

    Rybakov, M.G. Russian Applied Art of the 10th-13th Centuries. Aurora, Leningrad, 1971. Stamerov, K.K. An Illustrated History of Costume. Avenger, Kiev, 1978.

    Tolmachoff, Eugenia. Ancient Russian Ecclesiastical Embroideries. Available at the On-Line Digital Archive of Documents on Weaving and Related Topics: //

Selected Web References:
    // – SIG


    // - temple rings

    // - headdresses

    // – medieval Russian embroidery

    // – Michael Fuller’s photos

    // - my Russian stuff

COPYRIGHT (c) 2007 by Lisa Kies and Tim Nalley. You may make copies for personal use and to distribute for educational purpose but only if it remains complete and entire with original authorship clearly noted.

Back to Russian Material