Last week, I wrote about women’s head-dresses. Today, as promised, I’ll add the male version of that post. Basically, it’s everything you need to know about men’s hats in old Russia.
We’ll leave helmets for a different post, and I’m not talking about clergy hats today. Nor am I going to spend any time on royal headgear (that’s a whole other story, and one filled with historical controversy). The original Russian version of this post can be seen here.
What about “regular men,” both noble and common, even serfs? Generally, the oldest forms of men’s hats are the many versions of the felt cap (“kolpak” in Russian). It’s possible they may have even come from Scythian models. The versions were myriad. They were half-spherical, cylindrical, conical (there was one that was called a “grechushnik,” because it looked like a pie filled with buckwheat, or “grechka” in Russian).
Strictly speaking, the name “kolpak” refers to a conical felt cap. The expensive versions of this could even be made of white satin, sometimes with a band decorated with pearls, precious stones, or fur. The stitching on the cap could also be lined with gold buttons or pearls.
These caps were worn among both the rich and the poor. Obviously, the rich versions were more ostentatious.
At home, men’s hats continued to be worn. Usually at home this was something like a “tafya,” a small circular cap that covered only the top of the head. This is actually a Tatar kind of hat, and it appears in the Chronicles from the 16th century. The kolpak would be worn on top of the tafya, usually.
This is a small version of the felt cap with flaps. A certain foreign visitor to 17th century Russia had this interesting quote about these hats:
The hats that we call ‘shlyki,’ the Muscovites call ‘marmurkas’ (or murmolkas). And since Moscow boyars usually make their hats from black fox, our own people have come to call the black fox the ‘marmurka’.
The “throaty” hat
These were widely-used men’s hats before Peter the Great’s time, mostly among the nobility. The strange name comes from the fact that the hats were made of the extra-soft fur around the throat of animals such as the sable, the black fox, or the marten. This was a very tall hat, widening up toward the top (the opposite of the kolpak). The top of this cylindrical hat was made either of velvet or brocade.
These sometimes comically tall hats were worn on top of the tafya and the kolpak. So yes, if Russian women could have up to five horns on their headdresses, Russian men could wear up to three hats at the same time. So there!
In actual practice, however, men often carried “throaty hats” in the crook of the left arm, not on the head.
When you met a close friend in the street, you might feel comfortable enough to embrace him. However, if you met a simple acquaintance, you would take your hat off in respect. Interestingly, there’s a phrase in Russian, “shapochnoe znakomstvo” (literally “an acquaintance of hats”) that means a casual acquaintance, not close friendship.
When you return home, you’d place your hat on a special peg called a “bolvanets,” which actually sounds like one of the many Russian words for “idiot,” but I don’t think there’s anything to that apparent similarity.
If you were to “break your hat,” (“lomat’ shapku” in Russian), it means that you take your hat off in a way to curry favor with someone. You can also wear your hat askew (“nabekren’”) in a rakish sort of way. But don’t let it become the reason for people to think that your “head is askew” (which literally means “simple-minded”).
If anyone did insult you thus, you could do two things. First, you could throw your hat on the ground. Or you could hit the offender on his hat, which is the same kind of egregious insult. (So, probably not a good idea.)
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