Do you ever wish that hats would come back in fashion?
I do. I still sometimes wish I could pull off the Maltese Falcon look, fedora and all. But alas, I look like a pinched weasel in a fedora. ‘Tis a real tragedy, I tell you!
But at least I can give my novel’s characters the right kind of headwear. But here I ran into a big of a problem. In many illustrations of fairy tales, the heroines wear very fanciful headdresses that hardly anyone actually wore in real life. And as I have written before, I’m all about the nitty-gritty realism that makes good fantasy unforgettable.
So off I went to search for proper hats, temple rings, and headdresses! And here are the results of my poking about the internet (click here for the original Russian article).
Back in old Rus, what you wore on your head was exceptionally important. Obviously, the most important reason is to keep the cold out. But it was also a status symbol. A man’s social status was declared by the kind of hat he wore, while a woman’s head covering was a signal of her family status (single, married, widowed).
This is the oldest type of female head covering. It was universally worn, all the way to the Western borders of Rus, even though the ways of tying it varied by region. The sometimes “horned” shape is not exclusive to Rus. Medieval women also wore horned head-coverings. Some historians believe that “horns” were a symbol of fertility. Some of the more enthusiastic women even had five horns! However, the single or double horn was much more widespread.
This head covering belonged mostly to central and Western Russia. It’s also called a “polotentse,” meaning that it was little more than a square of cotton cut widthwise (from which we get the name “shirinka” from “shirina,” or “width”). It sometimes had embroidery on the edges.
Literally, “headband.” Oftentimes it was little more than a band of bark (walnut or oak, mostly), sometimes covered with fabric, then decorated with beads. The headband was itself a modification of an even older version that had no bark to it. Basically, it was just fabric wrapped around the head, often decorated with temple rings.
An everyday, but highly decorated, head covering. The crown of the headdress had the form of a headband, widening and rising up forehead. The front of the “kichka” was always decorated with beads, pearls, or decorated fringe. Near the ears hung elaborate temple rings. The back was either velvet or (for winter) fur. The top of the head had a separate small hat (called a “soroka”), which could be of different colors, often further decorated with precious stones. Interestingly, widows wore white “sorokas”.
“Kichkas” came in all shapes. Elaborate horns were common, as were shapes similar to hooves, pots, and even shovels (this sort of shape was proper after the birth of children).
This is perhaps the most recognizable among Russian folk head coverings. Versions of it have become symbolic of Russian folk culture in general. The head was surrounded by effectively a raised platform that was incredibly difficult to make. Single and married women alike wore them.
Typically, Peter the Great forbid the wearing of the “kokoshnik” as too backward and primitive, but later, the nobility began to wear it again as a nod to tradition.
As can be expected, a “kokoshnik” was very expensive. It was elaborately decorated with actual pearls and precious stones, even by commoners, and sometimes even stitched with gold tread. They came in different shapes as well—cone-shaped, single-horned, double-horned, cylindrical, saddle-shaped.
The top of a “kokoshnik” was often further decorated by a sheet called an “ubrus,” which was then tied under the chin or allowed to dangle on the shoulders.
Stay tuned on Friday for the “male hats” version of this post!
Want to know more about Russian history, traditions, and fairy tales? Join my Readers’ Group. You’ll get updates from me by email every two weeks. Every once in a while, I’ll be sending my Readers’ Group excerpts from my new novel and other goodies.
You may also enjoy:
- Everything you need to know about the Russian kaftan
- Usual Russian codes of behavior
- The Tsar and the Sable