Russian fashion is a unique and diverse mix of styles that has been influenced by the historical, cultural, and geographic location of Russia. The development of Russian fashion can be traced back to Peter the Great’s Westernization campaign in 17th century which introduced European culture to Russia for the first time. This event led to a shift from traditional clothing worn by Russians which was heavily influenced by Byzantine culture, to more European-influenced garments such as high-waisted gowns with panniers or hoopskirts. The 19th century saw further changes in Russian dress as following generations embraced new trends from both Europe and Asia. In recent years there has been a resurgence in interest in this style with several designers drawing inspiration from past eras for their collections.
Nowadays, there are main styles of Russian dress that can be defined as follows:
The first is the traditional style which consists of long dresses made from flax, cotton or wool. The fabric for these garments was often woven by women themselves and they were decorated with elaborate embroidery patterns known as кружевное плетёние (kruzhevnoje pletenije). The designs for this type of embroidery were passed down through generations, and there are over 300 different styles in existence. After the Russian Revolution, during the period when Communism was in power, traditional clothing continued to be worn but it was modified to remove any ornate elements such as embroidery and the characteristic bright colors which were seen as a symbol of Russian tradition.
Today, traditional styles can be worn at special occasions including weddings or other important events where elaborate outfits are called for. The typical outfit consists of a light dress made from flax with short sleeves and no adornment on the bodice. The skirt has several panels called нижняя сторона (nizhnaya storona), which means lower side and is made from a single piece of fabric that wraps around, overlaps at the front or back, and then ties together to create an opening. The dress ends just above the knee and is sometimes worn with a small shawl known as подушка (podushka) that covers both shoulders to protect them from getting cold.
On more casual occasions, traditional clothing includes ankle length black dresses made of wool or flax decorated only with embroidery on the collar and cuffs. These outfits are still worn today by older women who continue to uphold Russian traditions.
In addition, there is a style of dress that was common during the Soviet era known as советская одежда (soviet clothes) which includes both men’s and women’s garments.
Soviet style dresses for women are shorter than those worn in the past with hemlines ending at mid-thigh or knee level. They were originally designed to be loose fitting like men’s clothes, but now fit closer to the body due to tighter restrictions on fabric usage during Joseph Stalin’s rule. This also led to a more formal style of dress being introduced for women who wore them with high-heeled shoes and a small hat. Soviet styled dresses were made from cotton, wool or rayon materials that came in solid colors such as blue, green, red or grey.
In addition to these general styles there are also two specific types which evolved as a result of Soviet rule. These are known as советская летняя (soviet summer) and советская зимняя (soviet winter).
The first is for lighter clothing worn during the warmer seasons which consisted of a cotton dress with short sleeves and an ankle length skirt. These dresses are decorated with traditional embroidery patterns which can be seen on the collar, cuffs, belt or hemline of the garment. The second is for winter wear which includes several items including fur-lined boots known as сапоги (sapogi), a woolen dress known as форменка (formenka) and a heavy coat called свитер (sviter). The latter is similar to the traditional Russian outfit worn today with both men and women.
Angela Alexandrova is a fashionista, blogger and stylist. When she’s not blogging about her thoughts on the latest trends in fashion or what she ate for breakfast, Angela can be found working on photo shoots, styling celebrities at events or writing posts for other websites.