How Russian Traditions Work

By: Lance Looper

Traditional Russian Clothing

This lady's rocking a traditional sarafan and kokoshnik.
This lady's rocking a traditional sarafan and kokoshnik.

Just as the food choices in Russia are shaped by equal parts landscape and European input, clothing trends and traditions move along the same lines. Probably the most iconic Russian garment – well, more of an accessory – is the ushanka . These distinctive, fur-lined caps with their trademark earflaps protect Russians from brutally cold winters. They also included a heavily padded leather crown that not only provided vital warmth to the head, but also protected it from blunt force trauma, such as slipping on the ice. Comfortable and practical!

Working our way down, the kosovorotka is a traditional shirt that may be worn by men or women that typically extends down past the waist and is usually long-sleeved. The sleeves served dual purposes; first, to offer protection from the elements and second, to show off, as they were sometimes elaborately decorated with embroidery . The kosovortka fell out of popularity for everyday use when simpler, more functional garments became more readily available [source: Schultze]. Today, the kosovortka is mostly ornamental, reserved for celebrations or Russian folk festivals.


Peasant girls in the northern part of Russia got to saunter around in sarafans. These were long, simple dresses that usually consisted of thin shoulder straps and a bell-shaped gown designed, quite possibly, to be the least flattering garment a Russian woman would ever wear. And sarafans were usually accompanied by a kokoshnik, a traditional headdress patterned to match the dress. Kokoshniks came in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are most recognizable as halo-shaped, spanning ear-to-ear over the crown of the head. This shape is the reason kokoshnik is also the term used for a specific type of arch-shaped decorative element in Russian architecture. The popularity of the kokoshnik infiltrated other cultures over time, influencing styles in the United Kingdom and Eastern Europe. The style expanded even farther away, being worn by Padme Amidala in "Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace."

Today’s Russia is a country and society in transition, and this article has only touched on some of the many influences that have come to bear on Russian traditions.

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  • Chamberlain, Lesley. "The Food and Cooking of Russia." Bison Books. June 2006.
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