|Maria Alexandrovna in a court dress with traditional kokoshnik|
Privet! Today we'll be visiting the land of the Tsars and looking at the clothing citizens of Imperial Russia wore, which is only appropriate since for much of the world cold weather is here! For the purpose of simplicity, we will only be covering the territory that would be modern day Western (European) Russia. The Caucasus (this includes the Cossacks, as awesome as they were), Siberia, and the Central Asian countries will be examined in separate articles. Without further ado, here is the wardrobe of the wealthy, some ostentatious masquerade outfits, and the clothes of the masses...
Russia during this period was (and in many cases still is) a land of duality- the opulence of the rich against the harrowing existence of the poor. The industrialized cities teeming with people in contrast to the pastoral countryside in which you can go miles hundreds of miles without seeing a settlement. In our period, Russia was in the midst of a game of catch-up with the rest of Europe to industrialize. Railroads were being built to link the far reaches of the empire with the factories and farmlands in the western regions of the country and for the first time since the 12th century the rural peoples were able to move (thanks to Tsar Alexander II having the cajones that previous emperors lacked). The Romanovs were reaching the twilight of their three-hundred year reign (which was duly celebrated with a masquerade in 17th century costumes) which would end in the Russian Revolution in 1917. But first, let's look at (my dorky costumer's hypothesis of) why this conclusion came about, and of course what people were wearing.
|Two gentlemen in St. Petersburg enjoying some tea from a samovar.|
Since Peter the Great decided to have his hissy fit over beards and kaftans back in the 17th century, Russian fashion for the elite closely followed those of Prussia (particularly under Peter and Holstein-descended tsars), Austria, and France. Over time court dress became a standard of military dress uniforms for men... and 25 pound (estimating from the sheer weight of the velvet, embroidery, and beading/jeweling) behemoths for the ladies...
|The court dress of Maria Feodorovna courtesy of the Hermitage Amsterdam: also the real reason there was a revolution, methinks.|
This court dress for both men and women was an outright competition in the Age of Steam of a combination of who could look the most mainstream European, who could do so while attracting as much attention to themselves as possible, who could embellish the most, and who could do this all without incurring the ire of the Imperial family.
|The dress uniform of Tsar Alexander I, trimmed in bullion braid and fox fur.|
For the people that didn't live in one of the larger cities, were not a part of the genteel frock-coat wearing society that spawned many of the great Russian Novels, and furthermore were not privy to the styles of the rest of Europe (basically 90% of the population)- life and clothing styles carried on in a similar fashion to how it had for centuries. Farmers used the new steel plows of the Industrial Revolution, but did so wearing the same shirt, trousers, and dresses of prior times. While a lot of "European" countries during this time were adopting the standard uniform of the Victorian period, Russia held on to its folk clothing until mid-way into the 20th century!
The shirts, which are ubiquitous of Russian peasantry, are called kosovorotka. Typically they were made of linen with a long cut, which would be helpful while farming or working. The kosovorotka earned its name from the way the collar overlaps in an asymmetrical fashion (it translates as "askew collar" from Russian). Often more formal shirts would be embroidered or trimmed (reds and greens were popular). These were typically worn with trousers and layered with woolen vests or jackets in colder weather.
|Russian peasantry (c. 1900) wearing kosovorotka, soft boots, and visored caps.|
|Three Russian girls by Prokudin-Gorskii (1909). The middle one is wearing a sarafan.|
|Variations on the kokoshnik. Yeah, George Lucas ripped this one off as well.|
Know Your Furry Hats!
Say privet to the kubanka- basically it's a cylinder of fur and typically topped off with leather or a similar fabric. It was mainly worn by cossacks, but was later introduced to Russia during the 1800s.
|Two Russian troops from WWI wearing kubankas|
|Ushanka on Red Army troops in 1917|
So, now that you've seen some of the dress of Imperial Russia, here's a few ideas of how you can integrate these into your steampunk.
-Kosovorotka- these shirts are iconic. Wearing one with any steampunk ensemble will make people think "Hey! Russian!" They also have the ability to dress up or down, depending on material or what it's paired with. Try one in a different color than white, add some trim, belt it or just leave it loose under other layers. There are a ton of options!
-Sarafans are a great way to add color and texture to an ensemble. You could also easily adapt one from a jumper or dress from the thrift store by adding accent edging and a few extra triangular panels of a similar fabric in the skirt for fullness. They make fantastic working woman's dress and would layer well with a cute blouse or trousers underneath.
-Ushankas and kubankas not only add a cold-climate flair to your outfit, but are also very warm! Also you could probably tuck tools or other accessories into the flaps of a ushanka.
-Kokoshnik are visually interesting and could be steampunked up with pieces of metal or working parts (someone make a clockwork kokoshnik please...)
-Court gowns also have great steampunk potential in what ornamentation or materials are used to make them. A metallic fabric or gear/clockwork embellishment would look interesting (if you have the ability or means to get your hands on one... as much as I would kill for one, two months of rent for a dress is a little bit out of scope for most of us).
-Visored caps were staples of the working or industrial class, so why not don one? The higher profile of the cap means you could also put your goggles on it (if you're into that sort of thing).
- Also wouldn't it be a scream if someone made a steampunk Faberge egg? Just saying...
|Another beautiful dress uniform belonging to Alexander I|
|Print of a woman in a sarafan and apron|
|A collection of 1880s soldiers|
|A gathering of town elders- or mir. They wear a long jacket similar to a kaftan.|
|A sarafan with polychrone embroidery|
|It's from the 20s, but it's such a fantastic kokoshnik!|
-The Hermitage Amsterdam's Announcement of an Exhibition of Imperial objects.
-A place to get kosovorotka for under $50- http://www.rusclothing.com/traditional-russian/shirts/
-A pattern for a kosovorotka (no instructions, but fairly straightforward)- http://www.staropomor.ru/images/kosovorotka.jpg
-An article about an exhibit of Imperial objects at the V&A museum, London- http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2008/nov/22/victoria-albert-museum-magnificence-tsars
- Another place to get a kosovorotka- http://www.best-of-russia.com/index.php
Ushankas are furry- know what else are? Llamas! Remember that our charity drive to send livestock to needy families is still underway- chip in what you can if you can!