To Be The Height of Fashion

Did you know…

…that long, flowing, ground-sweeping, dust raising, mud gathering garments were never in fashion in medieval Russia? That’s right, take a look at period illustrations, illuminations and other frescoes: most, they do not trail, and late-period clothing does not seem to drape much (it was probably made of heavy silk brocades and wools).

In fact, fashion statements do not seem to have ever been… well, in fashion, in medieval Russia. In the early middle-ages, simple, tunic-like garments prevailed, not unlike those of other parts of Europe of that time, or similar to Byzantine clothes. Later, coats with impractically long sleeves made their appearance (these coats were draped around the shoulders like capes, the sleeves were mainly decorative). Some of these coats had slits in the sleeves for the arms. They were usually decorated with multiple rows of closures, but frequently remained open.

Later yet, the Mongols introduced long jackets with full skirts. Both men’s and women’s clothes became more complex, waisted or layered, with various sizes, widths and lengths of sleeves. Hats also became more varied, and the extra-tall felt or fur cylindrical hat made its appearance.

Meanwhile, the length of women’s (and men’s formal) garments never exceeded ankle-length (men’s everyday and work clothes were usually knee-length). No men in tights, either (a pity: that much less entertainment for the ladies; of course, there’s always the foreigners…). Certain details and trims were used in Russia as in the West, such as fur for lining and to trim hems and sleeves. In fact, fur coats in medieval Russia were usually sewn with the fur inside, and covered with rich fabric to the outside.

But the relative simplicity of the cut was very effectively offset by the availability of imported textiles, in particular silk, from Byzantium, the Far East (China, India), cotton from the Middle East (see my essay on Trade Routes).

Headdress, work of the author This hat is made as a functional piece of costume. It consists of a cotton upholstery fabric over a plastic canvas frame (in place of leather or birch-bark used in historical pieces) decorated with cultured pearls and gold thread. The design is based on medieval decorative ornaments.