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The History of Russian Ushanka, a Winter Fur Cap with Earflaps
January 11, 2019 14:56


The ushanka fur cap is famous all over the world. Over the centuries-old history of its existence, it has turned from a peasant's headdress into one of the main Russian symbols. The ushanka for a Russian person has long been one of the most familiar winter caps, and foreigners buy it as a souvenir that pays tribute to Russian history. So, what’s the history of the ushanka itself?
The Legacy of the Mongol Yoke
The history of the most popular Russian headdress, like much in Russia, has roots in the Tatar-Mongol customs. Most historians believe that Ushanka is an adapted version of the Mongolian Malakhai, a conical cap with wide cuffs, which was made of sheepskin. Initially, it had an inseparable neck-flap but soon the warriors thought of cutting them into three parts - in order to tie the resulting earflaps at the back of the head in warm weather.
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Traditional Men’s Headwear
Through the Centuries 
In the Middle Ages in Russia and Ukraine, the three-flapped fur cap became especially popular among men.
Along with it, there were more complicated caps with fur lapels cut in front, which were usually kept raised to the top. They were originally worn by the Polish gentry, Ukrainian archers and Cossacks, hetmans, but over time they came to be appreciated by representatives of the upper classes as well.
By the way, in the 16th – 17th centuries, fur hats resembling the ushanka were made in Europe as well, especially in Eastern and Northern. But they did not gain such wide popularity there.
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Traditional Women’s Headwear
We Shall Build a New World
The rebirth of the Russian cap with earflaps happened after the October Revolution, in the ranks of the White Army. Those caps were made not from fur, but from thick woolen cloth and had a small visor. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the ushanka was also popular among the travelers and scientists who set off to the Far North, in particular, the polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen.
In 1934, a cap with earflaps officially became part of the uniform of the Naval Forces of the Red Army. Soon they came to be made of leather, with a leather-covered button on top.
In 1940, policemen and representatives of other types of troops began wearing fur caps in winter. And then the caps finally stepped into the civilian masses.
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The Symbol of the USSR
One of the biggest fans of ear-flaps in Soviet times was Leonid Brezhnev. In many ways, it was thanks to him, that ushanka caps made of mink, fawn and broadtail fur became the 'branded' headdress of the Communist party elite. More affordable muskrat fur caps were worn by lower-ranking officials. Common Soviet people had to be content with more affordable furs, such as rabbit or sheepskin.
During the Perestroika years, the ushankas disappeared from the heads of the Communist party leaders but became the symbol of the USSR that was becoming history.
Disintegration of the USSR

Ushanka Craze of the Day
For foreigners, the ushanka has long since stuck to the image of a typical Russian man. Along with Russian nesting dolls (Matryoshkas) and T-shirts with Lenin’s portrait, the fur caps with earflaps are in great demand among foreign tourists.
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Famous Russian fashion designers do not forget about the legendary earflaps in their autumn and winter collections. Denis Simachev, D&G, and Alexander McQueen cannot do without earflaps in their collections. The hottest new trend is the high-tech ushanka equipped with an LED display that can show the slogans you have set or reproduce the rhythm of the surround sounds.
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Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Customs Russian Fashion Ushanka National Russian Dress Russian History 

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