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Traditional Mens Headwear
March 19, 2009 12:59

Whereas in the history of women’s clothes in Russia the headwear was first of all a decoration and a tribute to traditions (a married woman had to cover her hair completely), for men it was an indicator of their social status. The higher one’s headgear was, the higher position its owner took in the society (hence is the saying similar to the English “Such a big cap fits the big chap!”). Serfs, on the contrary, did not cover their heads.

Men would take off headwear only in church or at home, and would not uncover their heads even at tsars’ or boyars’ meetings and even weddings.

One of the reasons for constant use of headwear was the custom of cutting hair short in the oriental manner, or just shaving it. Only in case of a sorrow that befell a noble man (such as falling into tsar’s disgrace or loosing a relative) he could grow his hair long “as a sign of grief”.

Among the poor population of Russia the felt kolpak, i.e. a domed cap prevailed, with a narrow trimming of cheap fur for wintertime. The more well-to-do people wore kolpaks made of fine fabrics and decorated with embroidery and gems. When indoors they sometimes put on the tafia, an Oriental skullcap. Boyars when on parade could wear at the same time the tafia, the kolpak and the gorlatnaya shapka, a high cylinder cap trimmed with expensive furs (only princes and boyars had the privilege of wearing such caps).

Men-at-arms mainly wore the murmolka, historians suppose. As for the well-known treukh (roughly translated as “the three-eared”, the term known from the 17th century) and its “descendant” shapka-ushanka (“eared cap”) came to exist in the Russian village much later. In particular, the shapka-ushanka became spread only in the last third of the 19th century.


The kolpak was one of the oldest types of men’s headdress in Rus. The pictures of kolpaks can be found on frescos of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev and ancient bracelets of the 12th century.

In the 13-17th centuries it was one of the most spread headgears. Well-to-do people in summer put on satin, mainly white, kolpaks, fastening to it the so-called gorget, a cap band decorated with gems, pearls, etc. In winter kolpaks had a fur lining, and this fur part was turned outside, forming a fur lapel. In addition, a slit was made in front and back.

The poor also wore kolpaks, but theirs were made of cheap cloth in summer and of sheepskin in winter. They were decorated with buttons, buckles, clasps and brooches.


The shapkas were widely spread in Rus, but first prevailed among princes. The first images of Russian princes wearing such shapkas go back to the 11th century. Their shape was always the same: they had a ball-shaped crown and a fur edging. Such princes’ shapkas in sagas are referred to as “the Old Russian fur cap”, a headgear of a “nobleman”.

 The rich had shapkas made of velvet or fine cloth, whereas noble princes boasted brocade shapkas decorated with silver, gold and gems. In summer they had a trimming of silver-fox, sable or beaver fur, and in winter such shapkas were fully lined with fur inside.

Gorlatnaya Shapka

It was a fur headgear of the Russian nobility of the 15-17th cc. It was a cubit high cylinder broadening upward, with a velvet or brocade top. The gorlatnaya shapkas were sewed around with fox, marten, or sable fur, which was taken from animals’ throat area only; hence is the name “gorlatnaya”, from the Russian “gorlo”, i.e. throat. Instead of putting it on the head, the gorlatnaya shapka was often held at the left forearm.

 Tafia The tafia came from the East and was a type of the well-known skullcap. Well-off people, especially princes, indoors often wore the tafia, which covered only the crown of the head. These small caps were sewn of morocco (soft leather from sheep and goat skin dyed in bright colours), velvet, or brocade, and adorned with gold, silk, and pearls. Once Ivan the Terrible decided to go to church in his tafia, and because of that quarreled with Metropolitan Philipp.

Yermolka Yermolka was a cap made of cloth, velvet or brocade, felt or fur. The crown of it was broadening upward; they sometimes had lapels and were decorated with fox tails. The top of the cap could have a silver tip. The term “ermolka” is related to “murmolka” a somewhat similar cap that was used in Russia till the 19th century.

Murmolka The murmolka was a high cap with a flat crown of satin, velvet or brocade, with a fur wing shaped as lapels that were buttoned to the crown in front. Sometimes it was decorated with a pearly stud and an expensive white feather. Murmolkas were not found among the tsars, but were mainly used by boyars. In some parts of the Novgorod, Pskov, and Petersburg Regions the word “murmolka” is still used to denote round caps with a fur top and quilted lining, without lapels.


 Tsars’ Headwear

Foreigners were especially stunned by the richness and splendour of Russian tsars’s headgears. “He (Ivan the Fourth) wears a tiara (crown) magnificently decorated with pearls and gems, and it is not his only crown (he constantly changes them to show his richness; they say they were brought from Byzantium). He has them at hand, when sitting on the throne, or wears on his head” – Antony Possevin, the Pope’s ambassador, who visited Russia in the 16th century, wrote.

One of the most famous tsars’ headgears and the symbol of Russian autocracy is the Monomakh Cap, a filigree pointed cap of gold with a sable edging and decorated with gems and a cross.

Presently it is kept in the Armoury of the Moscow Kremlin. The cap arrived in Russia in the 14th century as a gift of a Bokharan khan to the Prince of Moscow. It got its name thanks to a legend about its Byzantine origin: it was allegedly sent by the Emperor Constantine to the Kievan Prince Vladimir Monomakh. The Monomakh Cap was put on during coronation of all Russian tsars, starting from Simeon Ivanovich Gordyi (the Proud), the son of Ivan I Danilovich Kalita.






Tags: Russian Traditions Traditional Russian Dress    

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