Page 1

Russian Elegance Country and City Fashion



n the 1780s, there was a growing tendency towards simplification of the silhouette of women’s dress. Bulky panniers were gradually replaced by a roll of horsehair attached to the waistline at the back. Striped fabrics came into fashion and dresses made of pale fine fabrics began to appear. The new trends became more pronounced after the French Revolution of 1789-1793. The most fashionable silhouette in the 1790s was the chemise dress (from the French word chemise, a shirt). Dresses of this type, in one piece or seamed, had high waists, and externally they looked like a shirt – hence their name. They were characterised by a low neckline, sometimes adorned with a frill, and abundant folds and a train at the back. The dress is gathered under the bosom by a belt. Such dresses were sewn from light linen and cotton fabrics – various types of muslin, cambric, lace, crepe, tulle and gauze. Preference was given to fabrics with a tiny floral pattern, stripes or single-colour, especially white. The main part of a chemise dress was embroidered with gold and silver threads and its hem was trimmed with strengthened edging and embroidered with a floral pattern in chenille and tinsel featuring palm-trees. Underneath these dresses women wore gauze shifts, and true ladies of fashion wore only thin flesh-coloured underwear. Here is what S. P. Zhikharev writes in his Notes about the impression that these dresses made on a Moscow elegante during her visit to Paris: “You just cannot imagine what adorable chemises they are: when you put one on and take a good look at yourself in the mirror, you will be amazed at how easy it is to see through!” Chemise dresses—favourite garments of Marie-Antoinette, the guillotined French queen—almost simultaneously appeared in London, Berlin and St. Petersburg. This completed the process of distribution of a single European urban costume that meant the distinctive features of local and national dress were disappearing.


Detail of skirt from a woman’s dress 1810s – 1820s, Russia Cotton tulle decorated with embroidery with colourful wire-ribbon, beaten material, tinsel and glass beads. 133

Woman’s shoe made from pale pink satin, so-called “starling shoes” 1795 – 1805, Russia Silk, leather. 134

Woman’s dress made from white muslin with belt 1790s, Russia Cotton fabric, gold and silver tape, embroidered with wire-ribbon, sequins, beaten material, coloured silk and silver thread.



Urban Costume in Russia 18th–early 20th centuries




Folding fan Late 18th – early 19th century, Russia Bone, silk band, steel plates, carving, gilding. 146

Comb 1830s, Russia Carved tortoiseshell. 147

Woman’s shoe of pink satin 1790s, Russia Silk, leather, silk embroidery, appliqué, trim with bow.

147 146


Urban Costume in Russia 18th–early 20th centuries


Woman’s dress made from silk blonde lace with “burnoose” cape 1840s, Russia Cream-coloured silk blonde lace, satin.

In the 1840s, women’s costume was marked by a new silhouette. Puffed sleeves were replaced by narrow ones, fitting the arm tightly. The narrow waist was lowered slightly and the close-fitting bodice at the front and rear ended in a narrow tongue in the centre. As before, the neckline remained low and round, revealing the shoulders. Sloping shoulders of a marble whiteness were in fashion. Ball gowns with such a neckline were often decorated with ruches, lace or what was known as the bertha—a wide deep cape-like collar, which was made either of lace or of the same fabric as the gown itself, or else of ribbons used for trimming. The skirt became ever fuller and longer, resembling a bell shape. By the early 1850s, starched underskirts began to be reinforced by longitudinal strips and circular hoops of whalebone. Such a skirt was known as a crinoline. The gala dress of the 1840s was intended either for a ball or for a wedding. The precious blonde lace is elegantly arranged over an underslip of white satin. Only a very rich bride such as, for example, Olympiada Samsonovna, the daughter of a Moscow merchant from Alexander Ostrovsky’s comedy It’s a Family Affair, We’ll Settle It Among Ourselves, who mentions her “blonde wedding dress on a satin underslip,” could afford to order such a garment. A woman of fashion could appear at a ball clad in this gala dress wearing on top of it a light silk cape hand-embroidered with white silk using a tambour stitch. In keeping with the fashion of the 1840s, the cape had a decorative hood with tassels at the end and was called a burnoose.

Uniform of private in Palace Grenadiers 1840s, Russia Cloth, ribbon, metal, embroidery. 148

Urban Costume in Russia 18th–early 20th centuries



he basic types and forms of men’s costume hardly change during the second half of the 19th century. The invention and introduction of sewing machines made it cheaper to manufacture clothing and gave birth to the readyto-wear trade. Men’s clothing, began to be manufactured on a commercial scale with the rise of a new kind of businessman. For him, clothing had to be, above all, inexpensive, comfortable, practical and expedient. Thus the jacket—a shortened frock coat, which was initially made of checked fabrics and worn with single-coloured trousers—came into being. From the 1870s, suits consisting of a jacket and trousers of the same material began to be made. While this was happening, new changes were made to the frock coat. In the late 19th century, alongside full-length frock-coats, a new, shorter version was being made, which became known as a morning coat. It becomes customary to wear black woollen trousers with a thin grey stripe, and a waistcoat with a similar colour scheme, with a black woollen morning coat. The businessman appeared as a recognisable type, occupied with the management of industry, with finances and with trade. Members of the intelligentsia – doctors, engineers, teachers and writers – also wore this type of clothing. Workers’ costume consisted of a calico shirt with the collar fastening at the side and belted, worn over dark trousers tucked into boots, a waistcoat, and a jacket. All these articles of clothing were of factory-made fabrics. On festive occasions, a worker donned a white hand-embroidered shirt and a skirted woollen surtout. Thus, workers’ costume, while retaining native elements, gravitated to new standard forms oriented towards practicality, convenience and functionality. These features of men’s dress came to the fore after World War I. The October revolution of 1917 changed the structure of Russian society, and the suit ceased to be an attribute of the social status.


Man’s shoes 1910s, St. Petersburg, Skorokhod footwear factory Kid, leather.

The man’s shoes, made of light brown kid, have wide and high toes, thick leather soles, and stacked heels made of several layers of leather. 207

Man’s suit 1900s, Russia.

The single-breasted frock coat of black wool with rounded front skirts is of a loose cut. The trousers of striped wool with narrow grey stripes on a black background are straight, without turn-ups. The head covering is a boater—a stiff golden straw hat with a narrow straight brim and flat crown.



Urban Costume in Russia 18th–early 20th centuries


Russian Elegance Luisa V. Yefimova Tatyana S. Aleshina In R ussian E legance , Yefimova and Aleshina unveil and demystify a previously unfamiliar area of costume and fashion history. They provide a remarkable source using gorgeous images and formidable scholarship, creating a truly pleasurable learning experience for the costume historian and novice alike. K a re n T r i vette C a n n e l l Fashion Institute of Technology, New York

Russian Elegance  
Russian Elegance  

sample pages of a book published by Vivays Publishing