Kiervan Rus - Clothing

This page describes the types of clothing worn by the people of Kiervan Rus

Women's Clothing

Women's clothing in 10th to 15th century Rus, as in other cultures, reflected societal norms, and the individual's originality and conception of beauty, and indicated rank, wealth, profession, family status and locality. A woman's inner dignity and emotional restraint were emphasized without restricting freedom of movement. Depictions of period women showed them to be stately and filled with inner tranquility and confidence.

Kiervan Rus styles were greatly influenced by the close connections with Byzantine. Cut was simple, free-flowing, full but not too wide, and long but not as long as in Byzantine. Nearly all clothing was put on over the head because it didn't open all the way down the front. The clothing also usually lacked large front closures.

Byzantine Influence

Pre-revolutionary researchers of ancient Russian miniatures and frescoes usually drew direct analogues between princely garments and Byzantine fashion of 10 to11th century. They named the loose clothes of ancient Russian noble women xitonami (chitons), the belted dresses - dalmatikami (dalmatians), raspashnyye (chasubles) - mantiyami (mantles). Of course, the acceptance of the orthodox form of Christianity by the Rus could have substantially influenced the widened cultural contacts of Rus and Byzantine and, consequently, contributed to imitation of several elements of costume. But ancient Russian costume, including that of the ruling class, was not borrowed.

The portrayal of the mother of Yaropolk Izyaslavich in the Trirskoj Psalter corresponded to portrayals of high-ranking clothes of Byzantine courts, but fresco painting, princely miniatures, and ornaments followed well-known canons. Archeological materials, allow one to judge not about elements of costume, but about the costume as a whole, but have preserved extremely little. But what has lasted until us, shows that the costume of ancient Russian women in 10 to 11th century showed not so much a coming together of Rus with Byzantine, but changes of several traditional forms, already existing among eastern Slavs: over garment (sorocheki), raspashnyx/shirt (oriental robe, kurtok/jacket) and drapiruyushchix/drapes (cloaks). In frescos, the "canonized" garments of princesses have only turned down collars (influence of Byzantine tradition). But among material remains of women's clothing of 12th century frequently are found a different type of ancient Russian collar - standing. In addition, examples of embroidery have survived that allow us to pay attention to traditions of certain designs. The motifs are noticeably different from the usual Byzantine ornament.

Ideal of Beauty

Folklore indicates that the Russian ideal of beauty was tall, stately, serene, fluid in movement "as though sailing" or "like a swan" - a woman was supposed to hold her head up proudly but cast her eyes down modestly - unless she was a noblewoman.

Thinness and pallor were signs of illness, mean behavior, bad habits or depravity. The similarity between blednost (pallor) and bliadstvo (harlotry) was noted in ecclesiastical texts. So, in contrast, Russian women wished to have bright red cheeks "like the color of poppies", white skin "like white snow", clear lustrous eyes "like a falcon", and black eyebrows "like a sable's tail".

 Class Distinctions

The class and wealth was indicated in the outerwear of 10th to 15th century Rus women in fabric treatment, not in cut. These outer garments were the primary place to display the owner's wealth.

Peasant Costume

The costume of ancient Rus peasants in 10 to 15th century was based on the ankle-length rubakha (sorochka) and "nabedrennoe" clothing (poneva). An obligatory part of women's peasant garment was the belt. The richer a village inhabitant was, the more prominent were all kinds of ornament, the higher the quality of their manufacture, and the more expensive the utilized materials, especially for holidays.

The most conspicuous part of costume of peasant women of the pre-Mongol period was the headdress (venets for maidens and kika for married women), and also its ornaments - temple rings, whose form could be used to identify the origin of its owner.

Peasants wore earrings, beads, priveski, copper bracelets and perstni (ring with stone) and lapti on their feet.


The composition of the costume of ancient Russian city dwellers was more complicated and included greater number of items. Over a long sorochka/rubakha they wore one or several gowns of straight or widening cut and a "short sleeved" (raspashnoe) garment. The number of garments depended on the season and material circumstances of the family.

The outer dress was made shorter than the lower garment and had wider sleeves. The lap and cuffs of the lower garment always were visible, forming a stepped silhouette. As in the costume of peasants, a belt was added.

The headdress of city dwellers of all classes (koruny for maidens and kiki with povoyami for married women) in form had much in common with peasants, which were determined by its origin from rural, however decorating was complex, intricate. Kolty on ryasnakh (duckweed chains) served long as ornaments of headdresses of city dwellers, while the necks of city dwellers were surrounded by metal grivny and necklaces of beads. Boyarinas and princesses wore over sleeves at wrist and forearm massive folding bracelets; city dwellers a bit more poor were content with different coloured glass.

In distinction from peasants the city dwellers and the representatives of the ruling class wore boots. The leather shoes of the 10 to 13th century, porshni, soft shoes, "half boots" and boots without heel and stiff base - were cut simply and crudely, but then brightly coloured. In the garb of noble city dwellers, princesses and boyarinas were used expensive, most often imported, fabrics. Of velvety aksamite were sewn "short sleeved" (raspashnye) clothes of a type of dress with a clasp on the right shoulder, part of the holiday clothes of princesses.

In general, the garments of princesses and boyarinas had more detail than those of the lower classes. The clothing of the representatives of the feudal nobility also had more items in each of the types of clothing, and the costume was built of a greater number of components.

Aristocratic ceremonial clothing also demonstrated wealth with multicolored cloth, silver and gold embroidery and expensive furs. One princess owned a red coat lined with fox fur when a single fox pelt worth was more than a silver ruble. This amounted to a year's pay for a peasant.

The garments of representatives of the privileged class, even those not intended for celebratory situations and holiday appearances, were richly decorated. Several examples are found in a miniature from the Izbornik of Svyatoslav of 1073. One princess wears a loose straight dress with wide long sleeves, supplied with naruchami. The dress is belted; conforming in color to the naruchej and the belt appears to have been "zatkan" (begun to weave) with gold embroidery. The bottom of the dress is decorated with a border, and the top - with a round turned down collar. A dress with a shoulder and collar with such decoration can be seen in other miniature portrayals, and in a 1270 Gospel.

All Russians wore a loose shift as the basic piece of clothing, usually made of bleached linen. Peasants would wear one coarse linen "rubakha" as both under and outer garment. The more wealthy would add an outer rubakha cut a bit larger and made of more expensive fabric. More information about the rubakha

The panova was usually worn by married women over the rubakha. This "wrap-around" skirt was adopted from the steppe nomads and was made from three equal panels of fabric sewn together only at the top and gathered on a drawstring (gashnika).

Another outer garment, usually worn by maidens over the rubakha, was even more ancient than the panova. It was the zanaviska or zapona, actually a linen naramnik which was a long rectangular length of fabric folded in half at the shoulders and with a round neck-opening.

The navershnik was even older than the zanaviska. It was a short rubakha that reached the calves and had short broad sleeves.

Neither the panova, the zanaviska, nor the navershnik were required components of ancient Rus costume. The rubakha was often the sole attire of a peasant woman.

Over the shift and the wrap skirt, women wore garments of various lengths and styles, made of wool, cotton, or even velvet (for the rich).

On holidays, the long tunic-like navershnik was worn over the zapona or the panova.

Princesses, noblewomen and their entourages preferred long, unbelted robes (a version of the navershnik?) topped with an open cloak.

Under coats or cloaks, women wore jackets of different types, short and wide to the waist or long in front with narrow wrist-length sleeves.

Later on women started to wear the graceful, wide-sleeved letnik.

Many types of outerwear, especially the svita and the mantle, were design to be worn over the shoulders or unfastened to reveal the clothing underneath.

The svita could serve as light outer wear, pulled over the head. The svita was made of wool and lined with fur for winter wear.

The kortelya was a fur-line analogue of the letnik.

The nobility often wore a small Byzantine/Roman-style cloak called a korzna. It resembled the chlamys and was rectangular or semicircular in cut. It could worn fastened by a fibula, brooch or buckle on the right shoulder or in the middle of the chest (a "cloak-mantiyu) and hung down to the ground in wide pleats, sometimes gathered at the waist with a belt.

Ceremonial Costume

Garb over the rubakha was worn a long tunic reaching to the ankles with narrow sleeves, then over that a dalmatica with wide straight sleeves shorter than the sleeves of the tunic. The dalmatica was considerably shorter than the tunic reaching approximately the calf, and it was belted at the waist. Over the dalmatica was often worn a mantle (fastened in front) or, more rarely, a korzna (fastened on the right shoulder). The headdress was the nachilnik or venets for maidens, and the povoinik, veil and cap for married women.

The cloak-cape was long preserved in the costume of ancient Russian women in celebratory clothing. Comparing the Radzivillowski Chronicle with frescos of Sophia Cathedral of Kijow, one can conclude that the over garment was loose and long, consisting of a straight, usually belted, dress, supplemented with "raspashnym" clothing (a type of cape or cloak), a collar, a "podol" (lap of skirt) and a "styk" (joint) of fabric which was otorocheny (edged) with a border. On frescoes of St. Sophia's in Kijow, the women were dressed in just such dresses and edged cloaks (plashi). Sometimes, that edge or border was sewn on and represented itself as a wide silk braid, embroidered with gold. Galloon/braids of such type are found in burials.


Differed from male religious only in the headdress, which was a long head covering, thrown over the head and fastened at the sides, so that the greater part of the brow was covered. It hung in free folds on the sides and back, from the shoulders to the upper back. Nuns and the monks wore the rubakha khiton reaching to the feet with narrow sleeves over the hands and a wide belt. The cloak-matiyu reached somewhat below the knee and fastened in the middle front. Bast shoes or boots were worn on the feet. Black wasn't compulsory at that time. Khitons could be dark brown, grey and midnight blue. Mantles were dark brown and crimson.

Coarse wool fabric was called "vlasyanitsy" (hair shirt); monks and nuns wore it directly on the body as a form of self-torture.

Ornament and Jewelry in General

Married women used ornament more than maidens. The jewelry on heads, hands, necks and waists displayed wealth and served as amulets against the "evil eye." To this end, much of the early jewelry was designed to make noise, the better to scare away evil spirits.

At the beginning of the 10th century especially, noble costume was ornamented with kolti, beads, nachilniki, and sequins. Earrings were not particularly common from the 10th to 13th centuries, but bracelets, rings, beads and necklaces were. The majority of jewelry was made of metal. Peasant jewelry was of copper, bronze or low-grade silver. Noble jewelry was of silver, and sometimes gold. Jewelers techniques included pearl work, silver work, filigree and enamel.

Small embossed coins, engravings, stampings, castings, zern (solder for making tiny metal grains), filigree, and black and partitioned enamel were among the techniques mastered in Kijow. Tin sequins of various forms were sewn in ornamental bands and stripes on the yoke, etc. of clothing and frequently had gems attached to them.

Jewelry was often designed for individual commissions. Gold and silver jewelry with precious and semiprecious stones was often passed down for many generations.


Changes in 14 to 15th Centuries

In the 14 to15th centuries, the loose stepped silhouette of clothing, emphasizing the "grace" (statnost') of Russian women, endured little change. Innovation affected the attire of rural inhabitants least of all, although temple rings (evidence of ethno-tribal characteristics) or, for example, noise-making priveski gradually disappeared from the headdresses of peasants.

The favorite color of clothing traditionally remained red. The quantity and quality of gowns and decorations as before conditioned the social prestige of their owners.

For noble city dwellers, boyarinas, princesses instead of gown appeared letniki, "koreli", "opashni". In cold autumn or winter day they wore kozhukhi and shuby ("sheepskin coat" and "fur coat"), which in rich families now lay beneath bright expensive fabrics. In the 15th century cloaks and capes were used more rarely, and together with changes of form clothing was changed and also the set of its traditional supplements/additions. Fibuly became also a completely rare ornament. But the belt remained a necessary accessory of women's clothing.

The shoes of Martha Boretski and her noble contemporaries (end of 15th century) became significantly more complex in cut and design with openwork appearing, along with composite manufacture. Porshni completely went out of use; everyday shoes became more comfortable in construction. In the 14 to15th century, half boot and boots with little composition leather heels on a stiff base gained the widest spread as the favorite shoes of city dwellers and princesses and boyarinas.

  Men's Clothing

In Progress