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Russian folk costume

Clothing is an integral part of the people’s culture, it reflects the people’s history and traditions. Folk costume is formed under the influence of climate, geographical location, economic structure, occupation and worldview of people. In addition, folk clothes have always conveyed information about the social status of a person, emphasized their age and family characteristics.

The Russian folk costume was characterized by the presence of many elements and layers. It was the details that sometimes distinguished the clothes of the inhabitants of a particular region of Russia. Since ancient times natural fabrics have been used for making clothes in Russia: homespun cloth made of cotton, linen, cloth made of sheep’s wool. They were painted with natural paints, often in bright colors (white, blue and red predominated), and were richly decorated with braid, beads, embroidery.

In the Russian folk costume a clear division into casual wear, festive and ceremonial clothing (for weddings, going to church, funerals, etc.) was observed. Everyday clothing was quite simple, it consisted of the most necessary elements, and was sewn from inexpensive, but durable fabrics. For comparison, an everyday women's attire could include only seven items, and a festive one – up to twenty. The festive clothes were richly decorated with the use of silk and gold threads, beads, they were sewn from expensive brocade fabrics which at the end of the 18th  century began to penetrate into the peasant milieu. Often it took more than a year to create one costume. The festive attire was a real treasure for the family and was passed down from generation to generation.

In Russia, two main types of women's costume were distinguished: a sarafan complex characteristic of the northern and central regions, and a "ponyova", south Russian one (ponyova is a homespun skirt, usually consisting of three pieces of fabric, with a richly decorated hem). Sarafans differed in fabrics and cuts (closed-up, opened-up, with straps, with a seam in front or with buttons, etc.). The materials of ethnographic expeditions show that old Believers’ sarafans were widespread in the Vladimir province in the 18th century – they were slanting wedged, opened-up, on a colored lining (the lining was often decorated with hand-printed oil pattern), with beautiful folds formed due to the cut.

The basis of the women's attire was a long shirt, a "long sleeve" one, which was worn under a sarafan. As a rule, the shirts were made of linen or cotton, and the more expensive ones were made of silk. Often composite shirts were sewn – from different fabrics. They were decorated with a welt or embroidery. 

The women's folk costume of the Vladimir province was modest, practical chintz fabrics dominated. However, many details were used that distinguished Vladimir casual wear and festive clothes: ribbons for trimming the sarafans – hand-patterned weaving and sewn from Baranov’s chintz, hand-woven cords, belts woven on the planks (sometimes forty or more planks were required to make a girdle) with simple patterns (stripes, herringbone, rhombus etc.). Belts did not just fulfill a utilitarian function (they tied a sarafan, a lower shirt, a skirt, pants), but they were an attribute of a folk costume, without which it was considered indecent to walk (the Russian word "распоясаться"   means loss of restraint, inappropriate behavior). In addition, the belt was used as a talisman, protecting a person from evil forces.

A necessary element of the folk costume was the head-dress that completed the attire. Headwear for unmarried girls and married women differed. Girls wore crowns, bandages (in the Vladimir province – with a wide ribbon at the back), corunas, shawls which left part of the hair open. A part of the girls’ head-dress was adornment plaited into the braid, "nakosnik" (embroidered with beads, silk, decorated with ribbons, etc.). The hair of married women was completely hidden under head-dress units called kika, kokoshnik (usually ceremonial or festive), soroka.  In the Vladimir province in the 18th-19th centuries women used sorokas for everyday wear. They consisted of two parts – "ochelye" (the front part), usually embroidered with geometric patterns, and a "tail" (the back part) made of sole-colored material.  

For a long time the Regional School "Folk Costume. Materials. History. Technology" established in 1994 was engaged in the deep research based on archival and expeditionary materials and the restoration of folk clothes in the Vladimir region. Great work on the study, recreation and popularization of folk costume traditions of the Vladimir province, the center and the north of Russia is carried out by the Regional Center of Folk Art (RCFA), Sudogda, Murom and other municipal folk art houses. The Masters of Arts and Crafts O.V. Chemodanova, N.D. Kondrashina, I.Yu. Krapivina and others study the manufacturing techniques (features of cut, fabrics) and the design of the folk costume, the features of its elements (belts, neck ornaments, head-dresses) on the basis of authentic samples and ancient drawings, as well as manually recreate traditional clothes. The works of these masters are kept in the RCFA collection and presented at national and regional exhibitions, festivals and competitions.

Olga Chemodanova (Sudogda) has mastered ancient handicraft techniques – beadwork, gold embroidery, belt weaving. She created the Theater of folk costume "Tradition" and the amateur association "Sudarushka" at the Sudogda House of Folk Art, where she holds master classes on weaving, sewing of Russian costumes, embroidery and belt weaving.

Natalya Kondrashina, a specialist of the RCFA, studies traditional women's handicrafts and the reconstruction of the folk costume of the Vladimir province. The master’s creative works (sarafans, shirts, unique girls’ and women’s head-dresses, finery, belts) are made according to the ethnographic samples. N. Kondrashina is the organizer of a series of regional seminars on the development of techniques for manufacturing folk belts.

Irina Krapivina (Murom) created series of folk, stylized stage, designer costumes. When making costumes, she uses the cut of old Russian clothes as a basis, applies various techniques of patchwork, sewing with braid, beads, rhinestones, etc.

Much work on the revival of the traditions of folk costume and hand weaving is done by the famous artist arts and crafts, a member of the Union of Artists of Russia Tatyana Grebneva. Preserving the style and characteristic features of folk clothes, the master has developed costumes for the state vocal and choreographic ensemble "Rus", which became recognizable in the country. In her workshop, she herself sits at the loom and creates self-woven masterpieces: tapestries (thread-woven thin picture fabrics), Gobelin tapestries, decorative paintings for the stage, etc. T.V. Grebneva is a Laureate of the Central Federal District Prize in the field of literature and art, Regional Prize in the field of culture, art and literature, winner of the Silver Medal "Spirituality. Traditions. Mastery" (Union of Artists of Russia). Unique self-woven tapestries and Gobelin tapestries, silk painting, stage decorations created by T.V. Grebneva are in the funds of the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve, the Regional Center of Fine Arts, the Vladimir Philharmonic, the Regional Center for Folk Art, etc.

Author: V. Korolkova