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Thursday, September 4, 2014
Russian Wedding - About the Gown
What did Russian women used to wear for their weddings? History of the Russian wedding costume
Do you think that wedding dresses have always been white?
WRONG! In many parts of the world the white color used to be the color of mourning! Black took this place not so long ago, while, as historians say, white symbolized the past, and it was the color of oblivion. But later the meaning of the color changed to joy and prosperity. Ancient Greeks and Catholics wore white clothes during celebrations. They even painted themselves white for their weddings. However, for many centuries white was only one of the festive colors and not even the main color.
So when did brides start wearing white dresses?
Wedding of Queen Victoria
The history tells us that in the middle of the 17th century Queen Victoria of Great Britain appeared at her wedding in a white dress and was so stunning that brides all over Europe started ordering white dresses for their weddings. Some other sources tell us that the French queen Anna d’Autriche wore a white dress at her wedding, and that custom quickly spread among the French elite and later came to England, Spain, Portugal and other countries. Soon peasants joined the nobility and the tradition became universal.
Anne d'Autriche 1
I can’t really say which legend I believe more. At least I could find the portrait of Queen Victoria in the white dress at her wedding, so I guess that is a true fact. As for Anne d’Autriche, the portrait above was supposedly picturing her right after the wedding, but maybe she changed the dress or something.
The white dress came to Russia only in the 19th century, but it became common only in the middle of the next century. Before that time Russian brides chose national costumes. In many regions the bride had at least two different dressed: one before the wedding ceremony and the other was worn after. The first costume was rather plain and dull. Sometimes brides would put on even a black dress with a black veil. The second costume was supposed to symbolize joy; therefore it was practically always red.
History of the Russian wedding dress
As we shared with our readers before, women’s clothes in Russia (especially in the North) consisted of linen shirt called “rubakha” and a sarafan. And the wedding costumes consisted of the same elements. The only difference in the wedding dresses of peasants and nobility was that noble brides had dresses made of more expensive fabrics and decorated with precious stones.
Wedding rubakhas were richly decorated with embroidery. The ornament usually included leaves, berries, cockerels, and other birds. Birds were probably the most frequent element because they symbolized all the good things – luck, happiness, prosperity etc.
Wedding rubakha, 19th century, Vyatka region. Source – Sergiev-Posad museum of art and history
In many regions the sleeves were up to 130 cm long with special “holes” for hands. One of the reasons for that strange fashion was that people believed that the bride and the groom must not touch one another’s bare hands. But it is not the only reason. This custom of making long sleeves dates back to the pagan Rus. It is known that our forefathers worshipped different elements of nature, and women specifically worshipped the Earth. Every year they watched the Earth growing rich crops from little grains thrown into the soil and they thought that the Earth has great power that is able to give new strength and new life. So they made long flippy skirts and blouses with long sleeves reaching the ground so that the Earth could give them some of its magic power. That’s why everyday women’s clothes had long sleeves. As for the clothes for special occasions like weddings, the weddings rubakhas had special names “plakalnya” (shirt for crying) and “makhavka” (shirt for waving hands/sleeves). So when a bride had to leave her home she cried and waved her long sleeves expressing her grief that she’s no longer a free, unmarried girl and now she’s moving to a different family and a different life.
Wedding dress, beginning of XXth century, Kursk region. Source – Sergiev Posad museum of art and history
For a long time, brides made their own wedding costumes. The sewing process could take several years! Later this tradition ceased to exist, but brides still decorated their sarafans themselves. Sometimes they also wore a “dushegreya” (pinafore) on top of the sarafan. The pinafore was also beautifully decorated with embroidery and (in case the bride was rich) precious stones.
Did the brides wear anything on their heads?
Sure they did. The Russian headpieces were initially inspired by flower wreaths. In the XI-XIVth centuries brides mostly wore a ribbon or a metal headband fastened at the back of the head. Brides either let their hair hand loose or made one or two braids.
During the wedding ceremony the bride wasn’t supposed to cover her head completely. So they mainly used wide bands decorated with pearls, beads, golden threads. Those headpieces really looked like precious crowns! Accessories like rings, earrings, amber necklaces (they were supposed to bring happiness in marriage), neck bands of precious metals were also widely used, and so girls who were getting married really looked like “young princesses” (that’s what they were called by priests during the wedding ceremony).
After the church ceremony the headpiece was changed to “kokoshnik”, which was far more elaborate and beautiful than plain ribbons or headbands, but it also had another function. The rule was that the married women (even newlyweds) were supposed to cover their hair completely and kokoshniks were perfect headpieces for married women. The price of wedding costume including the headpiece was very high, so by the XIXth century festive clothes and kokoshniks were often passed down from one generation to another.
In the Northern regions of Russia instead of kokoshniks young women wore crowns decorated with round beads made of golden threads. The meaning of this headpiece was also symbolic: people wished to the newlyweds to have as many children as beads there were on the crown.
What about brides from rich and noble families? How else was their costume different from that of the peasants?
Brides from princely families were supposed to be wearing a mantle made of brocade decorated with exquisite embroidery, using pearls and gold threads and trimmed with fur. Mantles like that could weigh up to 15 kilos!
The wind of change…
By the 16th-17th centuries brides still wore sarafans and kokoshniks, but now their color wasn’t necessarily red. And in the early 17th century Peter the Great issued a decree ordering all noble families in Russia to follow the European fashion. Since that time Russian fashion mirrored the European one. If you come to Moscow try visiting the Armoury Chamber in the Kremlin. It has some interesting wedding dresses of Russian empresses on display. As for the peasants, they continued wearing traditional clothes until the Revolution in 1917.
But this European trend in Russian fashion ended abruptly in 1917, after the October Revolution. The church marriage services were cancelled and replaced with the civil ceremonies. Since Russia was experiencing a serious economic crisis due to the 1st World War and then the Civil War, newlyweds often had to come to the wedding palaces to register their marriages in their everyday clothes. Only later, in 1921-1928, some sort of the wedding costume appeared again. But it was not very much different from ordinary clothes. The only thing that made it different was the white color. As people didn’t have much money, they didn’t see the point in buying a dress in order to wear it only once. The same tendency was kept in 1930s-1950s.
Something like wedding fashion appeared again in 1960s. At that time mini-skirts were very popular, plus the textile industry started producing synthetic fabrics. Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova got married in a dress made of the most popular synthetic fabric called “Space” («Космос» in Russian). Here is what that dress looked like:
At that time Soviet brides especially loved small hats with a wedding veil. The same fashion existed in Europe then. The dresses in the next decade, 1970s, were just as simple and unpretentious.
Only after Perestroika did the first wedding gowns from other countries become available in Russia. Now Russian brides can choose any dress they want.
In remembrance of old Russian traditions The Russian Store is hosting an extensive collection of porcelain dolls in national festive costumes. Here are some of our favorites:
Russian traditional costume doll Duchess Anna
Russian Duchess Natalia Grand Duchess Alexandra
These dolls will make a true gem of any doll collection and will surely make a lasting impression on your guests.
Posted by TheRussianStore.com at 12:45 PM