Outdoor clothing from the collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography

The exhibition “Outdoor clothing from the collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography” continues the series of the exhibitions dedicated to the topic “anthropology of object.” The exhibition aims to showcase the diversity of the materials, designs and decorations of the overcoats which were common to the peoples of Russia in the 18-20 centuries. On display at the exhibition are more than 70 different kinds of overcoats.

Being an element of   traditional complex costume, overcoat is an essential part of every ethnic culture. Types of clothes, their design and decoration depended on the climate, people’s occupations and historical conditions. Traditional costume including overcoat not only showed the specifics of its cut, coloring and decoration but also bore information about traditions of the people who wore it.         

Materials used for making overcoats were different depending on various climatic conditions of the regions. On the territory of Russia where the main occupation was agriculture coats were made of plants (flax, hemp, cotton) and woolen materials. Leather and fur items were wide spread in the areas where people for centuries were busy with stock raising and hunting. The materials used to decorate overcoats included fur and leather, felt,  feathers, fish skin, glass beads, metal pendants, coins, cowry shells.

The types of man’s and woman’s overcoats were usually the same. In the Russian village a kind of robe-like woolen clothes was popular. They were home-made, long and widening to the hem. In winter time people wore sheepskins, short fur coats and long coats with belts.

Among various types of Russian overcoats represented at the exhibition, the fur coats attract special attention, for instance, boyars’ fur coats made of hare or squirrel fur and covered with blue or light green silk fabric. A collar, cuffs and hem of such fur coats were trimmed with expensive fur. One of the fur coats shown at the exhibition was worn only on ceremonial occasions and was an indispensable part of the bride’s wedding costume. Festive fur coat – the pride of a Don Cossack woman – was usually made from fox, squirrel, hare and even cat fur and covered with satin, brocade, silk and damask. Salop (woman’s overcoat which appeared in the Russian cities in the middle of the 19th century) looked like a festive female fur coat covered with expensive fabrics. It was decorated with a large turn-down collar and a wide silk ribbon tied in a bow. Another type of cloak-like overcoats represented at the exhibition is a pelerine – a short sleeveless garment which appeared in the peasant tradition in the late 19th century.

In the Western Ukraine both women and men wore during festivals sleeveless clothes   trimmed on the neck, hem and armholes of the sleeves with polecat’s fur and decorated with appliqué made of morocco and embroidery in woolen or silk threads. Up to the late 19th century, traditional shoulder cloaks worn by the Guzuls were kept as essential part of wedding costume.

Man’s and woman’s overcoats of the north-western Russia had similar cut but were different in material. Mostly people wore knee-length long-sleeved kaftans made of heavy cloth, with fastener at the left side. Balakhons – tunic-like overcoats made of rough fabric were wide spread and worn while working in the forest, field or when fishing.

Some peoples of the Volga and the Ural regions had the same male and female clothing: in summer they wore kaftans made of blue or bleached linen, in autumn – longer kaftans of semi-woolen fabric with laps on the back, in winter – sheepskin coats. At the exhibition one can see a woman’s walking-out kaftan, which was an element of bridal costume.  As a rule it was made by the bride before her wedding, and a young married woman usually put it on when she for the first time sent cattle to grass. It was considered that the longer false sleeves were, the richer the bride was. Some peoples of the Ural region wore clothes adopted from the Nenets.

The main materials used by the peoples of Siberia and the Far East were reindeer, elk, seal fur, and also sheep, bird and fish skins. Traditional costume of each people had most evident ethnic specifics which could be manifested not only in cut, material but also in decoration. Tundra reindeer breeders adorned their clothes with stripes of the fur mosaic and Taiga hunters used glass beads for decoration, peoples of the Amur used applications and embroideries while the Yakuts and peoples of southern Siberia had removable and sewn-on metal ornaments. Almost all types of Siberian clothing made of different materials including fish skin are represented at the exhibition. One of the costumes on display is a woman’s robe decorated on the collar, cuffs and hem with double stripe of floral ornament that symbolized the eternity of life.

Felt cloak is the main clothing of the inhabitants of the mountains of the Caucasus and Central Asian region. Due to its all-purpose design, felt cloak was widely spread and for many centuries used by shepherds and warriors of the Caucasus and Central Asia, as well as by Don Cossacks. At the exhibition one can see felt cloaks from Turkmenia and Daghestan. The first exhibit has wide shoulders and is made of grayish-brown felt with white cotton lining. The second one is made in the shape of a bell and has a shaggy surface. The upper part of the lining made of crimson silk and the collar trimmed with golden lace indicate a festive character of the cloak.

The exhibition will be interesting for every visitor, especially for artists and designers for whom the study of various types of overcoats can serve as an impulse for designing

Space required - approximately 150 square meters

Number of objects - about 100