MUSEUMS & COLLECTIONS Colorful and richly ornamented
A good dress is a card of invitation;
craft tools like this spinning wheel,
Fine dress helps to impress…
distaff, and machine for making belts
It is no problem to find evidence
brought a bit of festivity in the routine
supporting this proverb. Clothes can tell
of Siberian peasants
a lot about their master: for example, his
or her level of income, tastes and habits,
education and views…
If our modern dress is so telling, the more
so is traditional costume whose every
detail has been sifted through the ages.
Simple or intricate, folk costume is the
essence of both material and spiritual
life of many generations. Its language,
however, is only understandable
to a historian and ethnographer…
This publication about the costume
of Siberian Old Believers is the first
in the series of articles dedicated
to the ethnographic exhibits of the
Museum of History and Culture of
Peoples Inhabiting Siberia and Russian
Far East with the Institute of Archaeology
and Ethnography, Siberian Branch of the
Russian Academy of Sciences.
The core of the Museum’s rich
ethnographic exhibits is collections made
in compact communities of indigenous
nationalities and Russian settlers on the
initiative of Academician A. P. Okladnikov
in the 1960s—1980s
Doctor of History Elena F. FURSOVA is a leading researcher y the beginning of the 20th century Russian they were exiled by Katherine II to a designated area in
of the Ethnography Department, Institute of Archaeology and population of West Siberia varied a lot in terms of the Southern Altai, where they came to be called “Poles”
Ethnography, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy origin and culture. by their former place of residence. Another group of old-
of Sciences (SB RAS), Novosibirsk.
Among the Siberians descending from the first believers settled in Zabaikalie (Trans-Baikal region) and
She has authored and co-authored over 170 papers
settlers of the 17th to the first half of the 19th century was referred to as Semeiskiye (“Family people”) because
The photo shows the author wearing the festive dress of
the most wide-spread ethnographic group were Chaldons, of their reported way of settling by families (Bolonev,
Semeiskiye (Siberian Old Believers), Zabaikalie who had no memory of the localities they had come from. 1992). 93
(Trans-Baikal region), 1977. Nevertheless, these well-to-do old residents associated These specific features of ethnic and cultural composition
themselves with the Don Cossacks and Siberia’s first of Russian Siberians did not fail to influence their material
conqueror Ermak. culture, which in the 19th and early 20th c. was a unique
Old Believers occupied a special place among Russian blend, or coexistence, of various Central European regional
Siberians – these included latest settlers of the early 20th c., traditions.
mainly coming from the Urals and Volga (Dvoyedany, A clear demonstration of this fact is ethnic costume, a true
Kurgany), and old settlers (Kerzhaki, Poliaki, Semeiskiye). center of people’s artistic taste and their spiritual, religious
The Altai “Poles” (Poliaki) were descendants of Russian and mental principles. We will support this statement by
The artifacts of peasants’ everyday life for the ethnographic
exhibit devoted to the Russian population of Siberia were Old Believers who, in the late 17th and early 18th c., the example of folk costume of Siberian Old Believers, the
collected by F. F. Bolonev, L. M. Rusakova, E. I. Degracheva- escaped religious persecution from various areas in Russia Poliaki and Semeiskiye.
Skop, N. P. Zolnikova, and E. F. Fursova to lands that at that time made part of Poland. In the 1760s
MUSEUMS & COLLECTIONS
An original part of the male costume of Poliaki was ritual Decorative red cotton braids of Poliaki’s ritual shirts
(wedding) linen shirt. Their tunic cut became archaic fulfill a specific artistic task: they bring out the shape and
as early as in the 19th century. Shirts of this kind were cut so that the shirt’s abundant ornaments are not perceived
worn with trousers of the general Russian cut made from chaotically. What is of interest, however, is when and how
rectangular or trapezium-shaped cloths, tied round the these outstanding decorative elements appeared in the
waist with tasseled woven belts. Russian dress.
The main feature of this shirt is a composition of the rich It should be noted that by the 19th c. the tradition of
decorative embroidery on the left side of the front, whose sewing decorative braids over the seams had been preserved
elements make up a cross-like figure, as well as two vertical only for some kinds of Russian women’s clothes (Kouftin,
red cotton braids sewn along the seams keeping the central 1926). Also, in southern Russian provinces seams of men’s
and side linens together. The braids were decorated with festive shirts still used to be decorated with embroidery
“meanders” (patterns of continuously repeated twisted and red cotton but on the whole their role in decorative
spirals), squares embroidered in blue and white thread, design was modest.
contrastive to the red cotton. Along the two sides of the As for the earlier time, the restored shirts of Russian
braids geometrical ornaments were embroidered, which aristocracy (16th and early 17th cc.) kept in the Archangel
organically included the braids into the composition. cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin and in the State History
Museum have seams decorated with braids and bands, In the old times, a white tunic with vertical red cotton
though these are much more narrow than the red cotton braids used to be worn by Western European upper
braids ornamenting the shirts of Siberian old residents clergy and aristocracy.
(Коshliakova, 1986). Besides, their shirt-fronts had no On the left is a Saint reliquary. A fragment of a fresco in
rich patterns. a 3rd- century synagogue. Diggings of the town of Dura-
Europos (modern Syria). From: (Schlumberger, 1985).
And if we go another century back? Ancient Russian
On the right is the Mother of God with baby Jesus.
manuscripts such as the 15th-century Radzivill manuscript A drawing of a fragment of a 4th-century fresco.
contain depictions of clergy from Chernigov wearing From the book (History of Ancient Rome, 1982)
A men’s ritual shirt of Poliaki Old ankle-long tunics decorated with contrasting trimmings
Believers from the Museum of around the collar, sides of the hem and sleeves. All these
the Institute of Archaeology and garments have two vertical braids going from the shoulders Western Europe (Yastrebitskaya, 1978). The embroidery
Ethnography SB RAS is dated by the
to the lower hem. The “manuscript” shirts, however, round the collar was divided in several columns, similarly
second half of the 19th c. (the town
are considerably longer than the Old Believers’ shirts, to that of the Old Believers’ shirts. Garments with braids
of Maloubinka, Glubokovsky region,
Eastern Kazakhstan oblast, which have round epaulets and no front embroidery (Rybakov, can be found on the 2nd- to 4th-century Roman frescos
historically was part of the Southern 1976). showing Mother of God, on the cult portraits from the
Altai) By the 8th and 9th c., a strong iconographic tradition Roman province of El Fayum, on the statues and frescos
had been established in the Orthodox Church. As for the in Parfia, and on samples of Coptic clothes (Kibalova et
costume of Christ and saints, it had to be a white tunic with al. 1986; History of Ancient Rome, 1982; Schlumberger,
two vertical braids and red and blue meander ornaments. 1985).
94 Similar garments can be seen in the Byzantine and, later, Evidently, it was Roman influence that made these 95
Old Russian icons. It was this costume approved by the garments spread both in Byzantine and Western Europe.
resolutions of the Byzantine Councils that the Orthodox Originally, tunics with narrow purple braids had
clergy wore since the 6th c. (Komissarzhevskiy, 1910; distinguished the noble knight estate - braids of senators’
Kibalova et al., 1986). Supporting this fact are, for example, tunics were broader. Some time later the tunics became a
depictions on the well-known mosaic in the church of St. Christian cult attribute.
Vitalius, in Italian Ravenna, which used to be the western So such is the long story told by two red cotton braids
capital of the Byzantine Empire. from the shirts of Siberian Old Believers. Understandably,
Let us now fix our eyes on the West. We will see that back the tradition to highlight seams with decorative braids
in annalistic times tunics with vertical braids were common and to trim collars with cross-like embroidery came to
for clergy garments and clothes of upper aristocracy of Russia when it adopted the Greek-Byzantine version of
MUSEUMS & COLLECTIONS
The main piece of the Trans-Baikal
Semeiskiye’s women’s festive
clothes was a typical Russian
The embroidery design on the Siberian Old Believer’s Straight pinafore dresses with
ritual shirt has symbols from both Christianity (a cross) shoulder straps were characteristic
and paganism (overlapping squares meaning fertility). of central Russia. They spared no
Russian museums (in St Petersburg, Omsk, and Barnaul) fabric to make a dress: the front
keep only about ten men’s shirts of Siberian Poliaki dated part was made from two linens, and
the second half of the 19th c.
the back part from four. All in all, it
took six meters of fabric to make a
pinafore dress! The front lower hem
was decorated with braids. Older
and aged women did not use to wear
braids as this was considered sinful
and immodest: after a certain age, this
ornament was unpicked.
Round the waist, pinafore dresses
were tied with a belt woven from
The visiting card of a sort of another Old Believers’ purchased Berlin wool, silk, or cotton.
ethnographic group – the Semeiskiye from the Trans-Baikal In the 1970s peasant families still kept
region – is the surprisingly smart and colorful women’s a variety of hand-made woven belts,
festive clothes. Their function is underlined by the choice and elderly women weavers agreed
of material (light silk fabrics), a smart shawl, and abundant readily to demonstrate their skills.
decorations: amber bead-necklace, tinsel, and headgear By tradition, the pinafore dress was
embroidered in golden thread. worn under a zapon (an apron), which
Christianity. These clothes met the aesthetic requirements The women’s shirts of the Semeiskiye had a cut common was always made with a bodice. In
of the feudal world and reflected the well-spread principle for all the Slavs, with pleated rectangular insets on the the old time, when pinafore dresses
of conforming with the image of a “true” Christian both shoulders and the body consisting of the upper and lower were long, zapon’s were also long.
internally and externally. It is not by chance they were parts (chekhlik and stanushka, respectively). The upper “My mother used to wear a zapon that
preserved by Siberians coming from the Chernigov, Briansk, part was made from expensive purchased fabrics like silk covered the ichigi (kind of home-made
and Gomel provinces, which used to be a true “reserve” of Persian fabric, velvet, or Chinese satin; while the lower shoes)”, an inhabitant of the town of
traditional Eastern European culture. part was made from cheap fabrics like cotton, printed Bichura recollected.
96 Testifying to how persevering these traditions have cotton, or fustian. The shoulder insets of festive shirts were Maids used to wear one plait whilst
proved to be is another interesting fact: alongside the decorated with applications of multi-color fabric braids and married women wore two plaits
clear Christian attributes, Old Believers’ shirts carry much ornamental seams. According to residents of the town of crossed at the crown and then covered
more ancient symbols. The front cross-shaped embroidery Bichura, ancient chakhlatki shirts had sleeves two linens with a kichka (headgear) whose
consists of overlapping squares with crooks or without wide, with cuffs. The stand-up collar was turned down, and hoof-shaped front part was rigid.
them, and these are typical pagan elements, normally the collar was fastened with brooch-links. On top of the kichka they put a case
interpreted as signs of fertility. Confirming this are samples They used to put on light cotton skirts over the shirts to embroidered in golden thread, a
of embroidery found on Poliaki’s shirts, supplemented with make the hips seem broader; winter skirts were made from kokoshnik. The back of the hair was
ears of wheat. Such combination of Christian and pagan woolen cloth. “It’s more fluffy this way”, the Semeiskiye covered with a rectangular stripe of
semantics was typical of the Old Russian costume of the explained to ethnographers during the expedition of fabric embroidered with gimp and
12th and early 13th centuries (Rybakov, 1981). 1977. beads. On top of this complicated
MUSEUMS & COLLECTIONS
Treasures from a trunk: a velvet “hindhead” embroidered
in beads and silk kokoshnik’s embroidered in golden
thread that used to decorate the heads of Semeiskiye
fashion mongers. And such embroidered towels served
to frame icons in the so-called “red corner” (“best place”) In the Old Believers’ homes picturesque craft products
opposite the front door such as these birch bark boxes peacefully coexisted
with things made industrially (for instance, a samovar
and coal-heated iron), also decorated according
headgear they made a turban from a rolled satin shawl, oday, an important source of various ethnographic The Russians brought to Siberia their primordial trades: to the then fashion
which was decorated with flower bunches, brooches and data is clothes preserved in museums. husbandry together with domestic cattle breeding and
kucheri (drake feathers). According to the story told by Thus, exhibits of the Institute of Archaeology poultry industry. Processing raw materials developed into
an aged resident of the town of Bolshoi Kunalei, as late as and Ethnography SB RAS representing costumes trades: tanning, sheepskin coat making, production of wool
at the beginning of the last century old people prohibited of two Old Believers’ branches relocated to the Altai and and felt boots, weaving, timber trade, etc.
local fashion-mongers from wearing brooches and pins, Trans-Baikal region have given us the opportunity to Products of women’s craft work, weaving, and household
considering the habit sinful. track the relation between the two groups, the Poliaki and things were often not just handy–they were real works of
On holiday they used to put on amber bead-necklaces, Semeiskiye, as well as their connection to the population applied and decorative arts. For instance, beliefs related
which were valued highly and handed down from mothers of the localities in Belarus and Ukraine they have come to birds transformed into artistic depictions that proved to
to daughters. We were shown necklaces purchased in the from. be extremely tenacious not only in folklore but also in the
Russian North that had been kept in the families for five Traditional costume, however, can not only be found ornamentation of women’s crafts products and designs
or seven generations. among museum exhibits. Picturesque clothes of Siberian for distaffs. Chiseled shapes, excellent proportions, and
These women’s clothes of the Semeiskiye, descendants Old Believers have become a sort of benchmark in folk dress pleasant colorful ornaments created a festive mood in
of settlers who came from the western territories of the for folk groups, singers of folk songs, and fans of relics of the peasants’ homes.
Russian Empire, have formed as a result of intricate past – thus leading a new life in urban surroundings.
interaction of various regional variants of Slav folk dress.
The typical northern Russian base (the pinafore dress)
was transformed under the Byelorussian and western
Russian influence. The latter showed itself in the names References
of the clothes’ articles (for example, chekhlik, brooch-link), Bolonev F. F. Semeiskiye: Historical and Ethnographic
complicated way of tying shawls in the shape of a crown Essays.– Ulan-Ude, 1992.
98 (typical of the Slutsk region of Central Byelorus), turned- Kibalova L., Gerbenova О., Lamarova M. Illustrated
down stand-up collar, bright and colorful trimmings, which Encyclopedia of Fashion.–Prague, 1986.
were not typical of the Russian costume. Komissarzhevskiy F. F. Costume.–St Petersburg, 1910.
As a result, quite an original tradition of festive women’s Mertsalova М. N. Costumes of Different Times and Peoples.–
costume came into being, which lasted practically without Moscow,1993.–V. 1.
change till the mid-20th century. As late as the 1970s many Russian Folk Costume.–Leningrad, 1984.
women still kept in their trunks authentic Semeiskiye Shvetsova М. V. Poliaks of Zmeinogorsky okrug // Notes of the
dresses, one of which the author of this article was honored West Siberian Department of the Russian Geographic Society.
The editors and author are grateful to Candidate of History
to wear. 1899. Book 26.
I. V. Salnikova, head of the Museum and Source Studies Section
of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography SB RAS, for her
help with preparation of the present publication