Kokoshnik traditional Russian headdresses

Kokoshnik headdress
Kokoshnik, 2nd half of the 19th century, Olonets province

Kokoshnik headdress, a symbol of the Russian national costume. The name comes from the Old Russian word “kokosh” (“chicken”, “hen”). They were worn only by married women: for a long time it was believed that after getting married, you need to cover your head and hide your hair. There were a lot of kokoshnik shapes, but now the most famous is the shape of a hat with a flat or convex bottom, to which a high ridge in the form of a triangle or a crescent was attached.

The base of such a comb was made of thick paper or glued canvas, covered with expensive fabric – velvet or damask, – decorated with braid, brocade appliqués, embroidered with gold or silver threads, beads, beads or pearls, and sometimes with precious stones. A piece of cloth was sometimes worn over the kokoshniks, pinning it under the chin. It could be either the thinnest veil-veil, or a scarf, or an ubrus – a dense veil decorated with embroidery.

Kokoshnik traditional Russian headdresses
Vladimir-Nizhny Novgorod kokoshnik. Mid-19th century. Silk, glass, metal thread, semi-precious stones

It is not known exactly when they began to wear kokoshniks. But already from the 10th century, ancient Russian women wore hats that resembled them. Over time, the kokoshnik became an integral part of the Russian costume. The very word “kokoshnik” is found for the first time in documents of the 17th century. At first, they were worn by women of all strata of the population, but after the reforms of Peter I, the kokoshniks remained only in the traditional costume – peasant, bourgeois and merchant. They were made by special craftswomen, “kokoshnitsa”. Even in poor families, they sought to acquire an elegant headdress, which was carefully passed on from generation to generation. In everyday life, kokoshniks were not worn, saving for special occasions. The festive Russian costume made the female figure stately, massive, and a large elegant kokoshnik adequately crowned this image.

Kokoshnik traditional Russian headdresses
Portrait of the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna in a headdress kokoshnik

Unmarried girls also wore high hats, the so-called crowns, but they did not cover their hair. Subsequently, kokoshniks began to call any jewelry with a high “ochel” and no longer relate them to family status.

Why were kokoshnik headdress in Russia?

The Kokoshnik headdress also penetrated into the court costume. Even Catherine II, emphasizing the closeness to the Russian people, gladly posed in it for portraits and encouraged the courtiers to appear in kokoshniks at masquerades. And the famous Russian memoirist Philip Vigel recalled how, during the Patriotic War of 1812, many patriotic ladies “put on sundresses, put on kokoshniks and headbands. They found that this outfit was very attached to them. It was not soon that they parted with it. ”

Kokoshnik headdress
Painting by F. Budkin Girl at the mirror

In 1834, Nicholas I introduced a female court uniform in the form of a dress in the Russian style and a corresponding headdress. For married ladies – a kokoshnik, for unmarried women – a “bandage” (the aforementioned crown). Each rank, from the maid of honor to the lady of state, had its own color and finish of the uniform.

The French traveler, the Marquis de Custine, in his travel notes “Russia in 1839”, described the Kokoshnik headdress as follows. The national dress of Russian court ladies is imposing and at the same time old-fashioned. Their head is crowned with a headdress that looks like a kind of fortress wall made of richly decorated fabric or like a low men’s hat without a bottom. This crown, several inches high, usually embroidered with precious stones, pleasantly frames the face, leaving the forehead open; original and noble, he is very much to the face of beauties, but hopelessly hurts ugly women. ”

The wife of Alexander III, Empress Maria Feodorovna, had a delightfully beautiful diamond tiara in the form of a kokoshnik. Her sister Alexandra, the future wife of the British King Edward VII, ordered one for herself . So the fashion for precious kokoshniks arose. The tiara of Alexandra Danish is still kept in the jewelry collection of Elizabeth II, it is called the “Russian tiara-kokoshnik”.