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Ceremonial ‘Russian dress’ as a phenomenon of court culture

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Russian rulers introduced numerous dress reforms in the imperial period, transforming the appearance of state institutions and thus the image of Russia and its elite. This article traces the origins and development of ‘Russian dress’, a stylized version of female Russian folk costume introduced to the Russian court by Catherine the Great (1762–1796) and worn, in various forms, from the 1770s to 1917. We examine the symbolic role ‘Russian dress’ played in shaping the image of the ruler, Russia’s relationship with the West, and shifting notions of Russianness at home and abroad.
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Keywords: Catherine the Great; Russia and the West; Russian dress; false, decorative sleeves; kokoshnik; sarafan; scenarios of power

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Moscow Kremlin Museums 2: Harvard University

Publication date: December 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • We all wear clothes. We are all therefore invested at some level in the production and consumption of clothing. This journal intends to embrace issues and themes that are both universal and personal, addressing [and dressing] us all. Increasingly, as we all become accomplished semioticians, clothing becomes the key signifier in determining social interaction and behaviour, and sartorial norms dictate socio-cultural appropriateness. Following the rise of fashion theory, on an everyday level, we all understand that our clothes 'say' something about us, about our times, nation, system of values. Yet clothing is not fashion; clothing is a term derivative from 'cloth', to cover the body, whereas fashion alludes to the glamorous, the ephemeral and the avant garde. We wear clothes, but imagine fashion-an unattainable ideal.
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