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The social life of the caftan in eighteenth-century Russia

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This article explores the ‘cultural biography’ of the caftan, a garment, which underwent significant changes as a part of Peter I’s urban clothing revolution. The article discusses the evolution of the caftan and changes in its functions and meanings, its historical, social and literary modes of circulation and the semiotic value it acquired in the eighteenth-century clothing system, and more broadly in eighteenth-century Russian culture. As a key garment of the Petrine dress reforms, the caftan became a material symbol of eighteenth-century modernizing processes and was often employed by writers to comment on social and cultural policies and practices. When the caftan (as part of a uniform) started to be associated with state control and the infringement on individual freedom, it was replaced by the dressing gown, which became a symbol of internal peace, freedom and creativity in literature and cultural life.
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Keywords: caftans in folklore and literature; dress regulations; eighteenth-century Russian culture; meanings and functions of caftans

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Durham 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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