Russia

Historic HerStory – Nineteenth Century Russian Court Dress

In the early 1830s Emperor Nicholas I of Russia issued the Edict on Court Dress, which codified the dress among the women of his court. The men were already were required to wear military dress or court uniforms, which allowed the Emperor to quickly suss out the courtier’s rank. The Emperor, a traditional sort, wanted to ensure that the women were also quickly identifiable. His codification went into effect, and protocol and etiquette were thus preserved.

The Edict prescribed “Russian Dress Uniform.” (Paradnaya Plat’e), including a white embroidered silk gown, with an overdress of embroidered velvet. Sleeves were in the Muscovite style, long and open, and puffed at the shoulder. Bell-like and wide skirts were rouched and fastened at the waist. This costume was beautiful, and reflected the traditional Russian dress. However, they were very difficult to wear, being both heavy and hard to manuever. Women of the court often called the official dresses their armor, and escaped to more Western fashions for non-court occasions.

Russian Court Dress 1830s

This ethnic court dress remained in place until 1917, with some modifications for the arrival of corseted fashions. The court dress evolved into three separate pieces, with a corseted bodice incorporated into the ensembles. The elaborate and distinctive style thus made women of the Russian court instantly recognizable both in their own court and abroad.

This was also the period that elevated the Kokoshnik to required status. Originally these headdresses were jewel-studded velvet for Imperial family members, with married women adding tulle veils. These simpler headdresses eventually evolved into the magnificent tiaras familiar to royal watchers today.

The fabulous Russian Court dress exhibition is currently at the Costume Gallery at the Hermitage. I know we can’t travel these days so our enjoyment must be vicarious, through photos.