Kokoshnik: The Cornerstone of the Traditional Russian Costume
What Is a Kokoshnik?
The most important and beautiful part of Russian National dress has always been Kokoshnik [kɐˈkoʂnʲɪk].
This word originated from the ancient Russian word “Kokosh”, meaning mother chicken. In the past kokoshnik styles varied greatly, generally a kokoshnik is associated with a halo or comb shaped headdress tied at the back of the head. . This headdress can be embroidered with pearls and goldwork, foil, glass, semi-precious and precious stones or simple applique, usually using plant and flower motifs. While wearing a kokoshnik, girls and women usually wore hair in a plait. Traditionally, a plait symbolized obedience and piety, while wearing hair down was associated with spiritual deterioration and promiscuity.
Historically, a kokoshnik is a headdress worn by married women, though maidens wore a headdress very similar to a kokoshnik, but open in the back, named a “povyazka”. Traditionally, women also wore a scarf made of silk or wool, covering the back part of the kokoshnik and head.
Pearl kokoshniks were worn by brides on the wedding day and up to the birth of a first child. After that, it was worn only for special occasions: festivals and holidays. This kind of head garment was extremely heavy and expensive. This is why Kokoshniks were used as a dowry that was always handed down with care and reverence from generation to generation. In old times, young girls prayed for a good marriage on a special day asking Our Lady: “Holy mother, please cover my head with a pearl kokoshnik with golden laces”.
It’s Lasting Legacy
The Kokoshnik tradition has a very long history, dating back to at least the 10th century. On the territory of Novgorodian republic (Novgorod – city located about 300 kilometers away from St. Petersburg) inside the ancient tombs scientists found similar head garments. This kind of head decoration was quite popular up until the 1920’s, in later decades it was used as a part of brides’ costumes.
During the times of the first emperor, Peter the Great, kokoshniks were forbidden as for they symbolized old traditions and dark uncivilized Russia.
Later on, in the end of the 18th century, kokoshniks were brought back as a part of the fashionable style “a la Russe“. In the second half of the 19th century, Russia experienced a boom of historical style, Neorussian, and Pseudorussian style. The peak of the Neorussian style was at a 1903 costume ball that was held in the Winter Palace. At that ball all guests had to dress up according to the ancient fashion.
Nowadays fashion for Kokoshniks is returning back. A fashion show, a photo shoot for the fashion magazine, a noticeable advertisement, all of these include shining colorful Kokoshniks.
Today the biggest collection of Kokoshniks and Russian national costumes can be found in the State Ethnography Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.
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