Russian Town Costume

Roman K’s splendid ‘Folk Costume & Embroidery’ blog has an entry devoted to Russian town costume, with a great many beautiful pictures. I was pleased to find this information because this style of dress has always been a bit of a mystery to me. I have two embroidered aprons of this type in my own collection, and when I gave a talk in Hampshire recently, a lady there told me she had something like this too and asked if I could tell her about it.

I haven’t seen any examples in books, nor had I seen any actual pieces in museum collections in Russia, until a few years ago when I was visiting the All-Russian Decorative, Applied and Folk Art Museum in Moscow (or just Folk Art Museum, as it’s often called) and I saw this apron on display. But neither the museum’s caption nor our guide was very illuminating about it.


Russian ‘Town Costume’ apron – Museum of Folk Art, Moscow

Haslemere Museum has a blouse and apron of this type amongst its collection of textiles and dress from eastern Europe – most of which is in the store rather than on permanent display, but which can be seen by appointment.


Russian ‘Town Costume’ blouse – Haslemere Museum


Russian ‘Town Costume’ apron – Haslemere Museum

I always thought these garments looked very different from true peasant dress, from any region of Russia – particularly in their use of bands of embroidery, typically in cross stitch (which is not found in Russian folk textiles before the 20th century), and the occurrence of a lot of blue in the fabric and the stitching. But now Roman’s blog entry has answered all my questions.

Here are the two aprons from my own collection:



This one has a strange little bib with no apparent means of attachment – perhaps it was pinned on to a blouse or dress worn underneath.  The straps which are a continuation of the waistband seem much too short to tie round the back.




Postcard in the ‘Russian Types’ series, c. 1905 – girl wearing ‘town costume’ (the desired effect is no doubt to show a picturesque peasant-type, without needing to be too purist about the type of dress…)


I have been researching the history of British managers and engineers going to work in the textile industry in Russia before the 1917 Revolution. Many were employed in factories there to set up and oversee the operation of British-made machinery, such as that manufactured by the Manchester firm, Mather & Platt. William Mather made frequent visits to Russia in pursuit of his business. I found this picture of his family ‘in Russian peasant costume’ – but, as you see, they are wearing this ‘town costume’ rather than ‘true’ peasant dress.  I imagine such garments were available to buy as souvenirs in Russian cities. Mrs Mather’s apron, though, looks to me more like a Russian ‘towel’ than a typical town costume apron.




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