Dress Among the Rus'

Byzantine Dress

The clothes worn by the Byzantines had evolved little from the basic styles of the late Roman Empire, for both men and women. Byzantine dress is a riot of rich, deep colours. Patterned silks and wools and elaborate brocades belied Constantinople's place at the end of the Eastern trade routes. Use of precious and semi-precious stones, particularly pearls, was a sign of wealth.


The basic garment was a fairly loose-cut tunic, usually worn about knee length. It had long, close-fitting (but not tight sleeves) and was worn belted and slightly bloused at the waist.

The tunic was trimmed by wide bands of fabric or embroidery by all at the sleeves and hem; the wealthy also added trim at the neck, and biceps.

For ceremonial wear, Byzantine emperors wore a very elaborate, long version to the tunic, called a talaris cut closer to the body with a slit at each side. (I will not go into detail about imperial dress, as it was very complicated and worn only by emperors, but this garment will be mentioned later).

Men also wore breeches under the tunics. Sometimes for court wear these were very close fitting, but they were normally loose enough to slightly blouse when tucked into the tops of boots or when cross-gartered.

Cloaks were as much a dress accessory as a protectant against bad weather. The usually semi-circular chlamys was hung over the left arm and fastened on the right shoulder with a fibula.

The chlamys was always decorated with the tablion, a rectangular patch of contrasting-colour fabric which was embroidered in court dress, on the front and back edges.



Women wore a tunic similar to that worn by men, except longer. Two were usually worn together, one (sometimes called a dalmatic) slightly shorter than the other, belted at the waist. The edges of these garments were decorated like those of the men, but women are often depicted with an additional strip of fabric or embroidery down the front of the garment. Sometimes a triangular 3shawl2 called a superhumeral was worn over the tunics. Empresses and other high-ranking ladies seem to have also worn separate jeweled collars.

Women also wore the chlamys, though without the tablion. Jeweled mesh hairnets seem to have been common, along with the ubiquitous veil.


The Costume of the Rus'

The costume of the Rus' differed considerably from Byzantine dress in basic silhouette. Though like the Byzantines they favoured wearing several layers, these layers tended to fit closer to the body and not show so much draping as the typical Byzantine garments. However, Byzantine parade dress was gradually combined with elements of traditional Rus styles by the princely class and Byzantine styles of ornamentation spread even wider.

As with most medieval cultures in this period, the various classes did not adopt different styles (except the parade costumes worn by princes), but exhibited their wealth through the quality of fabric and the amount of ornamentation. Underclothes for all classes were made of linen (from flax or hemp), the fineness of weave dictating the quality. The majority of the populace wore a local homespun wool for their outer garments, while the rich imported fine wools and silks from Byzantium or the east. These expensive fabrics were known as pavolok and usually were patterned in Byzantine style, often with gold or silver thread woven through. Popular colours were deep red, purple, green, and pale blue. The lower classes favoured these colours and styles as well, substituting simpler geometric patterns such as diamonds, triangles, stars, sunbursts, and stylized animal and plant motifs.

A look at Ukrainian and Russian embroidery motifs today will give a basic idea of the general look of the embroidery favoured by the Rus'. They were particularly fond of the combination of red thread on white linen, adding other bright colours to augment the designs of geometrics, animal, and plant motifs. Like the Byzantines, the Rus' were quite fond of pearls and would incorporate them into the embroideries, use them for borders, or seed them all over a tunic. Fur was also a common way of lining or trimming garments--sheepskin, fox, hare and squirrel for the common people, beaver, otter, sable, and marten for the aristocracy.


Men's costume:

The basic unit worn by all was the shirt. These were usually made of linen--usually white or natural coloured, but occasionally in a grey-blue. The aristocracy sometimes made them of brightly coloured silk. Richer folk would add multiple layers on top of the shirt, while poorer folk used it as the main layer of clothing.

The shirt was commonly embroidered around the neck. Those who could not afford embroidery or who had little free time for such things often substituted strips of red cloth.

Note the fact that the sleeves are cut longer than the arms (so one could tuck the hands inside for warmth.) To keep them out of the way for everyday activity, the Rus' either added a wristband or used bracelets. There is no collar, but there is a deep slit down the front, which is held shut with a button. The shirt is cut nearly to the knees and is always worn untucked, with a narrow belt of fabric or leather. The other essential garment was a pair of linen breeches, called porty. The rich added a pair of wool breeches over these, while princes might wear silk breeches. They were held up by a belt or rope in drawstring fashion, and were tucked into the tops of the shoes or boots.

Finally, there was a traditional outer garment called the svyta . (A look at the traditional "Cossack style" coats of the Russians and Ukrainians will give you an idea of what this later evolved into). This was cut nearly straight, with only a slight widening towards the bottom, of wider wool fabric. It fit the torso quite closely, with a slit to the waist area done up by three or four buttons, and fell between the knee and calf. The aristocracy often decorated these with horizontal strips of braid or cloth. The sleeves fit closely as well, tapering slightly to the wrist. The garment was often lined or trimmed in fur, and a wide belt of fabric completed the look.

As I have mentioned, the princes adopted modified Byzantine fashions for their parade dress. The very long Byzantine talaris favoured by the upper classes was cut slightly shorter by the Rus', though it was ornamented much like I have discussed earlier. The princes also used the Byzantine chlamys, which they called korzno.


Women's dress

Once again, the basic garment was the shirt, cut just like the man's shirt, except it reached the feet and sometimes featured a slightly gathered neckline. Women often wore two shirts, the outer one often made of coloured silk in aristocratic costume. Like the man's shirt, the women's shirt was always worn belted.

A variety of additional pieces could be added to this basic costume. A shorter shirt which reached the calves and featured wide, short sleeves was called a navershnyk . This would be worn loose over the belt. Married women sometimes wore the pan'ova, which was made of three rectangular pieces of cloth (usually in a diamond or other geometric pattern), attached to a leather belt and opening down the front; while unmarried women wore a garment (zanaviska )made of one long strip of fabric with a hole for the neck, which was then pinned at the side or belted.

For winter wear, women either wore multiple layers or added a simple cloak.

Princesses usually wore the basic Byzantine style of a dalmatic worn over a longer tunic but added characteristically Russian headgear.



The most common hat for men of all classes was either a pointed or conical hat made of felt or woolen cloth, with either fur or fabric ear flaps (which could be turned up) along the edges. Princes wore these styles as well as others with low and high "dome shaped" crowns.

Men tended to wear their hair long in the back, to the nape of the neck.--short hair was considered to be a servile fashion. It could be either worn straight or combed back. Almost all men wore beards (trimmed in a variety of styles or left fully) and moustaches (full and drooping). Occasionally a full moustache alone was worn.

Unmarried women usually wore their hair loose or in a single loose braid, with a headband of ribbon, braid, or embroidered strips of fabric. By the 11th century, these were sometimes made of metal or leather, and the rich often made them quite wide, decorating the top edges with crenellations. From this band would often be suspended metal danglies, especially at the temple.

Married women gathered and wound their hair on top of their head, and then placed over this the povoynyk, which was a kind of cap made of thin fabric or a net of metallic or silk thread. An embroidered front piece was sometimes added so that it would peek out when the ubrus , the second layer, was worn. This was a kerchief made of linen or thin silk, usually white or purple in colour, and decorated with embroidery on the ends. It was usually about 2m long and 40-50 cm wide and worn draped around the head and pinned under the chin, leaving one end hanging down the front. Women then often added hats similar to those of men on top of this.



Footwear differed little between males and females. Peasants wore simple gathered leather or bast shoes along with foot cloths and cross gartering. Those who lived in towns and the aristocracy favoured boots of leather. These nearly reached the knee in front and sometimes slanted downwards in back. The boots usually had a blunt toe; the aristocracy favoured pointed toes which were slightly upturned. Rich women also wore a leather or fabric shoe which reached the ankle.



The Rus were very fond of jewellery, and various techniques such as engraving, filigree, niello, and enamel were used to ornament it. Men often wore a very thick neck ring called a hryvna, while women favoured metallic bracelets (either twisted metal or metal plates) and glass beads. They also wore the "temple rings" previously mentioned. Both sexes wore earrings, though men wore them only in one ear. Finally, the Rus' were fond of attaching drobnytsi, little metal plates (sometimes with precious stones attached) on ornamental strips on clothing. Silver (occasionally gold) was the metal of choice for aristocrats; commoners wore copper, bronze, and base silver.

Finds in Novgorod confirm these assertions. Gold is not common; it is not seen except in the case of a couple of signet rings and temple rings. Beads of amber and glass, and rings and bracelets of twisted glass in a panorama of colours have been round. Annular, triangular, and cruciform pins made of silver or pewter are common, as are temple rings and other "danglies" in animal and geometric shapes; many of these show Baltic or Finnic influence. A final type of jewellery was the coin or imitation coin converted so that one could wear it as a pendant.

Copyright 1997 Susan Carroll-Clark. All rights reserved.