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CULTURAL TRADITIONS in FASHION. The Kokoshnik: From Common Folk to Queens


One of the most beautiful parts of traditional Russian fashion is the kokoshnik, an ornate tiara-style headpiece that has been a part of fashion history since the 10th century. Originally worn to symbolize a woman’s marital status, the kokoshnik served has served a long and special purpose both socially and spiritually.

This beautiful headdress, which is mostly associated with northern Russia, has varied in shape and material depending on current fashions and for which occasion it was being worn. Despite the great length of time that the kokoshnik has been around, it continues to make appearances on the runway as an iconic fashion style amongst Russian designers.



The word kokoshnik roughly derives from and translates to ‘Mother Chicken’, perhaps due to its maternal nature amongst Russian traditions. The headdress was worn by married women and brides on their wedding day, as well as being seen at special occasions and holidays. Having been discovered in ancient tombs in the territory of the Novgorodian Republic, it can be suggested that the kokoshnik has been worn by women before the 10th century all the way through the 1920s. This was not without disruption, however, as there was a period of time when kokoshniks were banned by Peter the Great, who reigned from 1682 to 1725, due to their connections with old Russia. Fortunately, the headpieces made a comeback near the end of the 18th century in a style referred to as ‘a la Russe’ and became even more popular during the mid-19th century. During this time, costume balls were all the rage and were usually themed around wearing ancient Russian styles, thus putting the kokoshnik back in the spotlight.




From the material to the design, kokoshniks hold many different meanings depending on when they are worn and how they are decorated. For example, pearl kokoshniks were exclusively worn by newlywed brides until they gave birth to their firstborn. After this, these pearl kokoshniks were only worn for occasions such as Christmas, special ceremonies, or holidays that called for formal attire until it was handed to the next generation as a dowry to be worn by a daughter on her wedding day.




The oldest kokoshniks were a halo-shaped and covered with fabric that tied at the sides. They were typically worn with a traditional Russian jumper known as a ‘sarafan.’ In the 16th Century, these headdresses made it to the upper class when rich women began wearing the style and began to cover their kokoshniks with ornate fabric and jewels. Fast-forward to the 19th century, the Russian imperial family had taken note of these moon shaped headdresses and created their own kokoshnik tiara. Encrusted with diamonds and veils, these kokoshniks were worn by royalty and retained the same shape as the kokoshniks worn by peasants. One of the most famous kokoshniks belonged to Queen Alexandra, which was made almost entirely of diamonds when it was given to her by the United Kingdom on her 25th wedding anniversary in 1888. It is now in the possession of Queen Elizabeth II, who has worn it on numerous occasions, leaving onlookers dazzled by its brilliance.




There is a large collection of kokoshniks stored at the State Ethnography Museum in St. Petersburg, which contains many of Russia’s most history-rich headpieces. In recent years, kokoshniks can be seen coming down the runway and are making a comeback in Russia as a symbol of the country’s deep culture. These headpieces were a common theme throughout the 2018 World Cup, bringing fashions from 10th century Russia into the 21st century.

When looking at the kokoshnik, there is more to its story than just a part of fashion from old Russia, rather, it symbolizes many seasons of history between the 10th and 20th century. These headdresses have adorned the heads of famous queens and princesses while simultaneously being worn by common folk, making it meaningful as both a historical piece and a familial tradition that is passed on through the generations.