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How did Soviets dress for winter

18 Mar 2023, 04:55 GMT+10

There was very little to choose from in the Soviet Union, clothing-wise, so everyone pretty much wore the same things: 'vatniks', Astrakhan furs, the prickliest woolen scarves in existence and other classics - see them all in our gallery below.

Most Russians in the 1920s-1930s would dress plainly and even roughly - thin overcoats, valenki, felt coats, etc. Soon, however, the 'vatnik' became the main choice for staying warm during the winter: it was essentially a button jacket, easy to manufacture and cheap, making it a popular choice for dressing an entire nation.

Archive of Olga Evgenievna Shitova-Belova, Alexander Ustinov / Russia in photo

World War II turned the 'vatnik' into the ideal winter item of clothing for the masses. It turned out the jacket wasn't only suited for the front line, but also in winter expeditions, factories, fields and all manner of locations. The entire country had one: the army, students, workers, prisoners - members of every social stratum and profession. To protect against chilly winds, people would further fasten the outside with belts or ordinary rope.

Yakov Ryumkin/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

After the war, things began looking up for Russians and they switched to heavier overcoats.

Viktor Temin, Pavel Manych/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

The more well-off urban citizens would order tailor-made coats, adding fur collars to spruce them up, as well as warm fur hats. Simple folk would buy whatever was at the stores - standardized coats with fake fur collars.

Anatoly Garanin/Sputnik

The fashion for 100 percent fur coats began in the 1950s. However, an incredible few could afford genuine fur, with the exception of Astrakhan (lamb), which was more affordable at its peak in the 1950s.

Alexander Makarov/Sputnik

At times, fashion was victorious over common sense. Even in winter, in addition to the lamb fur or overcoat, trendy 1950s women would wear elegant summer hats that barely covered the head. Moscow society nicknamed them "meningitis hats" - as they didn't even cover the back of the head, making it really easy to contract pneumonia.

Mikhail Grachev/MAMM/MDF/Russia in photo

As for the rest, they found the best winter accessory to be warm woolen scarves. They were incredibly prickly, but they literally saved lives in many situations: women would tie them around their heads instead of hats or around their waist, if they had to stand in line for long periods of time. Whenever they caught a cold, such a scarf was very useful when tied around the neck or chest (after applying some form of cold-fighting ointment).

Alexey Stuzhin/TASS

The 'ushanka' hat is undoubtedly the most iconic item of Russian headwear and it's managed to go through a few permutations over the centuries. Its prototype - the peasant treukh ("three-eared hat") served the citizens of Rus' well in fierce blizzards, protecting the neck, as well as the head. Then, in the Soviet era, the ushanka was standard issue in the Russian Army. Finally, in the 1960s, the head of the Soviet state, Leonid Brezhnev, took a liking to it. From then on, deer and lamb fur ushankas were the trend among the entire Party elite.

Yuri Sadovnikov, Vsevolod Tarasevich/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

Ordinary folks, on the other hand, had to go for a more modest variant - rabbit fur.

Yuri Sadovnikov, Lev Borodulin/MAMM/MDF/Russia in photo

Meanwhile, men's choice of top layer was an overcoat or half coat with a fur collar. Lamb, beaver or muskrat fur collars were particularly trendy.

Vsevolod Tarasevich/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

Women opted for multiple layers. Pants became a thing only in the 1970s: they used to be considered an item best suited for hard manual labor before then.

Vsevolod Tarasevich/Sputnik

Cotton or wool trousers, therefore, functioned as a bottom layer underneath skirts and dresses - sometimes two or three pairs at once.

Maxim Blokhin/TASS

Shoes were a different matter. Classic valenki weren't suitable for workdays in the city, while good boots were expensive and considered a status item. People stood in long lines to get their hands on a pair on the black market . Yugoslavian, Romanian and Hungarian-manufactured ones were in particular demand. They weren't meant to be worn in a snowstorm, but Soviet women would go to considerable lengths to look pretty.

Anatoly Bochinin/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

Soviet children, on the other hand, were kitted out for a snowpocalypse. Light underwear, light sweatshirt, a warm sweater over that, a base layer of pants, with another wool layer on top of that, as well as knitted socks. An overcoat or fur coat, fastened with a belt, were worn over all that. Headwear consisted of a light hat or scarf, then another hat, made of genuine or artificial fur. Valenki, sometimes, or boots completed the image.

Viktor Akhlomov/MAMM MDF/Russia in photo

Sometimes, there was that universal wool scarf we mentioned earlier, tied around the child's neck.

Y. Levyant/Sputnik

It was often difficult for children to waddle around in all that, but for long walks and sledding outings, this was a perfect kit.

Igor Gnevashev/MAMM / MDF/Russia in photo

And who could forget the mitts. They were sewn together with a rubber band, which was then pulled through the sleeves of the fur coat. Losing these mitts was practically impossible, although some children did manage to, against all odds.

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