Men's Layer 2 in Early Rus

Light overgarments.

Updated 3 July 2007

One version of the svita.

Another version of the svita (shuba?).

Discussed on this page:
    Toroptsa/Izyaslavl dresses

    The svita was the wool outer clothing of the typical male in the 10th through 13th centuries (and actually longer – Stamerov only discusses that time period.) It pulled over the head with an opening down to the waist and covered the torso fairly closely, gradually widening toward the bottom using side gussets. It had a slight collar. It was belted with a wide cloth belt. The svita was at least knee length, but could extend to mid-calf. The lower classes tended to have the shorter garments. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)

    Upper clothing in the 9th-13th cent. [Верхняя одежда] About the upper clothing of ancient Rus we have rather little information. In 11th century sources is recorded as upper clothing the svita [свита]. Feodosij Pecherskij wore “on hairshirt svita votolyanu” (PVL, I, p. 129). V.I. Dal’ derives this name from the verb “svivat’” [свивать] with the meaning “odevat’” [одевать], “kutat’” [кутать] (Dahl’, IV, p. 154). The svita as a garment evidently worn over the shirt is recorded in the Novgorod birchbark letters of the 13th century to which we will turn (Artsikhovskij, Borkovskij, 1958, letter 141, p. 17-18). Although the svita is recorded only in connection with men’s costume, this is not a basis to consider it exclusively a men’s garment. In any case, in later times the svita was worn both by men and by women. About the cut of the svita there is no precise information. Judging by the depictions, upper clothing of this type was long, approximately to the calf, and densely snugged to the figure (old slavic “obleklo”) and sometimes had a turned-down collar and cuffs. Its helm could have been decorated with embroidery (Artsikhovskij, 1948, page 247). Later the svita appears as a long open-front upper garment. (Rabinovich)

    The opening did not extend all the way down the garment until the mid 13th cent. according to Stamerov. Kireyeva puts this change in the 15th cent. The sculture of the metal worker on the Novgorod church doors, which is dated to the 13th or 14th century, would seem to support Stamerov.

    The upper body opening was closed with several small buttons using loop tabs. In the 10th-13th centuries it was typical for such outer garments to have 3 or 4 tabs sewn to the torso, made of heavy horizontal strips of a contrasting color fabric, braid or galoons. (Kireyeva and Stamerov)

    After the escape from Mongol rule in the 15th century and as the period of Muscovite Rus begins, clothing in Rus began to evolve more rapidly, and become more diverse and intricate. Nobles began to wear several layers of clothing at once as a sign of status, regardless of the season. Garments began to open all the way from the top to the bottom. (Kireyeva) (It should be noted that Stamerov says that such garments began to appear in the mid-13th century. This earlier date is supported by the image of the master metal-worker on the Novgorod church doors.)

    It had long narrow sleeves. (Kireyeva)

    Svitas to be worn in winter were fur-lined. (Kireyeva)

    Directly over the rubakha was worn the svita. Apparently, it was the most widespread outer clothing of townspeople in the XV century. For example, the praying Novgorod boyars are dressed in svitas in an icon of XV century. The svita was sewn from a woolen fabric, with a length barely above knees, fastened with buttons made from knots. The svita had a seam at the waist where the skirt was attached. The skirt was slightly flared, both due to a trapezoid cut, and due to side gores. The sleeve widens toward the armhole by means of narrow gores and gussets (lastovitsy). The svita has a velvet turn-down collar and cuffs. (Bykov/Kuzmin)

    In the 13-17th cent., for men and women of the common people, upper dress was the same - for example the sukna or svita - a not very warm, wide garment of broadcloth with a lining. There were also fairly expensive sukni of imported materials on a silk lining. (Rabinovich, 13-17 c.)

    During the period of the 13-17th cent. the zipun was a men’s indoor garment – a wrapped, rather short jacket, worn over the rubakha, but under the kaftan. Several researchers propose that the sleeves of the zipun could be of different material than the main part of it (Kostomarov, 1860, p. 68; Filyarovskiya, 1945, p. 67). However there is only one record of this part of clothing in written sources – “zipun white twill”. Levinson-Nechaeva described a zipun from the collection of the Armory Palace – quilted, a little bell-bottomed downward, with narrow sleeves of the same color. It does not have luxurious trim, but the flap and hem have galloon sewn on. One can think, that the zipun functioned like the modern vest in men’s costume. For the ordinary person in the 17th cent, the zipun could serve as upper clothing equally with the kaftan. This idea is suggested by the enumeration of objects of clothing in the satirical “Povesh of Foma and Erema”. Desiring to emphasize that the brothers were dressed mainly identically, the author said: “On Erema zipun, on Foma kaftan; on Erema shapka, on Foma kolpak...” However, in the wealthy men’s costume the zipun was worn under the kaftan. The zipun, apparently, was decorated more modestly than upper dress, and possibly was edged/trimmed around in the places where it was visible from under the kaftan. Rabinovich notes that the name, zipun, is of Turkic origin and could have arrived in Russia either from the Turks or the Tatars. (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)
    During the 13-17th centuries, the kaftan was an upper garment of men (and more rarely women), for indoor and light outdoor wear, and sometimes even for winter (kaftan shubnyj). Depending on function and style the kaftan was sewn longer or shorter (to the knee or to the ankle), loose or fitted to the body (but always from dense relatively good material, on a lining), and in the overwhelming majority of cases – open down the front, with the right flap laid on the left. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    Along the chest was located usually 8-12 buttons (or strings). It is difficult to say when exactly the kaftan became so widespread in Rus. The very name is of eastern origin. The Arabian travelor used the term kaftan for the luxurious brocade upper garment in which were buried noble Slavs in Bulgaria in the 10th cent. (Ibn-Fadlan, p. 81). This term, obviously, was a term usual for the author, and not Russian. Russian sources until the 15th cent. did not know the name “kaftan”. It is more important that in the 16-17th cent. it spread to a very wide circle of clothes, so that it was necessary to have additional designations – russkij, turskij, pol’skij, vengerskij, stanovoj, terlik [Russian, Turkish, Polish, Hungarian, district, терлик] (Sav., p. 52-54; Levinson-Nechaeva, 1954, p. 309-328; Gilyarovskaya, 1945, p. 69-72) etc., indicating the detail of cut and trim, connected with fashion... Kaftans were sewn so they opened slightly for the boots and did not interfere with walking with the front shorter than in back. The collar was a small standing one or completely absent (then was visible the richly decorated “orzherl’ye” – the fastened collar of the rubakha or zipun). The standing collar – ozherl’ye – could also be fastened to the kaftan. The sleeves, if they were not folded, were decorated at the wrist with richly decorated cuffs, the chest with buttonholes/loops, and kruzhevo [lace?]. Sources name kaftans of valuable materials – satin, velvet, silk brocade, damask, moiré, taffeta, camlet, broadcloth, mukhoyarovye [Asian cotton blend fabric], and also (for common people) krashenin [dyed homespun linen], twill [sermyazhnyj], sheep, and goat. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    According to Rabinovich in his discussion of the 13-17th centuries, the kaftan was a necessary part of the clothing of poor people and wealthy and, depending on the intended use, could be made of luxurious material on valuable furs or from the simple sermyaga [homespun wool twill] on sheepskin. In wealthy property were many kaftans. Thus, among the property of prince Yu.A. Obolenskij, in the middle of the 16th century were named five kaftans: “Kaftan on pupkakh [navel] sable, colored sash with gold, 9 buttons, kaftan greene on white cherevyakh [belly fur]… kaftan damask… slanting collar, lined with taffeta, Turkish kaftan 10 buttons of silver… kaftan with slanted collar…” (AFZIKh, II, p. 207-211). In the year 1680, from the house of landowner A. Aristov (from Whiryaevo Moromskij u.) were, among other property stolen, eight kaftans: “Kaftan kindyashonj [red or printed cotton fabric], buttons silver vol’yashnye [?] (obviously, belonging to nobleman himself. – M. R.), and two valuable childrens kaftans, buttons silver… four kaftans of sheepskin” (possibly, the house-serfs) (AYuB, III, No 329, stb. 270-272). At the end of the 18th century, in the description of one rich dowry (city of Rostov) were enumerated ten kaftans – brocade on fox, Turkish with golden stripes [nashivka], green satin light/cool kaftan, brocade silk, remaining a bit simpler-two new sheepskin, two broadcloth, two bright red cotton warm “childrens”. It is interesting that in the list was given children’s kaftans. They, as in previous cases, were not especially rich. In peasant families were “ two kaftans broadcloth, shubka borlovaya [spotted cotton fabric?] women’s”. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    During the 13-17th centuries, among other objects of clothing, the closest in function to the kaftan should be called the kabat – a long warm garment with long sleeves. The kabat was worn only at home and sewn, therefore, of modest materials. (Rabinovich, 13-17th c.)

    A loose, dressing-gown-like upper oudoor garment. Made of thick homespun broadcloth, called armyachiny, for common people. Noble people wore it only at home and made if of more valuable fabrics. Prince Obolenskij had a "azure cotton armyak" and a "fine linen armyak". [Worn by women as well as men?] (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)


    In discussing clothing of the 13-17th century, Rabinovich says the function of the feryaz' often recorded in sources among objects of clothing is not completely clear. Usually this was a long (almost to the ankle) loose upper garment open down the front, fastened with 3-10 buttons or ties, with long sleeves, gathered at the wrists. The feryaz' could be cool (on a lining) or warm (on fur). Sometimes it was thrown over the shoulders over the kaftan, shuba or half-kaftan like a cloak, sometimes it was worn under the kaftan like the zipun. Apparently there also existed a feryaz' without sleeves. It is possible, that the Arabian word faradzhijya indicating for the Turks men's and women's long dress with wide sleeves, served as the name for several garments, differing in cut and function. Klyuchevskij considers that if prosperous people wore the feryhaz' over the kaftan, common people wore it on the rubakha. A courtier, going outside, would put on the okhaben over the feryaz' so apparently the feryaz' was meant as an indoor/at-home garment, at least for the nobility. (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)


    In the 13-17th cent, the favorite outdoor garment worn by men and women in the spring and fall (a so-called, two-season garment) was the odnoryadka. Odnoryadki were sewn of broadcloth or other wool fabric "in one layer", i.e. without a lining. This was an open-front, long, wide garment with long folding/colapsing sleeves and a slit for the hand at the armholes. The skirt was shorter in front than in back. "Women's broadcloth odnoryadka, thick red broadcloth of raspberry color, with 12 large silver filigree buttons, and an women's cherry odnoryadka" from a 1672 description. Other sources record "blue broadcloth for odnoryadka", "azure odnoryadka". (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)

    In cool weather was put on outer clothing similar to the opashen', however, judging by images on engravings and icons, they wore it clasped with numerous buttons. Boyarynya Maria is dressed in this way in the icon “Praying Novgorodtsy ". One of names of this garment - odnoryadka. (Bykov/Kuzmin)

    Odnoryadki were sewed from smooth woolen cloth [sukno] or other woolen fabrics "in one layer" (i.e. unlined), and thus the name. [odno means one, ryad means layer] (Bykov/Kuzmin)

    The women's odnoryadka reconstructed on the Partizan website is open down the front, cut long and wide with long thrown back sleeves and holes for hands at the armhole. The collar and sleeve cuffs are sheathed with the fur of silver foxes (at that time - one of the most valuable furs). (Bykov/Kuzmin)

    Seems to be a richer version of the odnoryadka.

    In summer, prosperous men and women wore over the shoulder, "na opash", light silk opashni of loose cut with long, narrowing-to-the-wrist sleeves, with a silk or cotton lining. The skirt, like that of the odnoryadka, was cut shorter in front than in back. It had sleeves, but was not belted. Such an opashen was found during the construction of the Msocow subway in cracks in the wall of Kitajgorod. (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)

    The opashen' was decorated with large buttons. "Opashen green velvet with eleven gold pear-shaped buttons... opashen of light green amburski camlet with nine silver pomegranate-shaped buttons..." are recorded in a 16th century will. (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)

    From French alogo [scarlet?] smooth wool cloth ("skorlat") was sewn "opashen'" - an unusual garment for the time with very long sleeves narrow to wrist and cut longer in back than front. "Opashni" could be worn over the shoulders, cloak-like. (Pushkareva89)

    Bykov/Kuzmin give the opashen nearly hem-length (!) sleeves with holes in the upper part of the sleeves to let the arms out.

    The opashen’ was formal/dressy special-occasion clothing sewn from smooth woolen cloth (sukno). It could have a satin (atlas) turn-down collar trimmed with river pearls on its edge. Lengthwise along the flap of the opashen’ are sewn sixteen pairs of horizontal loops and buttons. Buttons were cast of brass, pear-shaped. Sleeves were long (as long as the hem!) and narrow, with holes in the sleeves near the armholes through which the hands could pass. Owing to sewn in armhole gussets (lastovitsy), opashen' is convenient to wear cloak-like, on-the-shoulders - "na opash' ". In miniatures of the Radzivillovskoj annals, opashni are worn and clasped with buttons, passing hands through the holes in the sleeves. (Bykov/Kuzmin)

    A specifically men's outdoor garment was the okhaben' (okhoben', okhobenek) which was similar in cut to the odnoryadka, but with a large laid-down collar, hanging below the shoulder blades. It had also long, even the hem and ankles, folding/collapsing sleeves and a slit for the hand. [specific date?] (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)
    A long, rather narrow open-down-the-front men's garment, which gave its name to the women's sarafan. It was, evidently, not very widespread, and was recorded at first at the end of the 14th century, and kept until the mid-17th cent. only among the nobility. Prince Obolenskij had a yellow silk sarafants, fastened with 23 gold and silver buttons. (Rabinovich, 13-17th cent.)
13th Century Dress from Toroptsa and Dress from Izyaslavl:
    An entire dress was discovered in 1957 in the strata of Toroptsa, burnt in the second-half 13 cent. as a result of Lithuanian invasion. In the 30 years which elapsed from the moment of excavation, it was strongly deformed, since it was not restored. The dress was made up from the large number of large fragments. It was sewn from woolen fabric of various textures [?]. Top of dress - from the woolen cloths of tabby weave, the bottom - from the cloth of twill weave. The folds are visible on some fragments. Well was preserved the sleeve narrowing to the wrist with a gusset [lastovitsa, the underarm gusset]. It is made from the cloth of twill weave, the lastovitsa - from cloth of tabby weave. The seams, the connecting parts of dress, are made in such a way that the edges of the cloth would not be peeled off - with a "zaposhivochnym seam" [flat-felled]. This technique of sewing arose with the simulation of the cut of clothing. However, in Toroptse is found a piece of cloth with ornament in the "branoy" [brocade?] technique.

    One additional entire dress is found in Izyaslavl. It was sewn from several forms of the finest woolen cloth of tabby weave and cut with a top/bodice and separate skirt. The top of the dress is lined. The collar [vorot] is sheathed with a kajma [border] of more closely woven cloth. The kajma is constructed double and is pierced with horizontal stitches. The neck slit, located on the left of the collar, passes into the shoulder seam. At the waist a skirt is sewn to the bodice. It is put together with small gathers, for which are sewn four parallel seams. At the seam uniting the bodice with the skirt, is sewn the golden-fabric ribbon, edged on two sides with silk thread, twisted in the form of rope. A kajma was sewn along the hem. Judging by the seams, the sleeve was sewn under the arm, where a strip of cloth with a width of 5 cm was sewn. This detail is sewn across the sleeve with the finest seam - "forward needle" [vpered igloj], and then a back stroke [backstitched?], the space between the stitches is filled so precisely, that it creates the impression of a machine seam. [The depiction of this seam looks like it was made with two passes of running stitch, placed to "leap-frog" each other, and thus, it resembles machine sewing.]

    To judge the length of a dress is difficult. Only scientific restoration can give a complete idea not only about the technology of an article, but also about its form and size. If the proportions of the assembled dress are essentially correct, then its length reaches the knees.

    [I'm not sure what these dresses are. If they are women's garments, as implied by Kolchin's illustrations - they could be jackets, navershniks or svitas. If they are men's garments, then they would probably be svitas. Pity the artifacts that archeologists dig up don't come with nice labels...]

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