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a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Object highlight: 18th century kokoshnik headdress


T&CC 1983.54.1, kokoshnik, Russia, 18th century

by Hope Porter

When I first saw this hat on the shelf, I remember my reaction being a mixture of amusement and confusion. It was lying flat on its front and looked akin to a horseshoe crab, and I couldn’t quite figure out how a person was supposed to wear it. It took finally lifting it up to see how gorgeous it was, and my curiosity was immediately piqued.

Here at the Design Center, we have a cataloguing system that tells you a bit of history around each object, as well as the JSTOR collection, but there really wasn’t a lot of information on this hat except that it was Russian, a specific style of kokoshnik, and that it was likely from between 1700 and 1800. A kokoshnik is a headdress specific to Russia, and through my research, I was able to find out quite a bit more about the one we have in our collection.

The first question I had was how to wear it, and I discovered that it’s worn closer to the back of the head, so that the embroidered sections on the flat front form a sort of halo around the face. This specific style is worn tilted slightly forward, and the “horns” that it has tell you that it’s from the central provinces of Russia, where this style of kokoshnik is/was popular, predominantly in and around the Vladimir province.[1]

My second question was if it was actually that old, and the short answer is that yes, it is. I sifted through many major museum collections and found similar objects at locations like the Met, and similar fabric to the brocade used in our kokoshnik at the Cleveland Museum of Art, all dated around the same period. I also found some reference books at the Paul J. Gutman Library which substantiated this, namely Russian Elegance: Country and City Fashion and In the Russian Style, which both included examples of headdresses of the same type, location, and date as ours.

Many of these pieces that I discovered, now housed in museum collections, were originally in the personal collection of Natalia Shabelsky, a prolific collector of Russian folk textiles and garments beginning around 1870, when she moved with her husband to Moscow. Her interest in folk objects began before then, but with the means to travel and purchase luxurious goods, she set out to preserve these beautiful handmade pieces of Russian tradition.

While these are a bit newer than the one housed in our collection (and a bit more ornate), they offered insight into the variety of styles available, as well as colors and ornamentation.

The piece of brocade in the Cleveland Museum of Art is a bit older, and looks more similar to the motifs in our kokoshnik’s fabric, which leads me to believe that it’s closer in age to our kokoshnik than the pieces from Ms. Shabelsky’s collection.

Silk chenille, Russia, 18th century. Cleveland Museum of Art.

Images in the books from the Gutman Library also showed examples that were closer in size and decoration to our piece, which also leads me to believe that ours falls within the mid to late 1700s, likely during the reign of Catherine the Great, who brought the Russian traditional style of dress back into court fashion in her quest to solidify a national identity.[2]

It’s a beautiful piece of Russian traditional dress, and I think that the new images we’ve taken capture it much more fully.

T&CC 1983.54.1

[1] Efimova, L. V., and T. S. Aleshina. Russian Elegance: Country and City Fashion. Vivays, 2011.,[page 69, fig. 68,69] 

[2] “Catherine II.” Moscow Kremlin Museums, Moscow Kremlin Museums,–ii/#.

Other sources

“Hat.” JSTOR, Thomas Jefferson University Textile and Costume Collection, Accessed 31 Oct. 2022.

“Headdress.” The Met, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accessed 31 Oct. 2022.

“Headdress.” The Met, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Accessed 31 Oct. 2022.

Onassis, Jacqueline, editor. In the Russian Style. Viking Penguin Inc., 1976.

“Silk Chenille.” The Cleveland Museum of Art, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Accessed 31 Oct. 2022.

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