Russian wedding attire in the 19th century varied depending on the bridal couple's social rank. But some features of the wedding dress, in any social rank, stand out at characteristically Russian. Headdresses, for example, are a distinguishing feature of a Russian bridal costume. But the gowns worn by aristocratic Russian women resembled those worn by their contemporaries in Continental Europe.
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High society Russia modelled much of their dress off the latest fashions in continental Europe. A corset hugged the waist under a bride's wedding dress so the dress would fit snugly around the waist and upper torso. A corset is lined with vertical whale-boning that moulds the body into the classic feminine shape. In the early 19th century, 1800 to about 1830, dresses with an empire waistline and long, flowing skirt dominated in Russia. But after 1830 the fitted waist and full skirt made a come back. What set Russian bridal fashion apart from Europe was the ornate detail added to the skirts and sleeves of the gown. This style of trimming is distinctly Russian and it is seen in the traditional wedding garments of many Russian women.
Traditional Wedding Dress
The main component of the wedding dress was the sarafan; a pinafore dress that rests on top of a blouse. The pinafore and blouse were embroidered with colourful depictions of flowers, berries and birds. Birds were a favourite as they are a traditional symbol of good from ancient Rus. Often an elaborate vest was placed over the shoulders. The entire wedding ensemble fit loosely and was more important for its symbolism than to show off the bride's figure.
Headdresses are not technically a part of the Russian wedding dress, but they are very important to traditional wedding attire. The original headdresses from the 10th century were made of flowers and leaves, but by the 19th century they had become beaded crowns. The beads in the crown represented the number of children the wedding party hoped the couple would produce. The giant structures were perched on the bride's head and sometimes covered with a kerchief.
Changes in Wedding Attire
The wedding attire of Old Rus (or ancient Russia) was seen as a peasant's tradition by many a Russian leader. So in the 17th century Peter the Great ordered all Russians to follow current European fashions, for fear that the traditional dress would undermine the image of Russia as a strong, modern nation. However, many villages kept using traditional wedding dresses until the late 19th century. But Peter's proclamation eventually paid off; by the time the revolution of 1917 rolled around only a few scattered families practised traditional wedding ceremonies.
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