Russian Imperial Court Costume


Russian Court dress is known for its sartorial splendor and the isolation in which it developed. Russians had inherited a religious and sumptuary legacy from Byzantium, and so the clothes of the Russian court were the rich silks of the east; long robes heavily embroidered and sewn with pearls and precious gems. These caftans (robes) and Sarafans (over robes) would have been at home in Beijing, Constantinople, Samarkand, or any of the legendary cities along the Silk Route. Russian court dress remained largely unchanged from the 10th century until the 17th.

When Peter I (the Great) took the throne, he advocated the Europeanization of the Russian Empire. Discarding the ancient title of Tsar and assuming that of Emperor, he moved the capital to the westernmost port of the Empire, and created the breathtaking city of Saint Petersburg on the Neva River, near the Gulf of Finland. Peter also abolished the ancient modes of dress and manners of living that had marked the Muscovite court. Women were removed from the Terem (isolated living quarters), and all members of the court were required to adopt western dress.

This article was originally written for the Alexander Palace website. It has been expanded for this website.

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