FashionMuse: u – ushanka (уша́нкa)

Ushanka or “ear hat”. Derived from ushi (у́ши), “ears” in Russian.

A Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or fastened at the chin.

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Often made from expensive sheepskin, rabbit or muskrat fur.   Ushankas made from artificial fur are called “fish fur”; material not from a real animal. Mink fur ushankas are widely used in the Arctic regions of Russia to protect the wearer from the “deep frost”(-40C!)


Women may like to wear them now, but ushankas have very manly origins:


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Russian delegation of Tsar Ivan IV to the Holy Roman Empire of Emperor Maximilian II at Regensburg, bringing gifts of animal pelts. Print by Michael Petterle, 1576. (V&A)

Hat Heads: Russian men, rich and poor have worn hats as an integral part of their attire since the 11th Century. In Russia the hat was the same in winter and summer, the only difference being that in winter the hat was covered with fur for warmth. Wealthy people wore hats made of thin cloth or velvet, noblemen wore hats decorated with velvet or with ornaments made of silver, gold, jewels and with a fur rim. Peasants wore round shaped hats made of felt, rough cloth with a narrow fur trim.


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Joachim von Sandrart, November (1609-1688)


Nordic Heads: Fur hats have been made and worn in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Germany for centuries. But it was only in the 19th century that strings were added to make earflaps, reportedly an idea that came  from Scandinavia. In the early 1900s the hat became popular with young and rebellious people, particularly in St Petersburg.


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Soldier Heads:  Then in 1918 came the Budenovka.   The winning hat in a competition to design the best military uniform for the Red Army. Artists and painters, inspired by historical Russian design submitted their designs for a new look overcoat, shirt, leather boots and hat. The Budenovka, a cloth helmet with a Red Star insignia that echoed an old Russian helmet, the Bogatyr, with a chain-mail neck flap. This then became standard military issue and was worn by soldiers until the beginning of WWII (the Great Patriotic War as it is known in Russia).


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War Heads:  During the Winter War against Finland in 1939, organizational failures and inadequate equipment left many Soviet troops vulnerable to cold, and thousands died of exposure. The Finnish army had much better equipment including an ushanka-style fur hat, the turkislakki M36, introduced in 1936 and then later in 1939, the slightly improved turkislakki M39 was introduced, and is still in use today. After the losses of the winter war, the Red Army redesigned it’s winter uniform. Budenovkas were replaced with ushankas with a perfectly round crown (offering better protection of the head from weapons). Officers were issued with fur ushankas; other ranks were made with “fish fur”.




Political Heads: The second half of the 20th Century saw the ushanka become a political statement.   As an emblem of peace; Harald Macmillan wore one to talks with Nikita Krushchev in 1959. Whilst US President Gerald Ford’s wearing of the hat during a 1974 visit to Russia was seen as a possible sign of détente.

And propaganda: as depicted in the widely used Chinese government poster of Léi Fēng, a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army who became a communist legend.

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Lei was portrayed as a model citizen; selfless, modest, and devoted to Chairman Mao. In 1963, he became the subject of a nationwide posthumous propaganda campaign, “Follow the examples of Comrade Lei Feng.”  His name entered daily speech and his imagery appeared on T-shirts and memorabilia. ( Now it’s thought that although someone named Lei Feng probably existed, the accounts of his ‘perfect citizenship’ were most likely made up.)



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North Korean police officers cry on Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.                                 (KYODO NEWS/AFP/Getty)


Fuzz Heads: The wearing of fur caps as part of Military and Police uniforms is now common throughout China, North Korea, Mongolia as well as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union republics. It’s also part of the winter uniform for military and police forces in Canada, the United States, and other Western countries with a cold winter.


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Fashion Heads: After the collapse of the iron curtain the Russian ushanka hat became the most exported item to the US. Today variations of the hat are worn by celebrities, models, and actors, more a fashion statement than for comradeship.

And on the couture catwalks we find the most theatrical or elaborate versions.

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Whatever your’s is made of  – a ushanka has something to say.  Use yours to liven up a dull day (or outfit).


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