Magazine article Russian Life

Village Fashion

Magazine article Russian Life

Village Fashion

Article excerpt

Outerwear in the village is determined not by the latest fashion trends, but by practicality and bare necessity.

Starting from the muddy ground up, rubber boots are the number one item without which a villager simply cannot survive. Spring, summer, or fall, rubber boots--ranging from the ankle-high galoshye, to shin-high boots, to knee-highs, to the full-on hip boot (bolotniki, meaning swamp boots)--are always in style.

During Soviet times, the local collective farm kept hundreds of cattle and horses. These were herded from the stables to the fields twice a day down the only road in the village. As a result, the road--which could hardly be called a road in the first place--was pummeled into a track of mud several feet deep. Thus, the only way for the villagers to even cross the road was to wear rubber boots. Nowadays, there are hardly any cattle left in the village and the road is relatively clean, but the habit of wearing rubber boots remains.

In spring, maneuvering the puddles from house to garden requires galoshes in the least. Forays into the forest for berries and mushrooms require shin- to knee-length boots--to wade through puddles as well as to avoid getting sopping wet from the dew-soaked grasses. Fishing on the shoals of the river requires hiplength boots--to kneel down in the damp grass as one waits for the fish to bite and to plunge into the cool water after one's catch. Rubber boots are also handy protection from snakebites.

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Dry weather footwear for men generally consists of kerzovye sapogi (leather boots with tops made of kersey, a soft woolen material), which are cheap and comfortable. Young men wear them in the army and become so used to them that they continue to wear them for the rest of their lives. Beneath the rubber or kerzovye boots, one will invariably find portyanki (a length of cloth wrapped around the bare foot). As rubber boots do not provide warmth in any way, portyanki keep the feet warm in cool weather. Portyanki are preferable to socks, in that they don't shimmy down inside the boots.

In winter, villagers don valenki (boots made of thick pressed felt), which come with or without rubber soles. Valenki rank right up there with portyanki as one of Russia's best inventions for fighting cold. Weakened from the cold, hundreds of thousands of Germans were defeated during World War II by Russian soldiers outfitted with valenki and portyanki. Valenki keep your feet warm even when they are wet. They do have the disadvantage, however, of being stiff and difficult to walk in. And they can shrink or loose their form after getting wet then being dried on the wood stove. On the other hand, valenki and rubber boots alike have the advantage of being easy to slip on and off--they are loose fitting and have no zippers or ties. This is especially important when one's hands are occupied with buckets of water, firewood, or slop for the swine.

Working our way up, so to speak, the men in the village wear wadded cotton pants in cooler weather and faded gray or camouflage trousers in hot weather. …

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