Russian Hats on Movie Sets

Join us today on a brief journey through the history of Russian winter hats in film-making on both sides of the Atlantic. Given their originality, style and pure beauty, it is no wonder that costume designers consider such headwear when shooting a scene. However, there is obviously no escape when a movie follows Russian history and culture.

Yul BrynnerCreating a chronological order, we will start with the 1962 drama Taras Bulba that is loosely based on the eponymous short novel by Nikolai Gogol, an influential forerunner of the Russian literature. The film’s main character, played by Yul Brynner, wears a traditional white Cossack papakha. This particular hat is made of sheepskin and is very soft. Since the material is natural, shade variations are very common.

Doctor ZhivagoMoving just three years ahead, we encounter the first Hollywood screening of Doctor Zhivago. The drama is based on the world-famous novel by the 1958 Nobel Literature Prize winner Boris Pasternak. Stars Omar Sharif and Julie Christie are seen wearing sheared sheepskin and fox fur hats.

Telly SavalasIn 1969, the world met a new James Bond villain in another spy film titled On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Infamous Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Telly Savalas, wore brown Astrakhan fur ambassador hat with a matching collar on a trimmed overcoat. This is a primer on how to pull of a truly smart and elegant look.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Despite being filled with clichés, we cannot pass on mentioning Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1988 action motion picture Red Heat. What was probably intended as a quality mouton policeman ushanka, looks more like a faux fur replica.

Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red OctoberA much better job was done by costume designers in 1990. Playing the role of a Soviet submarine captain, Sean Connery accurately demonstrates wardrobe of the highest ranking Navy officers of the time. In The Hunt for Red October, he wears a mouton ushanka hat that is mixed with genuine leather on the outer side in open hat setup. This design is still used in the modern Russian Navy due to its particular suitability for humid environment.

Keira Knightley in Doctor ZhivagoAnother version of Doctor Zhivago hit the television screens in 2002. Playing in British miniseries directed by Giacomo Campiotti, Keira Knightley made a kubanka hat look even better. Her co-star, Hans Matheson, wore a hat that resembled a classic Cossack papakha in style. As far as we can tell, sheared beaver fur was probably used instead of the more traditional lambskin. Rightly so, given that the action took place deep in the Siberian territory.

Harrison Ford in K-19: The Widowmaker

Same year, K-19: The Widowmaker military drama premiered. Just as Sean Connery did a decade before him, Harrison Ford plays a nuclear submarine captain. This time though, it looks to be a Persian lamb trooper hat. Albeit a departure from formally prescribed uniform, the hat is still an excellent choice for cold and windy conditions that are present at sea.

Once again travelling across the Pond, we Sergey Bezrukov in Admiralexamine the Russian Civil War drama Admiral released in 2008. In particular, Sergey Bezrukov, as General Vladimir Kappel, wears a traditional Cossack papakha hat. Made of black sheepskin, this appears to be a very accurate copy. The same could be said about the movie in general. Anyone interested in this period of Russian history should definitely consider watching the film or the accompanying miniseries.

Keira Knightley in Anna KareninaIt is impossible to list all instances of Russian fur hats appearing in motion pictures. Therefore, we will finish this piece off with the 2012 adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. Keira Knightley appears here even more stylish in a silver fox fur hat with a matching scarf.

Ushanka – Iconic Russian Trapper Hat

Black Persian lamb ushankaWhen it comes to national stereotypes, it would probably be fair to say that winter trapper hats are the first to come to mind when Russian headwear is a topic. Although its earlier versions were many and could arguably be traced back to the Mongol times, the Russian ushanka hat as we know it today did originate in the USSR. In 1930s, the Soviet Navy personnel were the first to receive an adapted version made of sheepskin and leather. The remaining military forces followed suit around 1940 after the Red Army had commissioned a complete redesign of winter uniforms.

Grey Persian lamb ushankaAs a result, shapka (шапка, hat) ushanka was born. Its meaning comes from the Russian word for ears (уши [oo’shi]), which refers to the characteristic flaps. However, these do not cover just the ears. As a side benefit, back of the neck, cheeks, and chin could also be protected when draw strings are tied in the open hat setup. Certain models come with extra long flaps that can even be fastened to greatcoat collars using extra buttons. This applies to the hats worn by troops serving beyond the Arctic Circle in Russia. Few other places on Earth require such wardrobe measures.

First military ushanka hats for soldiers were made of a special blend of acrylic fibers and sheepskin to make them particularly durable in battle, whereas higher ranks enjoyed mouton exclusively. An example of Brown Persian lamb trooper hatthe latter is the sheared sheepskin officer hat. Despite producing purely functional headwear in the beginning, furriers subsequently started to experiment with use of other furs. Army orders led to the creation of first truly valuable ushankas made of Persian lamb. One such model was intended for and is still used by the Russian Federation Guard of Honor Company. These mix Persian lamb with woolen cloth for economic reasons. Full fur hats, once again, are intended for the likes of generals.

Gerald FordOutside the military domain, variation of ushanka styles is much broader, being available for literally any budget. From cheap faux fur and artificial leather types, affordable rabbit fur options to muskrat, beaver, and ultimately mink fur headpieces. Even President Gerald Ford could not resist getting the latter while on an official visit to Russia in 1974. Despite denoting somewhat different looks initially, the following terms are generally used interchangeably to identify the same kind of hat nowadays: aviator, trapper, and trooper. Whatever your own semantic preference may be, we advise investing in an ushanka made of high quality fur. It really is worth it!

Papakha Hat – Special Cossack Symbol

Officer papakha hatThrough the centuries, papakha (or papaha) has been among essential attributes of the Cossacks. Its value is famously mentioned in Poltava by Alexander Pushkin. Considered inviolable, the hat could only be given away upon death. For this reason, knocking it off a man’s head would be viewed as a grave insult and a challenge to a duel. However, an owner’s act of throwing his hat down would signify a bet on his own life.

In the Russian Empire, a military regulation allowed for mass heroism decorations to be attached to hats driving their value even further up. Actively serving Cossacks also used to carry small icons sewn into lining, which allowed them to pray anywhere, be it in a field, at a battle front, or during a march.

Russian CossacksDuring peacetime, the hat played a very important role in a Cossack’s civic life. The hat denoted legal rights of a man as the elder of his family. Hats of fallen Cossacks would be returned to their homes to be placed in the prayer corner signalling protection from God thereon. Papakha hats served a major role in matchmaking and weddings as well.

Kuban Cossack hatAlthough Cossack fur hats generally take the form of a papakha, their shape can vary greatly. The main distinction is between rigid and soft hats. While the former are more structured and generally made of Persian lamb, the latter variety is best achieved through the use of sheepskin with its characteristic long curls. Kubanka is another major type that is known widely across the former Soviet states. It is lower but also of a more rigid and structured variety. As the name suggests, it originates from the Kuban Cossacks.