One could hardly exaggerate the meaning of “shapka-ushanka” in the life of any Russian man. The popularity of this head accessory had been fantastic since the World war II up to the dawn of the Soviet Union in the beginning of 90ies. (Photo Credit: Magelet/Flickr)
With the opening of the Russian borders the uninhibited flow of the new modern clothes, accessories and hats of all styles and trades has seriously dropped down the privileged position of shapka-ushanka. That’s why you can hardy meet a person in a large city wearing it now with the exception for maybe military men or orthodox.
About the military. Since 1940 ushanka has become a part of the uniform of Russian army and militsia (police) Picking out the fact that the half of Russian male population are either military or “menty” (cops) and practically all of the male population serve in the army at the age of 18 (we have an obligatory conscription) the benefits and advantages of shapka – ushanka were tested and highly estimated.
So, shall we consider the hat that has become an concurrent part of the stereotype image of the Russian man (e.g. in Hollywood, on caricatures, etc) and that is called simply “shapka” in English.
Shapka – ushanka – a winter fur hat, cloth or combined (initially – A male hat) a wide-known and widespread hat in Russia. It takes its name after its “ears” – (ushi – in Russian) that could be lowered or turned down but usually up and tied on the crown. On request :-) when it’s necessary “the ears” could be untied and turned down with the nape flap (the back of the head part) to save real ears from frost and wind, partially cheeks, chin of the person wearing “ushanka”.
If we dig down the “ushanka” descending history we shall see that it comes from the Baltic (I would add) Finnish hats, that already had ears and the tapes added for tying up in XIX century.
The fashion for the round crowned hats first appeared among the St Petersburg working class then was spread across Russia.
The fur factories of USSR started manufacturing “shapka – ushanka” The basic production – for the bulk of population as we call mass market – was established on the rabit skin. Every mother “packing” her kid to the kindergarten and tying the tapes of “ushanka” under the kid’s chin was rested assured and confident that her kid wouldn’t get frozen. I should mention that during the Soviet power the ordinary Russian people were not spoilt with personal cars and private transportation. : It took long time to get to work from one part of the city to another and “shapka-ushanka” was of real use and help during severe frosts that are not a rare thing in Russia. So, one could hardly overestimate the role of shapka-ushanka in his/her life :-)
If it was not too cold outside the “ears” of the hat was turned up and tied on the crown. If a person works outside on the fresh air (during winter) then there was a special variant to tie the “ears” – backwards on the nape (the back of the head) that worked better (as on the one hand the person kept ears save and on the other hand didn’t suffer from the heat) BUT in case of severe frosts nobody was shy to turn the ears down and tie up under the chin to avoid chilblain from Ded Moroz (Santa Claus)
I should admit that there were also hats made of different furs in the special fur ateliers. Shapka-ushanka made of squirrel, bear, dog, nutria, polar fox, marten of course mink! Oh, my God, mink hat! It was beyond one’s wildest dreams. The dream of Soviet citizen during the period of the late stagnation and the beginning of Perestroika! The person was proud to wear it and when he/she took it off he/she put it in front of oneself on the table. So, everybody could see it. It was the sign of prosperity. If one didn’t possess such a mink hat in province the waiter at the restaurant tried to pass you by :-) The owner of the mink hat never lowered “ears” of the hat even in the sever frosts but pulled his hat over his eyes more deeply.
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