Russian boots history

History of Russian Footwear

The most ancient form of footwear in Rus (the territory of modern Russia) was porshni, shoes made from a piece of rawhide leather, usually of horse, pig or seal, sewed by hiderope. Porshni were used in Novgorod already in the end of the 10th – beginning of the 11th century. There was similar footwear in Europe at that time. These shoes were popular in Russia till the beginning of the 20th century.  

Lapti, basketry shoes made from bark or bast (inner bark of linden tree), were the most popular footwear in Rus. Firstly lapti are mentioned in the 10th century documents, although an instrument that was used for making lapti, was found in the ancient encampments dated to the Iron Age (around 1000 BC). As lapti were made from thin bast, they were abraded very quickly: in four days in summer, in ten days in winter. This footwear was usual for poor people.

High boots were borrowed by Russians from Turkic nomads, who used them for horse riding. Rich and noble men and women wore soft marocco boots, in bright color with many decorations. Women wore also decorated red leather bottineses. Whereas poor people wore only lapti or porshni.

Only during the Peter the First rule time, traditional high boots lost their popularity, as he produced a law to limit wearing traditional Russian dress.

In the beginning of the 20th century almost all men wore high boots. Whereas women wore koti, short-cut boots. Creaking boots were very stylish at that time. In order to achieve creaking effect, during the production of a boot, a strip of dry birchbark was put between sole and inner sole, or a sugar was poured there.

Valenki, warm hard boots made of felted sheep wool, firstly appear in Rus in the period of the Golden Horde times from Turkic and Mongol tribes, who used similar footwear. Howevew valenki became widespread only in the first half of the 19th century, and were used mostly for walking on dry snow.

Men wore a special kind of valenki called burki. The bottom looked like leather boots, but upper part was made of white felt, framed with dark leather strips to protect from moisture and to contrast white felt. In Soviet times burki were worn by military officers, and heads of collective farms.

The warmest high boots are called unti. These are boots for cold and very cold climate, made of dog or reindeer fur outside or inside, and thick felt sole. This is regular footwear for Thule peoples. Formerly, unti were a part of pilot’s winter uniform.


Development of Military Footwear

Slavic warriors did not have any special footwear. Only personal bodyguards of tzars wore high boots, but regular warriors usually had only lapti, basketry shoes made from inner bark of linden tree.

The idea of military shoes developed in around the 16th century, during the rule of Ivan the Terrible who organized the first regular military units - riflemen. In Moscow persons liable for military service wore high boots with curved toes. There were 14 riflemen regiments, and majority of them used yellow high boots, only two – green ones, and only one – red ones. At that time military dress and footwear was comfortless and non-functional. It was more pretentious than practical.

Later, during the rule of Peter I, soldiers started to use square-toed footwear, shoes with buckles and flared boots. The flared boots were regular footwear for cavalrymen. At this time the rank of a serviceman did not influence the quality of footwear, there might be difference only in materials findings and spurs were made of.

Interesting fact

What was Peter I shoe size?

Peter I was 2 meters (79 inches) tall – a head taller than usual men. However, his shoes size was only 38 (UK 6).

In year 1778 knyaz Potemkin became the Field-Marshal of Russian Army. He made several reforms, including uniform reform. He achieved that tails, pigeon wings and hair powder were abolished, and servicemen started to wear practical and comfortable dress and footwear. Thanks to this reform, light and comfortable boots with short boot-top appeared.

Nevertheless during the rule of Pavel I (1796-1801), tails and pigeon wings were returned and the servicemen had to wear uncomfortable Prussian-like uniform. The boot-tops became longer and boots started to be made of patent leather. Patent leather shoes were also popular and were worn together with stockings.

Patent leather footwear was popular many years, till the next tzar Alexander I changed Russian Army footwear from half-boots and shoes to knee-high boots made of Russia leather.

The next tzar Nikolay I brought the strangest army footwear – a very short boots, on the top of which black cloth half-boots with 5 or 6 buttons had to be worn. Customary high boots with foot wraps returned to the army together with the next tzar Alexander II, and for a long time remained unchanged.

In Soviet times high boots were the main army footwear. During the USSR times a huge variety of high boots designs appeared. Despite the high boots were changed to special army quarter boots in Europe and USA already during the World War II, in Russia this kind of army footwear started to be used commonly only in the beginning of the 21th century.


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