Russian Remedy to Cold Weather: Ushanka
Wearing animal skin or fur in order to keep the head warm and protect it from the cold weather is a very old tradition, popular since the ancient times. Nowadays they are still used. There are many different types of hats to choose from: top hats, knitted headpieces, earmuffs, bonnets, football caps and many others. The most popular option among fashionistas however is the so-called “Ushanka” (ушанка).
Types of Ushanka
The word ushanka comes from уши, “ears”. It is the name of a traditional Russian hat with round crown and ear flaps. It is usually made of fur. The ear flaps can be tied together on the top of the hat or at the chin, so they can also protect the jaw and lower chin. It may also have a visor, which can be unfolded to keep in the warmth. And just to remind you: About 70-80% of our body warmth leaves your body from the head. Hence, this hat is ideal for the winter months in Russia. In some regions temperatures drop to a freezing −70 to −40 °C.
Expensive ushanka hats are made entirely of sheepskin or rabbit fur. Some shops also sell a fox fur version, too. But there are also cheaper versions made of inexpensive artificial fur or wool pile. Sometimes even leather and cloth are added. These variations are then referred to as “fish fur” since the material is not from any real animal.
History of Ushanka
Fur hats have been made and worn in Russia, Scandinavia and Germany for centuries. But it was only in the 20th century that the modern ushanka was invented. During the Russian Civil War, the ruler of Siberia, Aleksandr Kolchak, decided that a hat with a round crown and ear flaps (at that time called kolchakovka) should be a part of the standard uniform. But then they lost the war, so it was not accepted as an official headwear. Even though the Red Army’s hat (budenovka) was not as warm as kolchakovka. Only after the war against Finland, in which many Russian soldiers died of exposure to the cold the Red Army received completely redesigned winter uniforms. The Finnish army had much better equipment including an ushanka-style fur hat which provided a better protection from the cold than the Red Army’s budenovka. From that time onwards, ushanka was adopted by the Russian army as a fundamental element of their uniform and has become one of the symbols of the Soviet Union and subsequently of Russia. Photographs of US President Gerald Ford wearing the cap during a visit to Russia in 1974 were seen as a possible sign of Détente. Although wearing fur caps of similar design is relatively common throughout China, North Korea and Mongolia as well as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union republics, for now it looks like it will remain in people’s minds as the “Russian shapka”. The hat was first imported to the USA after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has grown in popularity ever since. Lately, it has been adopted as part of the wider uniform in the military, police, even in western countries like the USA and Canada, and is part of the official uniform of the Canadian Mounted Police.
If you want to make sure you keep your ears warm during long Russian winters, ushanka is the best solution!