Friday, March 14, 2008

Religious Costume of the "Old Believers"

Kat responded to a comment I had made about the Dries Van Noten dress resembling a Russian ethnic dress we see often here in our Alaskan valley. She was wanting to know more about this. Actually, I should have described it as religious dress rather than ethnic.

In my local area we have a large population of Russian immigrants. Some of them live fairly secular lifestyles and dress in western garb. But most of them wear contemporary version of "Old Believer" religious wear. The Old Believers is a sect of the Russian Orthodox church which broke away during The Great Schism of 1650 when Nikon began to enact religious reforms of the mass and to make changes to holy texts. The Old Believers rejected these reforms. They were persecuted under the reign of Peter the Great, who they believed to be the Anti-Christ. They have been frequently on the move since. They escaped from the persecutions under Peter the Great to China and stayed there until the Chinese revolution in the late forties. They then escaped to South America, but poverty there resulted in a large migration of the population to Oregon. The largest community of Old Believers in the world still resides there. I believe about 10,000? Part of this community came to Alaska. Many are in small villages and live in preferred seclusion, but we do have a population here in the valley that has mainstreamed into the community here.

But enough history..back to Kat's question. This community is easily recognizable by their dress. The women wear a long-flowing jumper like garment that falls from a very high tight bodice. Usually over a full-sleeved blouse. The dress version has the same bodice, really almost simply a yoke, but a very full skirt, deeply pleated that falls from above the bustline to the ground. They usually make these from beautiful fabrics. Silks, sheers. Slippery stuff and I'm often intrigued by what a pain it must be to control the sheer volume of fabric in these garments. It must take six or seven yard to make these. They are always flawlessly constructed. It is interesting to see how the women still make their individual style statements. The young girls can sometimes be spotted in trendy prints and colors. They also wear a head scarf and the teens like to make these from sequined slinky fabric,

Here are some pics from the Costume Manifesto website, but the versions I see in Alaska are much more westernized.


Dawn said...

I wore this exact jumper/dress pattern when expecting my kids back in the 70s.
It was a very practical pattern...comfy...

Dawn said...

This has nothing to do with the topic of this post but . . . where, oh where, did you find those vintage photos on the left? I love that one on the bottom with the buttons and the waist.

Kat said...

Thank you, Charity! I found that very interesting.

Where I live, there are plenty of Amish and Mennonite. There are two different Mennonite sects that I'm aware of, however, people often mistake Mennonites for Amish and vice versa. There is QUITE a difference between the two. My best friends's mother was a Mennonite and we used to joke that her dresses were all different--different shades of blue or gray. She was, however, the most hip Mennonite you'd ever know. She's not a Mennonite any more and hasn't been for about 20 years, but I always remember those dresses tied to her culture/religion. So I wondered about the garments of the Russian immigrants and how they looked.

CharityinAlaska said...

Dawn - I typed in "orange vintage" into a search engine and then hit "images". The original source is from a blog called Frecklewonder.