A Brief History of the Russian Kokoshnik Tiara

There were political undertones at play when Russian royals co-opted this peasant style.

Jenni Wiltz
8 min readJul 28, 2020


Let’s start with the basics — the kokoshnik is a traditional Russian headdress. Word nerds, take note — the root word (kokosh) means “cock’s comb” in Russian.

The earliest kokoshniks were shaped like a halo, widest above the forehead and narrower at the sides. If you’ve seen the golden halos of saints in Russian icons or other Christian art, you get the general idea.

Icon featuring the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus with golden circular halos around their heads.
Early 18th century Russian icon from the church of St. Sergius of Radonezh. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The earliest versions of kokoshniks were covered with fabric and tied on with ribbons at the side, like in this painting by Viktor Vasnetsov, famous for his romanticized depictions of Russian history and folklore.

Portrait of a Russian girl wearing a kokoshnik with beaded fringe and pink ribbons that tie it on.
“Portrait of a woman in a kokoshnik” by Viktor Vasnetsov (1920), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The kokoshnik was part of traditional Russian folk dress, along with the sarafan — a sort of jumper or pinafore with a blouse underneath. The kokoshnik made it to the Russian royal court in the 16th century, where boyars’ wives wore large, fancy versions studded with gems and covered with rich golden cloth.

Painting of a Russian noblewoman wearing a large kokoshnik over a lacy cap and floral veil.
“Cup of Mead” by Konstantin Makovsky (c. 1890), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The tradition held strong in the 17th and 18th centuries. Catherine the Great had a jeweled kokoshnik…

Catherine the Great wearing a black kokoshnik studded with diamonds and pearls.
Painting by Vigilius Erichsen (c. 1770), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

…and her adorable granddaughter Alexandra Pavlovna was painted in an elaborate one, while wearing a sarafan.

Alexandra Pavlovna wearing a very large pearl-studded kokoshnik over a lacy cap, sarafan, and white blouse.
Painting by an unknown artist (1790s), public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Dress Code

Under the reign of Catherine’s grandson, Tsar Nicholas I, everything changed.



Jenni Wiltz

I write about fascinating royal women, their jewels, and quirky aspects of royal history no one else talks about. Find me at https://girlinthetiara.com.