A Brief History of the Russian Kokoshnik Tiara
There were political undertones at play when Russian royals co-opted this peasant style.
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.
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.
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.
The tradition held strong in the 17th and 18th centuries. Catherine the Great had a jeweled kokoshnik…
…and her adorable granddaughter Alexandra Pavlovna was painted in an elaborate one, while wearing a sarafan.
Under the reign of Catherine’s grandson, Tsar Nicholas I, everything changed.