What Is a Traditional Russian Sarafan?

Sarafan is a type of a traditional woman's dress worn both by peasant women and noblewomen in the tzarist Russia. Most commonly it was an ankle-length sleeveless summer dress on straps worn over a white undershirt with sleeves. Sarafan can be an equivalent to a kimono in Japanese culture, a sari in India or a peplos in Ancient Greece. When you are talking about a sarafan, you think about Russia.


In the recorded history sarafan first appears in the 14th century, though it was worn much earlier. Sarafan's style was modified throughout many centuries and from one area of Russia to another. For example, at the end of the 19th century Russian sarafan changed greatly under the influence of urbanization and fashion trends from the cities.

A sarafan could tell a whole story about a woman's social status and her mood. They distinguish between everyday and festive sarafans. Sarafans that were worn on a regular, everyday basis were simple, light and colorful. 


They were the most common and in many cases the only type of clothes a Russian woman would wear. Russian festive sarafans had many elements of decoration, embroidery and jewelry. That is why they could be really heavy and difficult to wear.

Modern sarafans are much different from the ones that Russian women wore in the tzarist Russia. They lack many traditional Russian elements of decoration and design, and their style is simplified. New trends allow modern Russian sarafans to be of knee-length or even mini. In fact any simple wide and loose summer dress (strapless or with straps) can be called a sarafan in Russia these days.

Sarafan is still a traditional “dress” painted on wooden Russian dolls. It is also depicted in many paintings of Russian peasant women.