The Modern Ushanka, a Blend of Function and Style

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The ushanka hat has expanded from its origins as warm functional headgear to a state of being a cultural icon and emerging fashion trend. As their popularity has led to a prevalence of cheap knock-offs, St. Petersburg GTH has stepped in to offer authentic Russian ushankas.

Ushanka Hats in Fashion

Ushanka Hats in Fashion

We are committed to serving our growing customer base, who are interested in purchasing legitimate and authentic Russian goods such as ushanka hats and matryoshkas in a market that is flooded by cheap knock-offs.

While the modern ushanka hat was first widely developed and used in Russia during the 20th century, it has roots that trace as far back as the ancient Scythians, who dominated the Eurasian Steppes from around the 7th Century BCE to 4th Century CE. In addition, ushanka-like hats with flexible earflaps have been used in the colder regions of Russia, Germany, and Scandinavia for centuries. A painting made by German Baroque art-historian and painter Joachim von Sandrart in 1643 shows a German hunter with an early form of the ushanka, signifying its functional importance in keeping warm while operating in harsh winter conditions. Interestingly, the dense fur can provide crucial protection should the wearer slip or fall onto ice or thick snow.

Mink fur ushankas have been widely used in some of the coldest regions in the world, including the Arctic regions of Russia. In these environments, they are able to keep wearers’ ears and chin safe and warm even under deep frost conditions, where temperatures can fall as low as -40°C to -70°C. Accordingly, variations of the Russian ushanka are commonplace as winter uniforms for a plethora of entities, including police, military, and naval forces, post office employees, and other government positions. They are currently employed by the US & Canadian militaries, Finnish Defense Forces, German Police Force, as well as by the majority of Eastern European and Asian militaries.

While maintaining its importance as a functional component of winter uniforms, the ushanka hat has also managed to become a global cultural icon. As early as 1963, the ushanka was featured prominently in a nationwide Chinese propaganda campaign depicting Lei Feng, a 21 year old soldier who had died the year prior. The campaign depicted Feng, clad in an ushanka and uniform, as a modest and selfless citizen, who was dedicated to Mao Zedong and the Communist Party. Ironically, it was Lei Feng’s image as a role model serviceman and decent human being that managed to survive decades of political change in China, not his political devotion. To this day, Lei Feng Day is celebrated on 5 March of each year and his official tomb is widely visited along with memorial halls and museums in his name. Over time, the ushanka has come to represent these valued cultural traits both in China and abroad.

A decade later, in 1974, the ushanka came to symbolize the possibility of détente or a thawing of relations between the US and the Soviet Union. This was brought on by President Gerald Ford’s visit to Vladivostok to develop the basis for an arms agreement, where he met with Leonid Brezhnev. A famous photo was captured of the two in a jovial mood with Ford wearing an ushanka. This event gave hope to citizens on both sides who wished only for a cessation of hostilities. During that time, the Russian hat came to represent a yearning for reconciliation that never quite came to pass during the Soviet reign.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian ushankas began to be heavily exported, especially to the US. Today, they are commonly worn by celebrities, models, and actors. Furthermore, they have recently exploded onto the fashion scene in unprecedented ways. First, rapper Jay-Z was seen at Obama’s inauguration in 2009 wearing an ushanka, then the Brooklyn Nets team donned the Russian hat for a photo-shoot with GQ. More recently, variations of the ushanka were featured in NY’s 2013 Fall Fashion Week. Consequently, ushankas have exploded in popularity and have become almost impossible to miss when the weather gets cold.

This newfound popularity in the fashion scene has created significant demand for high quality Russian-made ushanka hats, especially in NYC. The largest importer of Russian goods outside of Russia, Saint-Petersburg Global Trade House, headquartered in Brooklyn, has recently expanded to 5th Ave in an attempt to reach consumers in Manhattan, including tourists and local New Yorkers. According to Mikhail Kholodov, the corporate headquarters manager, “we are committed to serving our growing customer base, who are interested in purchasing legitimate and authentic Russian goods such as ushanka hats and matryoshkas in a market that is flooded by cheap knock-offs.” Saint Petersburg GTH was founded in 1994 as a Russian bookstore serving a sizeable Russian immigrant community in Brooklyn, NY. Over the past two decades, it has grown into the largest Russian product retailer in North America. The company president, Natalia Orlova adds, “Our winter apparel has become incredibly popular, especially our Russian-made shawls, mittens, ushankas, and traditional navy shirts (telnyashkas).” Indeed, the Russian fashion industry thrives on winter clothing and St. Petersburg GTH’s 5th Ave expansion could not be timelier - winter is coming.

About Saint Petersburg Global Trade House

Founded in 1994, Saint Petersburg Global Trade House takes its roots in Brooklyn, NY – the heart of NYC’s Russian community. Saint Petersburg GTH takes great pride in the fact that it is the largest seller of Russian gifts, books, music, and movies outside Russia. The company offers products through its free colorful printed catalog, as well as operating brick-and-mortar stores in Brooklyn. The catalog is published quarterly in editions of 50,000 copies and can be requested by calling the toll-free number at 1-800-531-1037.

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Max Bolotov
since: 02/2013
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