Head. Not a dish, but a uniform

Cossack patrol

According to the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron, the concept of “bashlyk” has Turkish roots and means “a head cover in the form of a large cloth cap for protection from bad weather.” According to another version, “bashlyk” refers not directly to the Turkish language, but rather to the Turkic language. And this name is derived from the word “bash”, i.e. head.

The first mention of the bashlyk dates back to the beginning of the 16th century. So, the commander, writer and ruler of the Mughal Empire Zahir ad-din Muhammad Babur writes about the tradition of giving a headdress. However, according to the authors of the 18th century, who traveled to the North Caucasus, it was then that the general fashion for headwear took place.

At the same time, the Bashlyks won solid positions among almost all peoples of the Caucasus. For example, Julius von Klaproth, a German traveler and author of the book “Travel in the Caucasus and Georgia, undertaken in 1807-1808”, pointed out in his writings that Karachai women not only made bashlyuk for their men, but also made them for sale in Imereti and Abkhazia. The headdress was widespread among the Kabardians and Circassians. And since the headdress of almost all mountaineers was considered the most important element of clothing and had a kind of ritual meaning, the headgear received their own rules for wearing. For example, unlike the hat, the headdress was necessarily removed at the entrance to the house, but it immediately folded neatly and became inviolable for everyone except the owner.

The prevalence of headwear and a certain fashion for them can be judged at least by Russian literature. The great Mikhail Lermontov wrote in the poem “Haji Abrek”:

Their clothes were rich,
The chief covered their hats:
In one they recognized Bey-Bulat,
Nobody else recognized.

How they were made and worn

The bashlyk was most often made from homespun cloth from sheep or camel wool (depending on the region). It was sewn from a piece of fabric folded in half, and the seam itself passed from the back. The front rounded ends of the hood dropped in the form of wide and long blades. However, the cut and finish had, of course, a number of different variations, depending on the imagination of the author. For example, a ceremonial and even a marriage version of the head appeared. If the young man went to fetch the bride, he usually put on a richly decorated hood with braids and gold embroidery. And sometimes the bride, in order to show her skills as a skilled hostess, gave her betrothed an elegant festive headdress.

When the hood was put on the hat, the ends were wrapped around the neck, dropping back. In good weather, the hood hung on the shoulders, lowered by the hood and the blades back. Sometimes the hood was worn on the shoulders, the ends crossed on the chest. Most often, this wearing option was used by old people for warmth.

In addition to its direct functionality, i.e. to protect the owner’s head from rain, wind, snow and other inclement weather, headwear was used as a kind of scarf. And during sowing, seeds were poured into it. Shepherds carried lambs and food in their heads. The hoods received a special place among the abreks. These militant and dangerous asocial elements of the Caucasus mountains used a hood to hide their faces during their bandit raids.

Exquisite headwear made of white, black, gray and dyed red cloth of fine workmanship with braids, gold embroidery and trimmings (trimmings – patterned braided braid) became gifts to noble guests. And some of the headwear made of camel wool of special Ossetian and Kabardian decoration were presented to the Emperor himself.

Bashlyk in the Imperial Army

Now, probably, few people will remember the phrase of Captain Viktor Myshlaevsky performed by Vladimir Basov in the film “Days of the Turbins”: “But he blindly did not figure out that I have shoulder straps under my head …” And who will remember, it is unlikely that he will know what it means this word is head, and when this very head appeared in the Russian army. By the way, the Russian troops quite quickly appreciated the functionality of this Caucasian garment.

The first who began to adopt the practice of wearing a hood were, of course, the Cossacks. At first, of course, the hood was worn unofficially, but given the realities of the Caucasian War, most of the authorities turned a blind eye to it. Most likely, the first Cossack headgear appeared already at the beginning of the 18th, and, perhaps, back in the 17th century. Moreover, by the 19th century, their own Cossack customs of wearing the headgear had already developed. So, if the head is crossed on the chest, then the Cossack is following his official duties. If it is tied on the chest, the Cossack has served military service. If the ends of the head are thrown behind the back, the Cossack is currently free from service.

But only in 1862, the headdress as a uniform headdress appeared among the Don and Terek Cossacks. Then this headdress for the Russian troops was sewn from yellowish camel cloth. However, there were also Caucasian “budget” options made of sheep wool.

Since 1871, the hoods began to be introduced in other parts of the imperial troops, until they came to the fleet. By 1892, two types of headgear were approved: one for officers, the other for lower ranks. At the same time, like everything in the troops, the size, style and material were strictly defined. So, for the lower ranks, the headdress was sewn from camel cloth. At the same time, the length along the back seam of the hood was 43-44.5 cm, along the front – 32-33 cm, width – up to 50 cm, length of the ends – 122 cm, and their width at the neckline was 14-14.5 cm, then, gradually decreasing, at the free rounded edges it was equal to 3.3-4.4 cm. The headdress was trimmed and turned off with thread braid along the edges and along the seams, as well as in a circle, in the center of which was the top of the hood.

Officer’s cap with gold braid

The officer’s cap differed from the cap of the lower ranks just by the trim. The trim was made not with ordinary braid, but with a galloon of gold and silver colors. True, the edges were trimmed with yarn tape to match the main color of the hood.

But this headdress was not static, it developed: it was modernized for the needs of the army. In 1896, a winter lining made of cotton wool or camel wool appeared on the hood. This innovation was only beneficial in case of sharp temperature changes in the mountains and, in general, the harsh climate of the Russian Empire.

Wearing a hood in the Russian imperial army was not much different from wearing it by the mountaineers. In the stowed position, the hood was worn on the shoulders over the greatcoat, and the top of the hood was behind the back. The blade ends were passed under the shoulder straps and laid criss-cross on the chest. In bad weather or when the temperature dropped, the hood was worn over the headdress, and the ends served as a scarf.

Fashion on the head

Having successfully demonstrated himself as a uniform in the Russian Empire, the bashlyk began his march through the countries of Europe. True, according to one version, in Europe this headdress was known before it was officially adopted as a uniform in the Russian troops, since many European countries, from France to Britain, were looking for mutually beneficial “friendship” with the mountaineers hostile to Russia. One way or another, but in 1881, an expeditionary detachment of French troops sent to Tunisia was equipped with caps. It is believed that this decision was influenced by the practice of using the bashlyk during the Russian-Turkish war of 1877-78.

Sometimes military uniforms unwittingly became a trendsetter. Now all this has shifted to an area called “military”. This is exactly what happened with the head. The Russian elite wore their headgear to the theater or to the ball. Leo Tolstoy in the novel “Anna Karenina” dresses up the main character in an elegant feminine hood with tassels. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the headgear was worn by high school students and cadets. There were also exclusively childish types of headgear.

Having survived the revolution

The post-revolutionary reality, it would seem, erased the Cossack traditions and uniforms of the old times forever. But in 1936, the creation of the Cossack units began again. Therefore, by order of the People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR No. 67 of April 23, 1936, the headdress was introduced as an element of clothing for Soviet Cossacks. The headwear for the Terek Cossacks was made of light blue fabric, for the Kuban Cossacks it was red, and for the Don Cossacks it was steel gray. However, already in 1941, wearing the hood was again canceled. But there was a service life of this uniform, and therefore in some divisions the bashlyks survived the Great Patriotic War.

Kuban Cossacks in red caps at the parade

In the 21st century, of course, the functionality of the hood has faded away. But as part of the traditional costume, it not only survived, but was also documented. So, it was enshrined as a Cossack uniform in the decree of the President of the Russian Federation of February 9, 2010 “On the uniform and insignia by rank of members of Cossack societies included in the state register of Cossack societies in the Russian Federation.”

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