Last year I wrote a post called What to Wear in India, and since then it has become one of the most popular articles on this blog. I don’t talk about it much on here, but fashion is a huge part of my life. Not as much as travelling, of course, but it’s still pretty important. I love that clothing can be like art, and can make you feel confident, empowered, and, best of all, like a representation of who you really are. Both when travelling and in day-to-day life, I tend to dress in bright colours and/or interesting shapes. I’m also a huge fan of piling on accessories – whoever said to take off one accessory before you leave the house clearly never met me, because I usually add two or three at the last minute.
But why am I ranting about fashion on a travel blog right now? Well, because I’d like to incorporate more fashion (specifically travel fashion) on the blog in general. I get a lot of emails about what to wear in certain places – plus I’m a huge fan of shopping locally and incorporating local style into your wardrobe. That being said, expect to see a few more “What to Wear In” posts here. And why not continue the series with Russia?
I have been to Russia twice – once in 2007, when I spent a summer volunteering and teaching in Yaroslavl, and in 2010, when I took the Trans-Siberian across the country in late autumn. What’s important to note when you consider packing your suitcase for Russia is that summers can get quite hot, and winters… well, winters can get very, very cold. Not only that, the cold weather can last from September to May, so it’s best to always pack a few warm pieces in your suitcase, no matter when you visit the country.
With the exceptions of perhaps Moscow and St. Petersburg, most of Russia dresses quite casually throughout all seasons, so if you just want to bring jeans and a few sweatshirts, you’ll be fine. I’m not exactly a jeans and sweatshirt kind of girl, so here are a few outfits I wore during my time in Russia.
Trying to look cool but just coming across as grumpy
Please note that, whatever I was wearing, every single person assumed I was Russian, even if I repeatedly said, “I don’t speak Russian” (in Russian, so I kind of get why it was confusing for some people). I blame my Russian heritage, but maybe it was because I also kind of dressed the part. Anyway… here’s what to wear in Russia, starting with the warmer months and then the colder months. This guide is for women, but men can easily adapt a lot of this advice.
What to wear in Russia in summer…
So I know that I just said that I’m not a jeans and sweatshirt kind of girl… but guess what, I lied. Okay, not really, this was when I was teaching and so we had to be able to run around with kids (also, this was eight years ago, and I am still shuddering about that haircut/colour). Jeans, and denim in general, are very popular in Russia – while the girls pictured with me are teenagers, they’re wearing very typical outfits seen across the country. Throw on a pair of jeans with a t-shirt and you’ll be good to go. I’m also a huge fan of denim jackets, and consider them to be an essential piece of a travel wardrobe. Not only can they keep you warm, they’re stylish practically everywhere in the world. I would also recommend bringing a light cardigan or two, as summer nights can get a bit chilly.
And just in case you didn’t believe me that denim is popular in Russia, here is an entire family dressed almost entirely in denim. I have waited years to be able to post this on my blog and I am so happy that today is the day. The Canadian tuxedo is real, folks.
Sundresses and skirts of all lengths are acceptable in most parts of Russia, though if you plan on visiting any religious places, I’d recommend bringing something that fully covers your legs. Please note that some religious sites require women to wear skirts (don’t get me started), so I’d make sure you have at least one in your bag. Otherwise these places will require you to wear one of their own skirts over your trousers or wrap a huge swath of fabric around you, but if you’re cool with that, don’t worry about the skirt.
Many women in Russia do not shy away from showing off their bodies. Especially in the larger cities, you’ll see a lot of short skirts and tight clothing, so if that’s your bag, feel free to wear it, too. A lot of women wear very high heels in both summer and winter, but you can easily get away with flats and/or cute runners. Bare shoulders are also okay, though again, if you plan on visiting a religious site (including cathedrals) I would bring something to cover up.
Women are often required to cover their heads when visiting churches
Don’t forget a bathing suit for either season, as it’s common to attend public baths, saunas, etc. Also make sure to have a thin scarf or pashmina to cover your head if you go to a religious site.
Essentially, I’d say that summer dressing in Russia is very similar to what you see across North America and Europe.
And what to wear in Russia in winter…
Pretty sure I should have had that coat done up, but I liked my dress, so, you know
A good, warm coat is necessary. This is absolutely vital if you’ll be in Russia in any of the colder months (i.e. most of the year). The coat that I took to Russia was a wool blend from Zara, and for the most part it was warm enough, even in Siberia in October. As I mentioned previously, most of Russia dresses quite casually for day-to-day life, and many stick to neutral colours, so if you really want to blend in I’d stick to beige, black, grey, navy… you get the idea. However, if you really want to rock a lime-green coat (that’s my current winter jacket colour in London), go for it. Wearing a lot of bright colours outside of a major city usually pegs you as a tourist, so you may get a few stares, but I’ve never really been bothered by that.
I’d also recommend bringing some warm boots, as it can rain/snow a lot in the colder months. As I wasn’t too worried about snow when I was there, I got away with some vintage boots and some leather lace-up ankle boots. I also had a few pairs of flats and oxfords. When I visited in summer I wore cowboy boots and people openly pointed at my feet and laughed at me, so there’s that.
If you’re going to be spending some time on a train, I’d recommend bringing some warm slippers or something you can easily slip on an off (like these slippers/shoes I bought in Mongolia. They were perfect as they had a hard sole which meant I could walk around the train).
Okay, technically this photo was taken in Mongolia, but I went to Russia right after, so it counts
Again, I’d bring a pair of jeans (and/or trousers) if you visit Russia in winter. If it’s especially cold, layer a pair of tights or long thermal underwear underneath.
Pretty typical outfit for me in Russia. I’m making that face because we were in this bizarre mock log cabin for lunch and they were pumping really loud techno music the entire time. Kind of sums up Russia, actually.
Layers will absolutely be your friend in Russia, and I recommend bringing shirts and jumpers that you are able to pile on when necessary. I often wore a long-sleeve t-shirt under a warm jumper, and then my coat. Keep in mind that this was only October/November, so you may need even more in January or February. I also sometimes wore a blazer or fake leather jacket under my winter jacket, because I thought it was fashionable (and still do).
Warm socks are absolutely vital. If I was wearing a skirt (because I wear skirts and dresses no matter what the temperature), I’d layer pairs of tights and then wear this pair of long wool socks. Make sure you have sufficient layers on your feet, but that you’re still able to move your toes when you put on your shoes. This will help against the cold.
Warm hats. Lots of them (or okay, one really good one). I was really into berets when I visited in 2010, so that’s what I wore every day, but a toque – or beanie, if you’re not Canadian – is perfect, too.
Scarf bought in Russia. I’m pretty sure I was amazed by the thickness of this hot chocolate, hence the face.
Scarves. You are starting to get the picture here. It is freaking cold in Russia. When I visited Lake Baikal in October I needed both a neck warmer and a scarf to stay warm. You will also need to cover your head if you visit a religious site, so a scarf can help here, too.
I wore a fake fur stole/scarf thing when I was there, but please be aware that real fur is still common to see in Russia.
Mittens purchased in Russia
Mittens and/or gloves. Yep. Freaking freezing. Mittens are always better as you get more warmth by being able to move your fingers around together, but gloves are fine on warmer days. The good news is that there are always stores and markets selling warm clothing, so if you forget something on this list, you can buy it there.
Outfit worn to the ballet in St. Petersburg
I’d also recommend bringing at least one nice outfit to go out in. Especially in the bigger cities, Russians like to get dressed up to go out on the town. While casual clothing is fine for most activities and situations, going to a show or out for dinner at a nice restaurant requires a bit of sprucing up. I wore a simple H&M dress and blazer and felt totally comfortable and stylish, even at the ballet. Moscow and St. Petersburg are quite cosmopolitan and you’ll see many people in fashionable clothes at all hours of the day, so keep that in mind if you plan on visiting either city – you may stand out a bit more as a tourist in that jean and sweatshirt combination in those places. Also, if you are visiting for business, definitely have a suit or other appropriate formal office wear on hand, as Russians dress professionally for work.
For women, make-up is quite common at all times of the day. I wore red lipstick a lot, because, you know, Russia.
Check out this video for some of the outfits I wore in Russia in action
Have you been to Russia? What did you wear?