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What to Wear in Russia

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Layering up

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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? 

For what to wear in Nepal, click here.

For what to wear in India, click here.

For what to wear in Bhutan, click here.

For what to wear in Thailand, click here.

For what to wear in Colombia, click here.

For what to wear in Cuba, click here.

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29 Responses to What to Wear in Russia

  1. Katie @ Domestiphobia August 24, 2015 at 9:32 pm #

    I’ve admired your fashion sense ever since I stumbled here years ago — this is a great feature for you! I’d also be curious to know how much room you leave in your suitcase for the items you purchase in-country, or if you tend to get rid of or ship things home. (And do you change out your wardrobe frequently? I still have things I wore in high school, and considering I’m now in my early 30’s, that’s fairly embarrassing. But I’m SO cheap when it comes to clothes!)

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 3:18 am #

      Aw, thank you so much, Katie! That’s so nice of you. I do leave a bit of room in my suitcase when I travel, unless I’m travelling carry-on only. Then I just pray that I don’t find something I absolutely love, ha ha. When I’ve travelled long term I often start ditching/donating clothing that I’m not wearing as much in order to swap it for the local stuff, or, yes, I do ship things home occasionally (only if it’s something super cool). I usually plan for all of this within my travel budget.

      And yes, I am a total shopaholic… I update my wardrobe a lot. I am cheap, too, though – I almost always buy my stuff from high street shops (no designer or brand names for me) or from ASOS. However, I still have stuff I worn in high school, too!

  2. Mary August 24, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    I loved all of your outfits and the berets! Great choices. Now I’m going to go watch your video. 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 3:13 am #

      Thank you so much! Hope you liked the video.

  3. Paige August 24, 2015 at 11:07 pm #

    I laughed out loud at the denim family and the caption on the log cabin meal picture! I LOVE your personal style and cannot wait to read more fashion/travel posts. I’ve long dreamed of travel in Russia, thanks to a somewhat strange teenage obsession with the ’60s film version of Doctor Zhivago…

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 3:13 am #

      Ha ha, I’m glad I could make you laugh! Russia is a very interesting country, taking the Trans-Siberian was one of my favourite journeys. I hope you get there soon!

  4. Melody August 25, 2015 at 5:10 am #

    Canadian Tuxedos and Toques 🙂

    Someday I will get back to Russia and be able to spend some time there. 24 hours on a travel delay just wasn’t enough. But I have spent a fair bit of time in Ukraine, which is very similar.

    I found that people either dressed casual – jeans and nice t-shirt – or completely dressed up, there was no in-between. Going to church (was there on missions) was a dress-up occasion, going shopping at a big mall was too, or going out to dinner in the evening. Our translators had two pairs of jeans with them. They hand washed and line dried them, and then ironed them. I had never seen someone iron jeans before. Most middle class folks only have a couple of everyday outfits, so wearing the same outfit repeatedly is completely normal.

    I was only there in the summer, and was doing hands-on work, so I typically wore shorts, a t-shirt or tank, and running shoes. And I wore a backpack everywhere. I sure got a lot of stares and looks. I totally did not blend in. But being a red-head, there’s no way I would blend in even when I was dressed up.

    Someday I will be in Siberia in winter.

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 7:54 am #

      Thank you very much for your input, Melody! It’s really good to hear another person’s opinion on the matter. As for the ironing jeans – yes – I saw that, too! Just goes to show how each culture has its own customs…

  5. Elena August 25, 2015 at 5:18 am #

    Nice one! Glad to see you wrote about my birth country. The most important thing about women’s fashion is that women like to look like women and be feminine.

    Loved seeing the train floor picture. Have spend a lot of time in those trains across Russia.

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 7:52 am #

      Thank you for your comment, Elena! I loved being on the train through Russia.

  6. Elina August 25, 2015 at 12:09 pm #

    I love travel bloggers who also care about their style, it sometimes feels like some people think you can’t be a good traveller unless you look scruffy af. Right now I’m trying to combine my love for nice clothes and carry-on only, yikes! Your style is great and I always enjoy seeing these posts. Never been to Russia yet but I live right next door (Finland) and it’s definitely not a shame to wear both gloves AND mittens!

    • Brenna Holeman August 25, 2015 at 8:05 pm #

      Thank you very much, Elina! I am going to post an article about packing with carry-on only, although I have only ever packed for a week’s travel that way. And yes, I’ve definitely done the double-layer of gloves/mittens! I’m from one of the coldest cities in Canada so I feel like I was fairly prepared for Russia, ha ha…

  7. Camille August 26, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    I’ve always thought you had fantastic style! So naturally I think this series is a great idea. You’ve given me a lot of ideas for how to stay warm in skirts and dresses, not just when I’m in Russia! haha

    • Brenna Holeman August 26, 2015 at 2:08 am #

      Thank you so much, Camille! I almost always wear skirts or dresses, even in freezing weather. There’s definitely a way to keep warm even while wearing them. 🙂

  8. Ruth August 26, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    This post is awesome! And it takes me right back to my trip along the trans-Siberian! I was totally struck by the amount of denim in Russia!

    I totally agree about the scarfs and layering – I was there in late August/early September and the weather was very changeable so it was nice to be able to shed layers when the weather was warm but have them on hand for the inevitable colder days (or afternoon/evenings!)

    Looking forward to your next post in this series! 🙂

    • Brenna Holeman August 30, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

      Thank you so much, Ruth! I’m glad you liked it. How amazing was the Trans-Siberian? I’d love to do it again one day.

      Thanks again for your comment! 🙂

  9. Zalie September 9, 2015 at 12:42 am #

    I love what you are wearing in all of these pictures! You always so amazing, travelling or not 🙂 p.s. that picture of the family all dressed in denim is too much!!!

    • Brenna Holeman September 9, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      Aw, thank you Zalie!! And yes, that family just kills me. I wish I could join their all-denim crusade!

  10. Yevgeniya September 16, 2015 at 6:43 pm #

    I’m supposed to be packing for a trip to Russia as I write this, but I’m so glad I found your post. Mostly because your outfits are awesome! Just “liked” your page on Facebook so I look forward to reading more about your trips!

    • Brenna Holeman September 16, 2015 at 9:39 pm #

      Aw, so glad you found the article! And thanks for the like. Hope you have an amazing time in Russia!

  11. Liya August 25, 2016 at 9:02 pm #

    I love that I came across this! I’m traveling to Moscow and St Petersburg in mid Sept and have been debating a packing list. I, too, am a fan of layering and denim jackets! I love your style and that you make travel look effortless! Any thoughts on leggings (in this era of lularoe)?

  12. Wanda February 26, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Loved your article and your style. Want to ask: are denim jeans, indeed any kind of pants OK for older women? What about capris? I’m 63 (not quite a babushka yet) and will be in St. Petersburg and Moscow this summer and would prefer not to have to wear skirts. Too bad I gave away my denim jacket. What do you suggest for my generation?

    • Brenna Holeman February 27, 2017 at 12:39 am #

      I think that jeans and capris are totally fine, Wanda! I personally do not wear them often but they are very common in Russia. If you’re going to the big cities in summer, I think that you can dress the same as you would at home. Just make sure to have comfortable walking shoes! 🙂

      • Wanda February 27, 2017 at 12:57 am #

        So flats are OK? I don’t wear heels any more.

        • Brenna Holeman February 27, 2017 at 2:02 am #

          Flats are absolutely OK. Many Russian women wear heels but that doesn’t mean you have to.

          • Wanda February 27, 2017 at 2:03 am #

            Thanks!

  13. sylvie September 19, 2017 at 2:06 am #

    This is maybe a weird comment, haha, but you’re giving me long-lost Romanov relative (/ time-traveling Romanov sister) vibes in (the second, blonde half of) these pictures. I dig it!

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