By an edict of Tsar Nicholas I, enacted in 1834, Russian court dress was strictly regulated, and at official functions ladies were expected to wear a uniform loosely based on traditional Russian styles. The costume's proportions expanded and contracted with the whims of fashion, and the relative plainness or ostentation varied according to the tastes and rank of the wearer, but the basic components remained the same: bodice, train, and long, detached sleeves all in the same fabrication; visible underskirt; kokoshnik headdress with veil. In her memoir, "The Story of My Life", the florid Queen Marie of Roumania, whose mother was the former Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna, daughter of Tsar Alexander II, describes it thus:
"The Russian court dress was exceedingly picturesque and was donned for all bigger occasions. It consisted of amply cut velvet robes over a tablier of white satin; the shape, with its train, and wide, long-hanging sleeves, had something medival [sic] about it. These robes were heavily embroidered in silver or gold and were of every colour of the rainbow; the richest of all were of cloth of gold or silver. A halo-shaped cocoshnic [sic] with a veil hanging from beneath it inevitably accompanied this costume, so that every woman appeared to have been crowned. This unity of attire made all Russian court gatherings uniquely picturesque, saturating them with colour and brilliance unlike anything else; veritable pictures out of the "Thousand and One Nights," Byzantine in splendour, with all the mysterious gorgeousness of the East. In those days the processional entry of the Russian Imperial family into festive hall or saint-haunted church was a picture once seen never to be forgotten."
The costume pictured is one that was worn by a maid of honor, or Freilina (a Russification of the German Fraülein) - the most common rank, and one only held by unmarried ladies - and shows the color and style of embroidery specified for someone holding this title. With this gown the young woman would have worn a very plain, red velvet kokoshnik with a large bow at the nape and a simple chiffon veil. The "buttons" along the front placket would usually have been of gold or large artificial pearls. A diamond monogram of the Empress or Grand Duchess being served would be pinned to the left shoulder. The uniform of those being served would have been of the same exact pattern, of course, only the materials and ornamentation would be to the lady's whim, adorned more lavishly, and abetted by whole suites of jewels - the "buttons" included - and quite often the kokoshnik had morphed into a full-on kokoshnik-shaped diadem.
Some photographs of Freilinas from the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century:
|Countess Eugenie Vladimirovna Freedericz.|
|Countess Zenaïda (Zina) Mengden.|
|Princess Maria Borisovna Scherbatova.|
|Princess Elisaveta Nicolaievna Obolenskaia.|
|Olga Vladimirovna von Dehn.|
|Olga Nicholaevna Repnina.|
|Princess Zenaïda Nikolaevna Yusupova.|
|Princess Elena (Ella) Beloselskaia-Belozerskaia.|
|Another Freilina's court gown, probably from a slightly earlier period.|
|Embroidery design from the 1830s; as one can see in comparing the examples above, the pattern never really changed at all.|