This was the dress of the tribesmen of the Caucasus, and most of the
terms derive straight from their languages.
Tradition held that Cossacks provided their own equipment, which led to
huge variations in style and colour. This fell by the wayside during
WWI, as large amounts of material were unobtainable by civilians. Thus
units are sometimes seen with identical colour and cut of garment from
The key piece in the outfit is the cherkeska
(sometimes a Circassian
in English, as Russian does not
particularly distinguish between the Cherkes tribe and Circassians in
This is a long flowing outer garment, which came in both simple and
highly ornate versions. The front was cut quite deeply, in either a V
or U shape. On the breast were large ornamental cartridge holders
(originally, of course, they had been functional), sometimes decorated
with braid, or even metallic silver (on wooden rods).
patterned, although they might have sleeves rolled back in contrasting
colours. Generally they were in tones of grey to black; though tans,
browns and dull reds were seen. Blues were very rare and greens never,
except that ones made from military stock in WWI were sometimes khaki.
was originally a
long garment, but over time it seems to have gotten progressively
shorter. Men serving on foot had always worn a version that did not
reach much over the knees anyway, and by the end of the Civil War many
cavalry had also adopted this style.
Under this was worn a beshmet
which could be quite vividly coloured, even in the field. These were
unpatterned apart from the odd one with thin vertical stripes or small
The belt was thin and often had straps for attaching further weapons.
It too might have silver additions.
Trousers, though barely seen in the field, were standard baggy Cossack
style, with uniform stripes in many cases.
The boots were high, soft, and traditionally worn without spurs.
A large dark burka
cape reached down to near the ankles. Many were fur, the rest heavy
A separate felt or wool bashlyk
hood covered the head. The mountain Cossacks had these in host colours,
and they added a splash of colour to the units, even in the worst
weather. When not in use the bashlyk
was draped over the shoulders, sometimes with its long arms crossed on
In very cold weather felt valenki
boots might be worn. There was also a sort of gaiter
footwear with quite visible seams.
Although a peaked cap might be provided in the official uniform of the
various units, in practice men in this dress seem to only ever
have worn the papakha
cylindrical woolen hat traditional to the Caucasus. Traditionally quite
high, but not generally particularly shaggy.
materials in WWI and beyond meant that a lower version became more
current (sometimes termed a kubanka
The crown was cloth, generally in unit colours, with crossed cords for
officers being common.
The fur was normally dark, but white and grey were common enough.
The mountaineers, Kubans and Tereks fought primarily with
swords when on horseback. The traditional shashka
is a thin, slightly curved sword with no hand guard but a
Lances were never used by this era. Carbines were used by cavalry, and
most men could
The traditional outfit included a (sharp) dagger worn at the waist.
It was normal for men
to equip themselves with spare weapons: particularly ornate
pistols, daggers and swords if they could get them. Silver
was particularly popular. Williamson met some Kabardians on a train
heading towards the front:
unshaven men with Afghan appearance, they wore the long black waisted
coat peculiar to the Kuban Cossacks, black or grey sheepskin caps, and
an array of black-and-silver inlaid daggers, swords, old-fashioned
pistols, and the usual decorative line of cartridges around the neck.
Many had red bashliks, or hoods, hung around their neck to introduce a
touch of colour, but all wore the red, blue and white chevrons of the
White Army. ... [B]ecause I wasn't armed to the
teeth, they seemed to
find me an object mostly fit for derision.
The mountaineers, Kubans and Tereks almost all had moustaches, and most
short beards as well.
> Mountain Dress