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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Lambs to the Slaughter; Or, I Love Your Hat…

May 30th, 2012

Both the French and the Germans were intrigued with Russian military uniforms and with good reason (see the image below). But one would think the tassels and plumes and chinstraps would have slowed a guy down and made him want to scratch rather than fight. And imagine the combatants’ manly gossip: “Tsk tsk, Yuri’s frockcoat is full of moth holes and he doesn’t know his shako from his kepi.”

Image from Armee francaise et armee Rusee [1886?]

Armée française et armée russe. Paris: A. Taride, [1886?] Call Number:  C5407

When Peter I created a standing army early in the 18th century he introduced standard uniforms for each branch. These uniforms evolved through the decades with each change of the guard, most starting out quite complicated and later becoming simpler and more comfortable. But how much time and energy was spent just getting fitted for these elaborate get-ups? And since the purpose of the covering was to distinguish the enemy from the fellow-traveler, how much fashion schooling did a soldier need not to take out his brother with friendly fire? Indeed sometimes the designs backfired when the color of a coat in certain terrain exposed its wearer on the battlefield. Camouflage became the order of the day in the early 20th century: 1904 in Britain, 1906 in Russia, but not until 1908 in the USA. WWI saw the re-appearance of metal headgear: the steel helmet, but the Soviets didn’t begin wearing it until the 1930s. As for hair, compare the powdered wigs of officers and the braids of infantrymen under Paul I of Russia (1796-1801) with the buzz cuts of today.

In the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s  collections is an Austrian publication with equally attractive plates, Die Russische Armee im Felde, Wien: [s. n.] 1888, (call number: B5201).

Sally Haines
Rare Books Cataloger
Adapted from her Spencer Research Library exhibit, Frosted Windows: 300 Years of St. Petersburg Through Western Eyes.