Muscovite Splendor

10 things about Olga Bulbenkova and the court dress of the House of Romanov

I had never heard of Olga Bulbenkova until a friend from high school added her to their inspirations on Facebook. I took one look at her stunning, opulent designs and knew that I had to know more about this woman and the style of the Russian court. Here are 10 things about this fascinating style and time period.

1 // Birth of a Fashion House
Olga Nikolaevna Bulbenkova (1835-1918), founded a fashion house called Madame Olga’s in St. Petersburg in the mid-1800s that went on to become one of the most popular for designing gowns for the Russian court, and specifically the Imperial Family. Not bad for the daughter of a priest.

2 // Not the Only Game in Town
Other important designers for the Russian court during this period include Izembard Chanceau, A.T. Ivanova, and the English designer Charles Worth. Each designer had their own unique look and specialty.

3 // Straw into Gold
Madame Olga’s house was known for its gold thread embroidery, which was done at the Novotikhvinsky convent. Convents were traditionally where this intricate embroidery was done.

4 // Palace Restrictions
All dresses made at Madame Olga’s followed the strict edicts for court dress that were set by Tsar Nicholas I in 1834. The cut, colour, and decoration of a gown signified its owner’s position in the court hierarchy. You could probably say that Nicholas I was a bit of a control freak.

5 // Uniform of the Court
This edict specified that women in the Russian court wear “Russian Dress Uniforms” (Paradnaya Plat’e). This was originally a white embroidered silk gown with a velvet overdress and long open sleeves in the Muscovite style. They had very full, bell-like skirts that fastened at the waist with a gold cord. These gowns were incredibly heavy and unwieldy, but were based on the traditional Russian style, as Nicholas wanted court dress to emphasize national Russian tradition as well as make it easier to tell the status of the women in his court. The style was eventually streamlined and modernized a bit, but still retained a look that was distinctly Russian. You know that amazing gown from the end of the animated Anastasia movie? It’s a very good representation of how the court style looked in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

6 // The Topper
Elaborate jeweled headdresses called Kokoshniks were also required. Married women wore theirs with veils. Needless to say, I wish I had 10 of them. Luckily for me, you can buy them on Etsy (!!!!).

7 // For Royal Bods Only
The Edict on Court Dress also specified that only the Empress or the Grand Duchesses (The Emperor’s daughters) could wear cloth of gold, or cloth of silver. However, if the Empress was wearing cloth of silver, the Grand Duchesses couldn’t wear it at the same time. Unfortunately for the Grand Duchesses, the Empress liked wearing silver a lot, and the Grand Duchesses mostly got to wear it at their weddings.

8 // Colours of the Court
Attendants to the Imperial family could only wear gowns in two colours—garnet red and emerald green. It was always Christmas at the Russian court, apparently.

9 // Watch that Train
The length of one’s train was also important—the longer the train, the higher one’s status. I would be OK if we brought this one back.

10 // End of an Era
Madame Olga’s went out of business in 1917 when the Revolution came, since the dissolution of the court meant there was no longer any business for them. The house’s last large court commission was in 1913 for the 300th Anniversary of the House of Romanov (see above image).

And I had to add one more, because we couldn’t finish this without talking about what happened to these designers following the fall of the House of Romanov

11 // Death of an Industry
The Revolution also saw the extinction of the ecclesiastical embroidery you see on the gowns that houses like Madame Olga’s made. Most of the women who did this work fled to France, and were quickly snapped up by couturiers like Patou, Lanvin, and Chanel (Russia’s loss was Paris’s gain). This industry is only just now seeing a bit of a resurgence, as there are convents trying to practice this traditional art once more.

Megan Wornette

Our latest editorial intern loves her some internet

I’m a recent graduate of Centennial College’s Book and Magazine Publishing program, and currently the Lifestyle and Science and Technology editor of Paper Droids, a geek culture site for and by women that I created with classmates from the program. I love TV, history, video games, and fashion, as well as the style that lurks within all of these things. I would describe my style as somewhere between Zooey Deschanel and Liz Lemon. That is, a girly tomboy. I’m a huge fan of WORN and super excited to be part of the Wornette Army!

Current Inspirations

The Hairpin
I’m a pretty active member of The Hairpin community, and while this is not just a style site, Jane Marie’s How to Be a Girl posts are amazing, and they recently started a series about the style of historical figures, complete with modern clothing picks. There may also be a (not very) secret Google Group where we all talk about and show each other our outfits, and it is probably my current greatest inspiration on what I’m wearing right now. So many stylish ‘Pinners!

This vintage-focused blog was one of the first style blogs that I followed regularly, and is a pretty good representation of the clothes I like to wear. I even took a picture of Erin’s pixie cut from a few years in to the hairdresser when I cut my hair short a little while ago. Which is not creepy at all, right? >.>

Japanese Streets
Asia, but especially Japan, has some of the coolest street fashion in the world, and Japanese Streets is hands down the best English language Japanese street style site on the web.

Console to Closet
I am a huge gamer, so of course I’m in love with this Tumblr that is full of outfits inspired by my favourite video game characters.

Old Rags
I can, and have, spent entire afternoons looking through this Tumblr of the clothing collections of museums around the world. The elaborate Russian gowns are probably my favourite. And the flapper dresses. And anything from the Renaissance. Okay, so everything is my favourite.

photography // Chayonika Chandra

Lady Snowblood: Queen of Kimono (and Death)

There's a whole lot of pretty hiding under all the blood

Lady Snowblood is a Japanese grindhouse flick from the ’70s, and is probably best known as being “that movie that inspired Kill Bill.” It’s based on the manga series Shurayukihime by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by Kazuo Kamimura, and it follows the story of a young woman named Yuki, who is conceived and born for the sole purpose of avenging the rape of her mother and the murder of her mother’s husband and son. It takes place in the Meiji era (1868-1912), right after Japan reopens itself to trade with the West, and the fall of the 250 year old Tokugawa Shogunate. The government was pretty much completely overhauled, the previously defunct emperor given back the reigns of power, and a parliament created. Needless to say, this was a period of unrest in Japan’s history, and what happens to Yuki’s mother is a result of that unrest.

Yuki performs her revenge in a dazzling array of gorgeous kimonos, but first I just want to lay out what that means exactly. There are technically two types of Japanese robes for women: the yukata and the kimono. The yukata is typically made of cotton, and meant for the hot, humid summer months. The yukata is also considered more casual. Kimonos, on the other hand, tend to be made of silk and have two visible collars (called eri). The second collar is usually detachable and attaches to the juban, or under robe. Kimonos are typically worn in the winter, or on more formal occasions. The obi is the topmost silk sash that is usually tied in an elaborate bow at the back. It has more layers than you can see, but I won’t really be talking about them. If you want to know more about kimono terminology, here is a pretty good resource.


This is one of the first kimonos we see Yuki in, which is white with a blue flower motif along the bottom. The cerulean obi with gold detailing is probably one of the most beautiful ones she wears in the whole film. Kimono patterns are very seasonal, and the flowers on this one help to reinforce that this scene takes place in the spring/summer. Yuki wears a lot of white, which I think is to represent her innocence and youth, but often when she is wearing this colour, a whole lot of carnage goes down. However, white also ties her to her mother’s dead husband, who is essentially killed for wearing this colour, and white was the colour worn by samurai when committing ritual suicide, which she essentially is. Yuki knows she could die at any time committing her vengeance, and she dresses accordingly.


This blue striped kimono with red obi is one of the most graphic costumes Yuki wears in the films. The colours and the stripes are quite nautical, aren’t they? And very appropriate for assassinating someone on the seashore. You’ll notice that there’s not a lot of white showing here, and this hit is probably the most bloodless. It should also be noted that her juban here (and pretty much in all the scenes where Yuki is out for murder), is red. You can catch flashes of it throughout the film, and I think it’s there to represent both her true murderous intent underneath her innocent beauty, as well as for a hint of sexyness, as red is also considered a very sexy colour in kimono patterns.


As you can tell from the sword, Yuki is out to avenge her mother’s murderers. But the minimal amount of white here means no battle scene is about to go down, and, as it turns out, this target happens to be dead. Yuki also tends to wear purple during calm scenes, either on the kimono or her obi.

There is a lot of white going on in this outfit, and as you can see, the blood spatter gets pretty intense. Her juban during this fight scene is also red, and you catch flashes of it every time she slashes her sword.


Again Yuki is in purple, and again no fighting happens in the scenes where she is wearing this headcovering. My theory is that main purpose of this headcovering is to help emphasize the shock on Yuki’s face when a certain ally reveals who his father truly is (film studies students, eat your heart out).

This is the “final countdown” kimono, and you can see here that her juban is again red, and this kimono is predominantly white. The butterflies also symbolize the souls of the living and the dead, which is why she’s wearing what might be considered a spring motif in the winter. If she was going to go down, she would go down fighting – while making a sartorial impact.

Fit For a Queen

Ten things about the gowns of Queen Elizabeth I

1 // The Tudor Mode of Dress
This portrait (above) represents the Tudor style of dress, as this portrait is from before Elizabeth was Queen. There’s a huge difference in the style of dress—the neckline is much lower and the silhouette much simpler, with much less jewelry and embellishment.

2 // A Queen Comes into her Own
The coronation portrait (above left) is a perfect example of the Elizabethan style—the Farthingale skirt, shoulder rolls, the high neckline, the ostentatious, over-the-top embellishment. The entire point of this garb was to make this young girl look imposing and invincible, because there were many people who did not want Elizabeth to be queen.

3 // Dressing to Impress
Royalty in the 16th century was expected to dress to impress upon everyone their wealth and power, and Elizabeth took this to heart. Henry VII, Elizabeth’s grandfather, had not been well liked because of his preference for simple dress, for it gave people the impression that he was miserly. Queen Elizabeth was perfectly aware of this and knew exactly how to use the power of perception to her advantage.

4 // Childhood Memories
Some people believe, however, that Elizabeth’s preference for incredibly rich garb stems from her impoverished upbringing (her mother, if you remember, was Anne Boleyn, and after her mother fell out of favour and was executed, the young princess did not receive as much money for her household, and often wore old or ill fitting clothing). The reality is that Elizabeth was incredibly thrifty. She kept impeccable records of her clothing expenses, and often had gowns taken apart and reassembled into new outfits.

5 // Budget Babe
Compared to her successor, James I, Elizabeth spent £9535 on clothing in four years, while James spent £36,377 in only one.

6 // A Gift Fit for a Queen
One of the ways Elizabeth saved money was by receiving gifts—England was one of the most powerful nations in the Western world during Elizabeth’s reign. Its Navy was recognized as the best, and money was pouring in from the colonies in newly discovered Americas. She often received gifts of clothing on New Year’s Day from those who wished to receive favour.

7 // Tomboy
At the height of her power, Elizabeth favoured high necklines, and even almost masculine dress. It was common for young, unmarried women to favour a lower neckline, and Elizabeth did not usually do this. She also favoured darker colours, and the style of bodice she made popular elongates the torso and creates an androgynous look. I don’t think was a coincidence—Elizabeth was a woman in a man’s world, and it was probably in her best interest to diminish her femininity and project her power, hence the androgynous silhouette and gem studded gowns.

8 // Body Modification
Corsets were more prevalent in 16th century England than in some other countries, for example, Italy. Venice even had a ban on the garment in 1547, though by the 1590s (considered Elizabeth’s “Golden Years,” I wonder if that’s a coincidence?) they were much more prevalent there.

9 // Baby, It’s Cold Outside
Elizabeth’s dress wasn’t just influenced by how she wanted to be perceived—it was also very cold in England at this time, as Northern Europe was going through a mini Ice Age. So all the heavy fabric and layers and padding was also a necessity that influenced everyone’s clothing decisions.

10 // Cover Me in Jewels
Jewelry was considered a must for the nobility of the Elizabethan Age, though Elizabeth took it to a whole new level by having her gowns themselves covered in jewels and pearls. Jewelry was a physical manifestation of one’s wealth and power, so if your wife had no jewelry, you would not be considered a person of prominence.