Here's a closer look at the ushanka hat where you'll learn about its history, different materials, pros and cons, and how to wear them. We've also included the stores where you can buy them so you get to enjoy one yourself.
- The ushanka hat is a rounded Russian fur cap with a visor and ear flaps.
- The ear flaps can be tied back across the hat’s crown or tied under the chin for extra protection from the cold and wind.
- Made from dense fur or sheepskin, the ushanka keeps the head warm and protected.
- The ushanka is popular in cold climates and for outdoor workers and winter athletes such as skiers.
Pronounced YOU-SHUNK-AH, the ushanka hat is one of the warmest hats around. These hats were traditionally made from rabbit, mink, or muskrat fur and sheepskin and were designed for Arctic and Siberian conditions. They have a distinctive set of ear flaps, and ushanka translates as ‘ear flap hat’.
The longer ear flaps can be tied back for better visibility or tied under the chin to keep the cheeks and jaw from being exposed to the cold. Some versions of the ushanka made from mink fur are so warm that they can protect the wearer’s face from temperatures as low as -94 Fahrenheit!
What is an Ushanka Hat
The ushanka, sometimes called a chapka, is so distinctively Russian that it is often referred to as just a ‘Russian hat‘.
The ushanka is the traditional hat of the Slavic and Balkan regions and was designed to protect the face, ears, and chin of people in very cold climates. Many cold countries have a version of the ushanka with a similar design. They were usually made from readily available fur like a rabbit, muskrat, and even fox because fur can trap heat and hold it close to the body.
The earflaps were a clever solution to changing weather conditions, as they could be tied back to prevent the wearer from overheating when the weather grew warmer.
In some ushankas, the visor can also fold down, offering an extra layer of protection against cold and ice glare. The ear flaps have strings on the end, which enable the wearer to tie them up across the soft, rounded crown. These ear flaps are long enough to be tied under the chin to keep the cheeks and jaw warm in extremely cold conditions.
Usually made from sheepskin and fur, many modern ushankas are made from fake furs and wool piles. Some parts of the hat use leather or cloth. Fake fur ushankas are comically called ‘fishfur’.
Is the Ushanka Hat in style or fashion today?
The ushanka hat is used as daily headgear in cold climates because it is the most practical choice. After the USSR collapsed, some people found the ushanka to be a bit old-fashioned and switched to wearing more international and American hats like baseball caps.
However, in bitter, icy weather, you can’t beat the comfort of a good fur ushanka. In the far north, there is little choice but to wear an ushanka as protection against the below-freezing temperatures. A fox or mink fur ushanka could ooze style and wealth, so some people may prefer that to a more common ‘fishfur’ or synthetic version.
In most countries these days and in warmer weather, an ushanka is more about style than surviving sub-zero temperatures. Although an ushanka is part of some winter military uniforms, such as Finland and Russia, many celebrities and models have popularized wearing the ushanka. It often appears as an accessory on Fall catwalks.
These days most ushankas are made of faux fur or wool blends and do not rely on the fur trade, making them more acceptable to eco-conscious fashionistas.
Athletes who participate in winter sports like skiing and enjoy outdoor winter activities will often choose ushanka over other hats. They are warm, adaptable, practical, and look good.
Materials/Fabrics Used in an Ushanka Hat
Ushanka hats can be made from natural and artificial materials. Traditionally they were made from sheepskin and fur.
Fur Ushanka Hats
Ushanka hats made from fur go back centuries. While ushanka hats were usually made from rabbit or muskrat fur, or sheepskin, many other furs were also used. Sheepskin Ushanka hats are still made, and it is easy to find a rabbit or fox fur ushanka. Mink fur ushanka hats are normally much more expensive.
Faux Fur Ushanka Hats
These days most commercial ushanka-style hats and those made for tourists use faux fur instead. This method makes them much cheaper to produce, and for some people, more ethically acceptable as no animals are harmed. The use of fake fur also allows a wide variety of unnatural colors that would not be available with animal fur.
Leather Ushanka Hats
Another option is to use fur or faux fur only on the inside lining of the hats, and the outer crown is leather. This soft leather crown could be more useful in damp, rainy climates. The leather style was adapted to the aviator cap, which is similar to an ushanka.
Knitted Wool Ushanka
A knitted wool ushanka allows for adding a variety of colors and patterns with natural material. These hats can be lined with real or faux fur for extra warmth but are not as warm as the all-fur ushankas. The range of patterns allows wearers to play with style.
Variations of Ushanka Hats
Some hats have a similar style to the ushanka, with a round crown and ear flaps. The aviator hat is a leather cap with ear flaps and sometimes a very small visor. They were adapted for flying open cockpit airplanes to protect the pilot from the elements. They are normally made of leather or felt.
Designers have taken the base idea of the Russian hat and changed it to suit fashions and climates. Winter hats often incorporate the long ear flaps and heavy visor of the ushanka while adding own touches like woolen bobbles.
How to wear an Ushanka Hat
An ushanka is designed for winter weather, so wear it with a scarf and jacket for extra warmth. The visor can sometimes be lowered but is usually kept tied back. Tie the ear flaps across the crown for added visibility, or let them down.
The ear flaps can be left loose or tied firmly under the chin to protect the face from ice and cold. Most of our body heat is lost through the head, so it helps to keep warm if you can cover more of your face.
Pros and Cons of an Ushanka Hat
Pros of an Ushanka Hat
- An ushanka hat is perfect for very cold weather. Using fur gives added heat retention.
- Thick fur also helps protect the head from blows
- They are adaptable, and you can secure the flaps into the position you prefer.
- Faux fur or ‘fishfur’ variations come in a range of colors.
- Many styles using different fabrics allow the use in a wider variety of climates and fashions.
Cons of an Ushanka Hat
- An ushanka hat is not practical in warm or tropical climates
- They provide very little sun protection as they do not have a wide brim
- Fur ushankas may not be ethically produced
History of the Ushanka Hat
While many cultures in cold countries have had some form of wool, leather, or fur hat with ear flaps, the modern ushenka was designed in 1917. It was inspired by similar hats worn by arctic explorers.
The ushanka-style hats became part of the Russian army uniform when the Soviet troops were dying of exposure during the Winter War with Finland. The Finnish troops were better protected from the cold by a hat known as a turkislakki. Based on the Finnish hat, the modern style of ushenka replaced the felt budenovka, which the Soviet military then wore.
The fur ushanka has become a recognizable symbol of Russia. There are many images of Soviet leaders wearing ushanka hats against the cold and as an outward display of their nationality.
How Much Does an Ushanka Hat Cost?
An ushanka hat could cost anywhere from $20 to many hundreds of dollars, depending on its origin and what it is made from. Mass-produced faux fur ushanka will be relatively cheap, but expect to pay a lot more for original fur ushanka, especially if they are made from rarer furs like mink.
Where to buy an Ushanka Hat
For authentic fur ushankas, you can look to companies specializing in fur hats, such as Fur Hat World.