*** Russian school Soviet ZVONOK zvonok VIPUSK vipusk SHKOLA shkola school uniform

Russian Schools

Russian schools
Figure 1.--This Russian boy was photographed in Moscow during 1954, just a year after Stalin died. Notice the peaked cap. Not all schools had the same uniform, but the better schools in the big cities were much more strict with uniforms than provincial and rural schools.

The Soviets built a very impressive public school system offering a free public education to all. It had its weaknesses, but also strengths. There were no dark holes such as the inner city schools in the American system. Academic standards did, however, vary across the country. The principal difference was betweem urban anbd rural schools. Another problem was social class. Many children without the preferred background (worker and peasant origins) were disadvantaged in access to higher education. Academic standards is another issue. One undeniable achievemnent of Soviet education was the education of women. Russian elementary children used to weer distinctive uniforms, both before and after the Revolution. This suggests that the continuation of the uniform after the Revolution was influenced by the pre-War tradition rather than a change of direction by Soviet educators. The fact that the Soviets unlike educators in the rest of Europe, continued uniforms suggests the insular policies persued by the Soviets in many areas. School uniforms for girls did not change greatly after the Revolution. Girls' uniforms consisted of a black dress with an Edwardian style pintafore white apron. Boys before the Revolution often wore a Russian revival style bloused tunic. Many schools during the Soviet era had military style uniforms. Several European countries has school uniforms in the 19th century, but this was rare in the 20th century, especially after World War I. Russia was one of the few countries where school uniforms were worn. The boy's uniform continued to have a military look. This changed after World War II when the Soviet Union carved out an Eastern European Empire. Many of the new Soviet satellite countries either influenced by Soviet authorities or attempting to emulate Soviet examples also adopted uniforms. The Eastern European sdchool uniforms had a less military style than the Soviet unifiorms. After the disolution of the Soviet Union children no longer wanted to wear the Soviet-era uniforms.

Education System

The Soviets built a very impressive public school system offering a free public education to all. It had its weaknesses, but also strengths. There were no dark holes such as the inner city schools in the American system. Academic standards did, however, vary across the country. The principal difference was betweem urban anbd rural schools. Another problem was social class. Many children without the preferred background (worker and peasant origins) were disadvantaged in access to higher education. As to high academic standards. This is a tough one. In the humanities, how do you measure high academic standards? The students were given the answers and they learned them. I wholly agree that they were not encouraged to think, even punished for it. So how you measure high academic standards I do not know. In the sciences it was a different matter. The Soviets had very impressive scientific achievements. You don't get that without high academic standards. And I worked with Soviet fishery scientists and can tell you that they were every bit as competent, but not as well funded as our scientists. Even here, ideology siometimes intervened. Sobiet biological scienes wer significantly harmed by Stakin's support of deolically based appriosaches. And any assessment of the Soviet education system as to be put in perspective of our American system with substantial numbers of children leaving school functionally illiterate. And the fact that even well educated American kids leaving school with no appreciation of the importance and value of capitalism in our history and the world economy. This is the result of the pervsive left-wing ideology taught as fact in American schools, quite similar to Soviet ideological education. One undeniable achievemnent of Soviet education was the education of women.


Russian elementary children used to wear distinctive uniforms, both before and after the Revolution. Only since the disolution of the Soviet Union in 1992 did Russian school children stop wearing uniforms. HBC has little information on school in Imperial Russia. Girls were less likely to attend school. For the most part it was middle-class boys attending school. Rich children were educated at hone. Peasant and working class children often did not attend school. Many boys had their heads shaved. Russian revival style bloused tunic or military-style uniforms were often worn to school. A Russian artist has left us a fascinating imge of a rural school about 1865. Girls began attending school in large numbers after the Revolution. I'm not sure what boys wore to school in the 1920s, but by the 1930s military-styled uniforms were common. There does not seem to have been a standard uniform worn country-wide. Schools in Moscow and Lenningrad seem to have had quite strict uniform standards. During the Stalinist era there was a formal school uniform. It was a milotary-looking uniform consisting of a peaked cap, tunic, wide belts, ans red scarf. Yonger boys might wear short pants, sometimes with over-the-knee stockings. This uniform persisted even after Stalin's death in 1953. Basic education in the Soviet Union had 10 grades. Children began at 7 years and graduated at 16. Girls in grades 1-8 wore a brown dress with a black pinafore style-apron in front. Another source says a dark-blue or black dress with an Edwardian style pintafore white apron. Apparently the dress colors varied somewhat. After the breakup of the Soviet Union children no longer wanted to wear the Soviet-era uniforms. A HBC reader reports, "Russian children no longer wear school uniforms. My children go in school in whatever they want. This seems to vary among schools. A 2000 internet report indicated, "There are different styles of clothes in our school. Younger children have to wear the uniform. They don't like it very much, but, honestly, we like their suits. We find them very pretty. Their uniform is not equal. In the 1st grade children wear the red uniform, in the 2nd grade they wear the blue one, in the 3rd grade the uniform is green. Thus, we can always understend, what grade is the pupil from.


We have only limited information on Russian school activities at this time, in part because we have relatively few images from Russian schools. We hope to gradually expand this section as we learn more about Russian schools. For the most part Russian schools activities are similar to those in other countries. We do note some destinctive activities. One is the First Day ceremony. Another is the military training during Soviet times. At some of these activities, Russian children appear to dress more formally than is common in Western countries, especially modern schools.


We have very limited information on levels in Russian education. We notice kindegardens as part the Soviet system. We are not sure when they were introduced. The state system was divided into both primary and secondary sections. During the Tzarist era many working-class children and former serfs did nt complete primary studies. secondary education was very limited. Until the Revolution, working-class children had very limited access to education. The Sovit state significantly expanded the average Soviet citizen's access to education. Children from families of the former privlidged class were restricted in their access to higher education. Political reliability was an important factor in gaining acceptance to the university. We have little information at this time on post-Soviet Russia.


Tsarist Russia had by the late-19th century a substantial education system. Most Russsians, howevern, only received a primary education, espcially the huge rural oeasantry. Secondary schools operated in the cities, but were attendded by uoper and middle-class students. Few wprking-class students attended secondary schools. This was the general mpattern in Eyrooe, but esoecially pronomced in Russia because so much of the popukatiin was the rural oeasntry. Some Russian children wore uniforms during the Tsarist era. Almost all of the secondary schools had uniforms, mostly militart styles. Rural primary schools did not have uniformsm and we do not think that they were common in the cities either, athough our information is limited. We are mot sure about the situation in the major cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow. There nay have been some elite schools. We habe not, however, found imnages of uniformed primary students. Almost all secondary students wore unifiems, but not the primary students. The Bolsbeks planned a major expansion of the education system, opening it up to peasant and worker children, And this became a major feature onjective pf Soviet education policy, onewhivch was largely accomplihed---one of the few major accomplisments of the Soviet Union. We are not sure what the initial Bolshebik plans were for uniforms, but from an early point we see dome children in the major cities wearing uniforms, inclusing the primary schools. We think the major reason that most children did not wear uniforms was the pronounced poverty of Soviet Russia. Families could not affiord to buy uniforms and th Soviet state coukd nit adffird to privide them. Gradually after World War II (1939-45), economic cinditions began to improve. Nothing like conditions in the West, but therevwere imorivements. Andcwe se see nire and nore children wearing uniforms to school. Initial the boys look like little solduers, but evntually a less oromounced military style was adopted. The girls wiew basuc dressescwith pinafires.

Hair Styles

There are some interesting aspects to the hair styles worn by Russian school children over time. The most notable aspect is that many if not most Russian school children during the late 19th and early 20th century had close cropped hair. I'm less sure of the primary schools, but certainly it was the case of the secondary schools. This appears to have been the case in the early Soviet schools as well. During the later Soviet period you no longer see close-cropped hair, but long hair was not permitted. In modern Russia one normally see boys with short, but not short-cropped hair. We know less about girls' hair styles, but do note the very destinctive large white hair bows they wore during the Soviet era. These bows are still seen for ceremomial occassions.

Special Days

There are several special days at Russian schools. The first day of school was a major event in the old Soviet Union and comtinues to be so today. One traveler reported in on September 1, 2000, "Children!" they were children. Literally hundreds, and carrying bundles of flowers. Little girls dressed in black dresses and white tights, white frilly decorations rising 30cm from their heads, plaits shiny and neat. Boys no higher than my hips in ties and bow ties, hair wet, slicked back so that their fresh young scalps were visible. Hair even cut." In Soviet days the boys would have been wearing brand new military-styled uniforms. Another special day is "Prazdnik Bukvarya" (a celebracion of ABC-book). This day is celebrates the pupils in 1st grade/form (6 or 7 years old) successfully completing their ABCs. This is done in the first oyear of the 4year primary (elementary) school program. The celebration usually occurs at the end of winter. In 3-year primary schools at the end of autumn. For the celebration each child is assigned a letter.

Special Schools

The Army, trade unions, manufacturers, mines, and others sponsored sports clubs. I'm not sure what the practice is since the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were hundreds of these clubs located throughout the Soviet Union. The largest and most prestigious of these clubs was the Central Red Army Club (CSKA). Many were professionally run with excellent instructors and exyensive facilities. They turned out superb atheletes and wre one of thge principal reasons why the Soviets did so well at the Olympics. One reasons that the clubs were so effective is that they identified young children at an early age, as young as 5 years, and taught them sound fundamentals and helped them reach fully achieve their potentials. The tryouts were open to anyone. A child's parents did not have to have to have an affiliation with the sponsoring organization. If excepted, a child had access to the facilities and training at no cost as well as admission to a sports school with better facilities than most other schools. It was a great honor to be accepted in these sports clubs and opened up many privliges and opportunities for foreign travel if the child achieveded success as an athelete. There was a similar system for ballet dancers and perhaps for other artistic endeavors, but I do not yet have information on this.

Military Instruction

The Soviet Union had a military program for school children. Unlike the cadet programs in England and America, it was not optional. The Soviet program did not have mandatory uniforms. It was discontinued upon the disolution of the Soviet Union, but Acting-President Putin's Governent in 2000 is reinstituting it.


It is the students, of course, that normally wore school uniforms. In a few countries the teachers also wore uniforms. We have few details, but one 1914 Russian portrait suggests that the teachers in Tsarist Russia also wore school uniforms. We are not sure when this practice began. Presumably it continued until the Russian Revolution in 1917. After the Revolution, I'm not sure how teachers dressed.

Special Schools

We do not have much information on Russian schools before the Revolution. We do not know to what extent private schools operated. After the Revolution only state schools fuctioned. The Communists massively expanded the school system, but insisted in controling all institutions sealing with young people such as schools and youth groups. After the fall of Communism (1991), private schools once more became legal in Russia. One special school types are Kadet schools. We notice boarding schools in early Soviet times. We do not, however know muvh about them. They could be Kadet schools or perhaps orphansges. In the wake of World War I and the Civil War, large numbers of Russian children were orpahaned or otherwise abandoned and roaming around Russia, normally graviating to the cities. There were millions of them. They were called 'besprizornye' or unattended. They were survived by begging and engaging in petty crime and were commonly seen as a kind of plague. Juvenile delinquency became a major problem. The Soviet State began creating orphanages and boarding schools. With the rise of Stalin, political repression, forced migrations, and World War II, which Stalin played a major role in launching, created more orphans or abandoned children.. We are not sure at this time to what extent orphanages had their own schools or attended local public schools. As by tyhe 1930s, many of the orphans were children whose parents had been aresed by the NKVD, we are not sure to what extent they were allowed to associate with children of families in good standing.


Our HBC website releies primarily on the photographic record. It is of course the most accurate of the various availavle sources. Of course here are issues which have to be taken into count, but every photograhic image is in effect a little historical document. We may not know how common the photographic image was or how represetative, but we do know it was an actual event. And of course as the numbr of image expands in an archive we have an increasingly better chance of assessing real trends. Graphic images are different. They are creations not reality. They may are may not reflect reality. Sometimes depending on the skill of the illustrators, we sees what we all want to be rather than relaity itself. While it may not be reality, knowing what people want to be provides intereting insights that we do not see in actual photographic images. We often see in these images what parents, often mothers, want to be which is a part of understanding fashion trends, family dynamics, and childhood as well as school trends. American school images for many years included flat caps, corduroy knickers,and knee socks. The dominant school image we see in Russia is the first day wnen boys and girls begin school. The Russians stage an inportant ceremony ob First Day. Here we see girls wearsing plain dark dress, often blue, fancy white pinafores, and white knee socks. he boys are commonly depicted in short pants and long stocking, often with one stocking somewhat fallen down, almost always only one. We see that in countless Russian school ilustrations. These of course are not the onlyschool illutrations, but they are alarge part of it.

Individual Schools

We hope to add information about individual Russian schools here. At this time we have very little information. Hopefully our Russian readers will provide us some information about their schools. This is a valuable section in our effort to better understand Russian education.

Educational Philopsophy

An important topic which neededs to be addressed is eduactional philiosphy. We have not yet begun to look at the topic in detail, but have some thoughts on Soviet efforts to identify and train talented children, often at a very young age.

Careful, clicking on these will exit you from the Boys' Historical Clothing web site, but several are highly recommended

  • Apertures Press New Zealand e-Books: Appertures Press has published three different EBooks about New Zealnd schools.
  • School Uniform Web Site: Informative review of British school uniforms with some excellent photographs
  • British Preparatory Schools: A photographic book depicting life at British preparatory schools during the 1980s. Most of the schools are English or Scottish, but schools in Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Ulster are also included. The pictures show the uniforms worn at many different schools.
  • British Prep School eBooks: Apperture Press has published six eBooks about different vaspects of British public schools. Volume I is a general assessnent. The other volumes deal with more specufuc aspects of the schools ahd school life.
  • Information: Information about school uniforms in America