The Hermitage costume collection was mostly formed after the revolution. Many garments brought from nationalized Imperial palaces and aristocratic mansions were acquired by the History and Everyday Life Department of the Russian Museum. After a number of moves, the collection finally became part of the Hermitage Department of the History of Russian Culture in 1941. It contains garments belonging to several generations of the Russian Imperial family, as well as other Russian aristocratic houses.
The Hermitage collection makes it possible to follow the development of fashions in close connection with the changing artistic styles, from the middle of the 18th to the beginning of the 20th century. The remarkable workmanship of the artists who designed and made the costumes (weavers, tailors, embroiderers, lace-makers) can be admired at its best in the costly outfits worn by the aristocrats.
Starting from the age of Peter the Great, Russian urban and secular dress changed along the lines dictated by European fashion. Among the 18th-century Rococo garments one should note the costume worn by Emperor Peter II (1730).
Also of interest are women's costumes of the second half of the 18th century, originally from the wardrobe of Catherine the Great. These are the so-called "uniform" dresses, worn by the Empress during parades and festivals of Guard regiments. They were made of fabrics corresponding to the colour of officers' uniforms, and decorated with formal chevrons and buttons. The "uniform" dresses are an original combination of predominant French fashions (open dress, farthingale, sometimes a "Watteau pleat") with elements of old Russian dress (a long folded sleeve with an open armhole, and a sarafan-like decoration).
Men's outfits of the late 18th century include children's clothes worn by the Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich (1784) and his adult dress of the 1790s. A remarkable example of women's fashions of the time is the ceremonial gown belonging to Empress Maria Fedorovna, decorated with beautiful satin stitching with the use of coloured mirror glass.
Many of the women's costumes of the late 18th - early 19th century following the Neoclassical and Empire fashions come from the ancient Russian aristocratic family of Yussupov. Among them is an exquisite pale chiffon train with unique straw and artificial flower decoration, as well as mesh ball gowns embroidered with polished steel plaquettes. A splendid example of an Empire outfit is Empress Maria Fedorovna's ceremonial gown of light blue watered silk with gorgeous gold embroidery (mid-1820s).
The best part of the collection of Historicism Age dresses are the gowns designed by the fashion-setting Paris firm of Charles Worth in the late 19th century. Many of those were made for Empress Maria Fedorovna, who bought her gowns from Worth's establishment for thirty years.
The Hermitage collection has an extensive array of Modernist outfits
of the turn of the 20th century. These were the years when the fame of
Worth's fashion house was shared by a lot of other great designers. Along
with specimens of French designer clothes made by the establishments of
Doucet, Doulais, the Soeurs Callot and P. Poiret, the Hermitage also owns
works of Russian designers popular at the time. Among them is a unique
collection of dresses designed by Natalia Lamanova, whose art had a great
influence on the Russian fashion school. Many of her creations were intended
for Empress Alexandra Fedorovna. The workshop founded in St Petersburg
by Olga Bulbenkova was famous for its ceremonial court outfits. These
costumes, made in conformity with the strict regulations issued in 1834
and arranging the cut, colour and decoration of dresses according to the
positions their owners held at court, these gowns were lavishly decorated
with gold and silver embroidery and amazed the contemporaries with their