An ushanka (Russian: уша́нка, lit. "ear hat"), also called a shapka-ushanka (шапка-ушанка) or trooper hat, is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or tied at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold. The thick dense fur also offers some protection against blunt impacts to the head. While no match for a helmet, it offers protection far superior to that of a typical beanie cap should the wearer fall and hit his or her head against ice or packed snow.
The word ushanka derives from ushi (у́ши), "ears" in Russian.
Uses through history
Hats with flexible earflaps made out of fur have been known in Russia, Germany and Scandinavia for centuries. Such hats also were used by ancient Scythians and various nomads of the Central Asia, as well as by the peoples living in the Arctic region.
However, the standard modern-type ushanka with a perfectly round hat crown was developed and became massively used only in the 20th century, in Russia.
During the Russian Civil War, when Aleksandr Kolchak ruled in Siberia, c. 1918 he introduced a winter uniform hat, commonly referred to as kolchakovka, which was basically an ushanka with an extra eye-flap. However, Kolchak and the White Army lost the Russian Civil War, and initially the ushanka did not find much usage in the newly founded Soviet Union.
During the Winter War many Soviet troops died of cold due to organizational failures and inadequate equipment. Reforms were undertaken and the Red Army introduced a new winter uniform, which included ushankas to replace budenovkas. German soldiers started to use this and other gear unofficially, though copies were introduced rather late in the war.
A similar type of headwear is worn as part of China's People's Liberation Army's winter uniform. Seen in an iconic image of Lei Feng, this type of hat is often called by Chinese "the Lei Feng hat" (雷锋帽, Lei Feng mao).
Ushankas are often made from cheap sheepskin (tsigeyka, ru:Цигейка), rabbit, or muskrat fur. Artificial fur hats are also manufactured and are sometimes referred to as "fish fur" since the material has no relation to any real fur. The simplest "fish fur" of ushankas was made of wool pile with cloth substrate and cloth top, with the exception of flaps, in which pile was exposed. Mink fur ushankas are widely used in the Arctic region of Russia, keeping the ears and chin safe even in "deep frosts" (−40 to −70 degrees C).
Identified with Soviet rule and issued in all Warsaw Pact armies, it became a part of winter uniform for military and police in many other western countries as well, such as Canada and the United States. Gray (military, American police), green (for camouflage) and blue (police, United States Post Office, navy) versions are being used. It has stayed as a part of the German police uniform in winter after German reunification, as was used by East German Authorities. In the Finnish Defence Forces, a gray hat is used with M62 uniform and a green one of different design is a part of M91 and M05 winter dress. Armoured troops have a black hat (M92) and general officers may wear a white M39 hat. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use a "regulation hat" (between an ushanka and an aviator hat), made of muskrat fur. This replaced the former Canadian military fur wedge cap.
In 2013, the Russian army announced that the ushanka was being dropped in favor of a new headgear design.
Though ushankas are a distinctly Russian hat the wearing of fur caps of similar design was relatively common throughout China, North Korea, and Eastern Europe. The ushanka became a symbol and media icon of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. Photographs of U.S. President Gerald Ford wearing the cap during a 1974 visit to the Soviet Union were seen as a possible sign of détente. In 1991, with the fall of the Soviet Union came the first wave of commercially imported Russian winter hats into the United States. W. C. Fields also wears one in the famous short film The Fatal Glass of Beer.
A similar hat is a trapper hat, which "are a sort of hybrid between the aviator cap and the ushanka — they combine the style of the former with the furriness or the latter." They are considered more casual than the military-derived ushanka.
- Mathias Färber: Zweiter Weltkrieg, Unipart-Verlag, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-8122-3001-1, S. 556
- 雷锋帽 ("Lei Feng hat")
- Zaloga, Steven J. Red Army of the Great Patriotic War 1941–5. Osprey Publishing, 1989. ISBN 0-85045-939-7. p. 43.
- "Russian Army Says Goodbye to Earflaps."
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