Subzero Style & Siberia
I’ve been thinking a lot about how our style is impacted by the weather. After all, our clothes serve a practical function in addition to their emotional and psychological ones- to help us regulate our body temperature. In winter, staving off the cold is without question my first priority. No matter how much I try to express my style, I always end up wearing a long black parka (that is warm!), making me the identical twin of approximately three-quarters of the other people walking around at any point in time. I inevitably feel defeated by the loss of individuality and self-expression that thus accompanies winter weather.
Which is why I did some research…on Siberia. I wanted to know how the people living in some of the coldest places on earth dress to survive frigid weather. What I found delighted me.
The Nenets are an indigenous people who live in north western Siberia. Here, in one of the harshest climates on earth, this tribe has survived for thousands of years, working mainly as reindeer herders. For this reason, the reindeer is central to the Nenets existence—they eat and trade reindeer meat, and wear and make tents from reindeer skins. Of the approximately 45,000 remaining Nenets people, 10,000-15,000 are nomadic, overseeing an annual migration of 300,000-600,000 reindeer from northern lands in the summer to southern ones in the winter.
With winter temperatures ranging from 10° F to -50° F, when it comes to dress, staying warm for people who essentially live outdoors is critical to the Nenets survival. Women wear Yagushka coats, made using the skin of 8 reindeer, with a design that buttons in the front. The women’s coat has fur on both in inside and the outside. Men wear Malitsa coats, made from 4 reindeer skins, and cut like a poncho. The reindeer fur is put on the inside of the coat, so as to be closest to the skin, and the leather is used on the outside. In extreme cold, the men wear an additional coat, this one with the leather on the inside and the fur outside. Women still make these coats by hand using traditional techniques. Once the coat has started to show signs of wear (usually after a few winters), it is replaced with a new coat. The old one is then used in milder weather.
What is most wonderful about these coats is the unexpected attention to detail. Tassels, embroidery, bright colors, belts, and beading add so much personality, color, and beauty to each coat.