An ushanka (Russian: уша́нка; [ʊˈʂankə], lit. "ear hat"), also called a ushanka-hat (Russian: ша́пка-уша́нка; [ˈʂapkə ʊˈʂankə]), or informally a "Russian hat" is a Russian fur cap with ear flaps that can be tied up to the crown of the cap, or fastened at the chin to protect the ears, jaw and lower chin from the cold. The dense fur also offers some protection against blunt impacts to the head.
The word ushanka derives from ushi (у́ши), "ears" in Russian.
Ushankas are often made from expensive sheepskin (tsigeyka, ru:Цигейка), rabbit or muskrat fur. Artificial fur hats are also manufactured and are referred to as "fish fur" since the material is not from any real animal. The simplest "fish fur" of ushankas was made of wool pile with cloth substrate and cloth top, with the exception of the flaps, which had the pile exposed. Mink fur ushankas are widely used in the Arctic regions of Russia, protecting the ears and chin of the wearer even from "deep frost", which is around −70 to −40 °C (−94 to −40 °F).
Hats with fur earflaps have been known in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Germany for centuries. The standard modern ushanka with a perfectly round crown was developed in the 20th century. During the Russian Civil War, the ruler of Siberia, Aleksandr Kolchak, introduced a winter uniform hat, commonly referred to as a kolchakovka, c. 1918. It was similar to the ushanka. In 1933, W. C. Fields wore a kolchakovka in the short film The Fatal Glass of Beer. However, Kolchak and the White Army lost the war, and their headgear was not adopted in the new Soviet Union.
Red Army soldiers instead wore the budenovka, which was made of felt. It was designed to resemble historical Bogatyr helmets, and did not provide much protection from the cold.
During the Winter War against Finland, organizational failures and inadequate equipment left many Soviet troops vulnerable to cold, and many died of exposure. The Finnish army had much better equipment including an ushanka-style fur hat, the turkislakki M36, introduced in 1936. In 1939, shortly before the Winter War, the slightly improved turkislakki M39 was introduced, and is still in use today. After the winter war, the Red Army received completely redesigned winter uniforms. Budenovkas were finally replaced with ushankas based on the Finnish example. Officers were issued fur ushankas; other ranks received ushankas made with plush or "fish fur". When they experienced the harsh Russian winter, for example during the Battle of Moscow, German soldiers started to wear ushankas and other Soviet-type winter gear, as their uniforms did not provide adequate protection.
The ushanka became a symbol and media icon of the Soviet Union and later 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.
Identified with Soviet rule and issued in all Warsaw Pact armies, the ushanka has become a part of the winter uniform for military and police forces in Canada, the United States, and other Western countries with a cold winter. Gray (military, American police), green (for camouflage), blue (police, United States Post Office) and black (navy) versions are in current usage. In 2013, however, the Russian army announced that the ushanka was being replaced by new headgear.
The ushanka was used by the East German authorities before German reunification, and remained part of the German police uniform in winter afterwards. 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), while generals 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 Astrakhan (hat).
A similar type of headgear is worn in China's People's Liberation Army's winter uniform. Featured 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).
It is claimed that British wartime airmen visiting the Kola Inlet to help to protect the Arctic convoys quickly started to wear ushankas because their own uniform hats were not warm enough, but "kept the ear flaps tied up to the crown as any Russian would, because it was considered unmanly to wear them down."
A variant of the ushanka is popular in Norway, especially in the north. It is infamous for its name, "bjørnefitte" (bear's vagina), which is considered vulgar in most parts of the country.
Trapper hats are "a sort of hybrid between the aviator cap and the ushanka—they combine the style of the former with the furriness of the latter". They are considered more casual than the military-derived ushanka.
In popular culture
In the American adult animated sitcom South Park, Kyle Broflofski wears a green ushanka. In the Seinfeld episode The Chicken Roaster (1996) the plot evolves around an 8.000 US$ ushanka.