Inspired by Take Back Halloween’s Baba Yaga page, I’ve decided to make a Baba Yaga costume to greet trick-or-treaters in this Halloween. (Yes, I am multi-costuming this year :-). My first step was to find out more about Baba Yaga. I had some idea of who she was–a Russian witch who lived in a house with chicken legs–but I thought I would see if she had any distinctive characteristics or props that I might replicate.
The bad news is that Baba Yaga is generally described and depicted as an old Russian peasant woman. Which lead to my first question: what are the main characteristics of Russian peasant dress? The good news is that the Internet largely exists to answer these questions for the costumer.
Below is a picture of a Russian woman’s costume from 19th century Moscow. I’m not looking to be authentic, but I do want my costume to say “Russian” to the on-lookers.
The peasant costume of a Russian woman appears to consist of a blouse, sarafan (a jumper-like dress), skirt, and a headscarf or tiara-like headress.
Peasant blouse: I have a peasant blouse-style dress so I’m going to use that as my top and underskirt. However, if you don’t have a peasant blouse, they are readily available these days so shop around, either on-line or at a used clothing store. You may even be able to get one with some embroidery on the arms and/or neck which will look even more Russian.
Sarafan: The sarafan is a jumper or pinafore like dress worn over the blouse. In summer time, the sarafan is worn on its own as a summer dress. This is the item of clothing that had me the most worried. Was I going to have to sew this, I wondered? But after reading Roman K.’s description of a sarafan as essentially an A-line skirt with straps (on the blog Folk Costume and Embroidery), I realized that I had the perfect solution. I already had an old Indian-style gypsy skirt with a bad waistband. All I had to do was add two straps and possibly some trim and voila!–a sarafan.
Skirt: I already had a full skirt from another costume. However, if you don’t, full peasant (broomstick-style, no pun intended) skirts are very much in fashion these days and relatively easy to obtain. Don’t worry if it doesn’t match. The more the pieces conflict, the more peasant-y you will appear.
Headscarf: I opted to go with a headscarf since that’s usually what Baba Yaga is portrayed as wearing. I have a Turkish print scarf in my stash, but if you don’t, opt for something with flowers (ideally big cabbage patch roses) on it or go with a solid color.
In addition to the basic elements listed above, I wanted to add a few of my own touches:
Shawl: I have a flowered, fringed hip scarf that a friend made me to throw over my shoulders. Baba Yaga is sometimes shown wearing a short, loose jacket so if you have one of those, you can use that.
Skull necklace: Taking a tip from the Take Back Halloween website, I picked up a garland of skulls which should make a nice necklace. However, if you have skull or skeleton jewelry of any kind, now is definitely the time to bring it out.
Matchbox Baba Yaga hut posted on Craftster in 2012 by cackle.
Chicken-footed hut: I applaud the idea of using chicken-footed socks for the Baba Yaga costume. However, I didn’t want to go that route myself. Picked up a small wooden birdhouse (strangely appropriate) which I plan to paint and add chicken feet to in order to create a prop house that I can carry around in my skull planter. Not sure if I’m going to be able to get this done by Halloween.
Skull-decorated planter: I have one of those plastic skull bowls on a pedestal which I thought would do for Baba Yaga’s mortar. No, it’s not big enough to ride in.
I’ve opted not to wear a wig. Although Baba Yaga is generally depicted as an old woman, there are stories in which she appears as three sisters–young, middle aged, and old. This is would also make a fun family or group costuming option.