Russian Nobility: Prince Obolensky

Figure 1.--Many of Prince Obolensky's cousins and friends had their hair cut at a younger age. Here in a 1894 photograph the Prince still wears his middy blouse with a skirt rather than knee pants, unlike his cousin of about the same age who has had his hair cut short and wears knees pants. Note the much older cousin who still wears a sailor suit like the younger boys.

Russian-born Prince Obolensky provides a great deal of information about boy's hair and clothing styles in Cazrist Russia. His mother appears to have been very influenced by European fashions, especially long hair for younger boys. This caused him considerable conflict with his cousins who generally had short hair before he and a playmate began to lop off his locks with a pair of sissors.


Prince Serge Obolensky was born a Prince in Czarist Russia in St. Petersburg during 1890. His linage dates back to Igor--Grand Duke of Kiev, 911 AD. He was not a member of the Rommanov family. The title of Prince came into being about the reign of Ivan the Terrible. His father was a General in the Army. His mother's family were not members of the nobility, but were one of the wealthiest in Russia and occupied many position of power.

A postcard dealer in New Zealand reports recently purchasing a few cards that were sent from a Princess Maria Obolensky to a young lady in Christchurch, New Zealand. "They are dated 1910 and 1911. There is a picture of the Princess on one of the cards. Others show Russian costumes, and a very interesting card of a photograph taken of Tolstoy and his family outside what I assume to be a summer house. I have just read your site, about Prince Obolensky and the hair cutting! Would you be able to advise me if Maria was in fact his mother. She seems to be in her 40s or early 50s on the postcard." Unfortunalely HBRC did not record Prince Obolensky's parents' names when we reviewed his autobiography.

Mother's Fashion Tastes

Obolensky states in his autobiography that he was in the complete charge of his mother until he was 6 years old. She dressed him in skirts and kept his hair in long shoulder length hair until he was 5 years old. His cosins of the same age had closely cropped hair as was the fashion for boys. Like most affluent Russian boys, he often wore a sailor suit. Quite old boys were often dressed un sailor suits. The Prince, however, wore his middy blouse with skirts rather than knee pants like his cousins of the same age.


His boy cousins liked to pull his long hair and his girl cousins liked to brush and curl it. As you can tell from the attached image, he was a lovely child.


When he was young they traveled abroad to Paris and stayed in the St. Sebastian Hotel. While there his 13 year old cousin, Grand Duchness Helen, decided to wash and curl his hair. She ordered the Spanish maid to bring her a basin of rain water. The maid misunderstood and instead brought her a basin of sugar water. When she put it on his hair it became thick and gummy before her astonished eyes. He said of all the trials he had to endure because of his hair this was the final indignations and he cried.

Figure 2.--The Prince writes, "In 1894 mother made me wear horrible curls." The photograph was taken about a year before he and a playmate cut his curls. Note the distintive horizontal stripes on the dicky for his middy blouse. Sailor suits were very popular for young Russian boys.

Playmate and Trim

When he was 5, a playmate and he found a pair of scissors and his friend proceeded to cut off his curls on one side of his head. He marched off to his Mother's room with his shorn curls in one hand and the scissors in the other. After she recovered from the shock she had his hair cut and got rid of all of his skirted outfits. He describes how by age 5 that he hated his curls.


Children at the turn of the century had little say in how they were dressed. They simply wore what their mother bought for them. That is not to say that boys did not have definite ideas as early as 4-5 years old as to what they wanted to wear and how they wanted their hair cut. Apparently the Prince's cousins had their hair cut earlier. It was mother who decided such matters as appears to be the case for the Prince.

Sailor Suits

Russian boys at quite an early age wore sailor suits. Younger boys wore them with skirts, but most boys by 4 or 5 wore knee pats with their sailor suits, usually with long black stockings. Older boys wore long pants. Quite old Russia boys wore sailor suits, much older boys than in most other European countries. The sailor suits generally had the orizonatal stripe dickies, similar to those worn by French boys. This of course reflected the uniforms of both country's navies.

Russian Hair Styles

The hair fashion in Russia was similar to that in Germany. Many 'mothers cropped their sons hair at about the age to start school. Some fond mothers, like the Prince's mother, refused to cut their hair. The style of long hair appeaars to be that favored by the French--long flowing locks rather than the ringle curls favored by American and British mothers.

Adult Life

Serge Obolensky played many roles in life. He was a solder in two wars and in the Russian revolution. He was a Lt. Colonel in the U. S. Paratroopers and made his first 5 jumps in 1943 and the age of 53. At he time his autobiography was written, 1958, he was Vice Chairman of the Board of a Hotel Chain headquartered in New York.


Obolensky, Serge. One Man in His Time: The Memoirs of Serge Obolensky (New York. McDowell, Obolensky, Inc. 1958). 433 pp. with index.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: August 31, 1998
Last updated: November 25, 2001