Valenki is traditional Russian winter footwear. Made of sheep’s wool, these warm felt boots have been worn by generations of Russians in the winter. Valenki are best suited for dry, brisky cold weather. For centuries they shod the feet of peasants and tsars.
Valenki are often worn with rubber galoshes to protect the felt from wetness and to add extra resistance.
Russian valenki date back to the 18th century when the first pair was produced. Mass production of valenki started in the end of the 19th century when factories were opened.
Valenki were the footwear of choice for many Russians, especially for those in rural areas . In valenki, the Russian army stood its ground to victory over Napoleon in 19 century and Hitler’s forces in the 20 century. Even nowadays Valenki are still part of the winter uniform in some parts of Russia. However, popularity of valenki in the 21 century reaches beyond military and rural style – similar to the uggs, valenki is a footwear that makes a strong statement. The rebel fashionistas wear valenki with trendy garments for a look that stands out from the crowd.
Traditional valenki are black, grey or white. Handmade valenki are reputed to be of the highest quality.
How valenki are made:
Traditionally, the Valenki-maker puts a piece of combed wool on the table, and with additional strands on top creates a template. He doesn’t cut it out, or use scissors, needles or thread, just strand over strand.
In the 20th century, improvement in technology allowed manufacturers improve valenki’s water resistance whilst retaining the advantages of the felt. Modern valenki can have a wedge platform or even heels. Valenki are favoured by many parents: children can be warm while skiing, throwing ice-balls or making snowman, having these Russian boots on.
“Dumb as a valenok” saying
The word valenok is a part of an idiom. If somebody calls you a valenok, don’t be flattered. Despite all the wonderful qualities of this Russian boot, valenok means unsophisticated, dumb person, as the footwear itself seems to be very simple and coarse compared to more elegant shoes.