View Photos of Valenki
Valenki have served to protect feet from the bitter cold of Russian winters for centuries. They are a part of Russian traditional dress that transcends class – Russian leaders, soldiers, and peasants have all worn valenki. For awhile, valenki fell out of fashion and were associated with rural life in Russia or purely utilitarian wear for the police or the military. Today valenki have been making a comeback as a stylish element to today's Russian wintertime wear and have even appeared on runways. Both souvenir valenki and designer valenki can be purchased by travelers to Russia or online.
The first valenki to be developed were expensive, and so only the wealthy – tsars and the nobility – could afford to own them. However, the wearing of valenki trickled down to the lower classes, who might have shared a pair of valenki among family members or purchased them in lieu of more expensive footwear for the winter. The sturdy nature of valenki meant they could even be passed down through generations.
Shopping for ValenkiThe most common valenki are made of gray wool felt. However, some valenki come in various colors and are embroidered with designs or made with fur trim. Valenki can either be tall, reaching to just below the knee, or short, like a slipper. Galoshes that fit over valenki can be purchased separately, though some valenki come with rubber soles, or the galoshes are integrated right into the boot.
If you're searching for a pair of valenki for yourself or for a gift, consider their intended use. Valenki can be used outdoors for playing or walking in the snow (though for everyday wear in cities, rubber soles or galoshes are a must), or they can serve as cozy slippers for indoor use. Valenki are great for children, too! All valenki, by their nature, will have to be broken in before they form to the foot, but those who love valenki swear by them.
The finest valenki are made by hand, and these will wear the best on the foot. Created by a process during which the wool is worn, molded, moistened and dried, these also command the highest prices, especially if additional decorative elements have been added. Standard-issue valenki that have been factory produced will be coarser than handmade valenki, but they will also be cheaper.
Valenki should be purchased a little large so that they can be worn with heavy socks. If they get wet, like anything made of wool, they will shrink.
Where to Buy Valenki
Valenki can be purchased at souvenir markets, like Izmaylovo Market in Moscow. A valenki museum in Moscow also sells valenki. Some boutiques may sell designer valenki. Online shops selling valenki offer a great variety of these Russian felt boots. Valenki make a great Christmas gift from Russia, too!