Gymnasterka (also spelled Gymnastiorka; Russian: гимнастёрка, IPA: [gʲɪmnɐˈsʲtʲɵrkə]) was a Russian military shirt-tunic comprising a pullover style garment with a standing collar having double button closure. In addition two upper chest pockets, with or without flaps may have been worn. It had provision for shoulder boards (epaulettes or shoulder straps) and sometimes reinforced elbows and cuffs. The M35 version had a stand and fall collar which was replaced with the standing collar in the M43 version. The Soviet Army M35 version had hidden buttons.
The gymnasterka was originally introduced into the Tsarist army about 1870 for wear by regiments stationed in Turkestan during the hot summers. It took the form of a loose fitting white linen "shirt-tunic" and included the coloured shoulder-boards of the green tunic worn during the remainder of the year. The gymnasterka was taken into use by all branches of the Imperial Army at the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Originally intended for working dress during peace-time and patterned on the traditional Russian peasant smock, the gymnasterka was subsequently adopted for ordinary duties and active service wear. It was worn as such by non-commissioned ranks in summer during the 1890s and early 1900s. The officers' equivalent was a white double breasted tunic or kitel. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 the white gymnasterka with its red or blue shoulder-boards proved too conspicuous against modern weaponry and the garments were often dyed various shades of khaki. The smartness and comfort of the white gymnasterka enabled it to survive for a few more years of peacetime wear until a light khaki version was adopted in 1907-09 and worn during World War I.
After the Russian Revolution of 1917, a new version of the gymnasterka with a stand-and-fall collar was issued to the Bolshevik forces, with three razgovory straps sown across the chest in branch colours. During the Russian Civil War, both the counter-revolutionary White Army and the Bolshevik Red Army wore gymnasterkas, White Army troops were issued with new black gynasterkas of the original Tsarist pattern, some of them wore old khaki-green or white ones, but all of them had shoulder-boards. The Bolshevik Red Army wore both original Tsarist pattern shirt-tunics and ones of a new model, with or without the coloured stripes, but some added with two breast pockets. The wide variety of uniforms worn by both sides during the Civil War arose from supply and production difficulties in the chaotic conditions of the time.
In 1924 the razgovory straps were abolished, and in 1935 the gymnasterka was modified to accommodate the reintroduction of personal ranks in the Red Army. The M35 version was slightly modified in 1 August 1941 after the experience of the Winter War, replacing the colorful rank collar tabs, with duller and subdued ones. In 1943 the traditional Tsarist version with stand collar and shoulder-boards was reintroduced, replacing the M35 gymnasterka. The M43 remained in service until the gymnasterka was finally abolished in 1969.
The gymnasterka was also adopted by several Soviet satellite states such as Bulgaria, Mongolia, Albania, and North Korea. Enlisted soldiers in the North Korean Army continues to wear the gymnasterka as part of their field uniform.
The Tsarist police also wore the white gymnasterka as a summer garment until 1917. Their successors, the Soviet Militsiya, continued to wear this traditional garment until the 1950s.