The Russian telnyashka (Russian: тельня́шка; IPA: [tʲɪlʲˈnʲaʂkə]) is a white undershirt horizontally striped in various colors. and which may be sleeveless or not. It is an iconic uniform garment worn by the Russian Navy, the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV) and the Russian Naval Infantry (marines). Dating back to the 19th century Tsarist Navy it was subsequently worn by the Soviet successors of these troops.
The official uniforms of Naval, Airborne and Naval Infantry personnel do not include conventional shirts. Open fronted jacket of various designs make the distinctively striped telnyashka a conspicuous part of the clothing of these different branches of the Russian armed forces.
Telnyashkas are also available to civilian customers and may come in a variety of knittings. Single thread knitting is the standard military-issue variant, but double and quadruple knittings for increased warmth can be produced. A quadruple telnyashka is enough to keep a person warm with nothing else on even at 5°C, as it was originally developed for military divers to be worn under a dry suit.
The Russian telnyashkas originated with distinctive striped blouses worn by the merchants and fishermen of Brittany, who adopted this style to distinguish them from other sea-going nationalities. The fashion was later adopted and popularized by the French Navy and other navies of the pre-Dreadnought era. Sailors of the modern French Navy still wear these garments in certain orders of dress (see Marinière).
The Imperial Russian Navy adopted the blue and white striped telnyashka blouse during the 19th century. The tradition of Russian/Soviet ground troops wearing a naval uniform comes from Soviet Navy sailors who fought as shore units during World War II. It is exemplified by the famed Soviet sniper Vassili Zaitsev. Zaitsev was a petty officer in the Soviet Pacific Fleet who volunteered for army duty, but, despite transfer, he refused to give up his Navy telnyashka because of the pride it engendered.
Vasily Margelov, who was later to modernise the Soviet airborne forces, had previously served with a Naval Infantry unit in World War II, and procured telnyashkas for the VDV as a mark of their elite status.
In other countries
Bulgarian 68-th Special Forces Brigade have telnyashka as part of their uniform.
Telnyashkas with stripes of certain dark color are traditionally the marks of particular troops, for example:
- Black - Naval Infantry
- Dark blue - Navy
- Light blue - VDV paratroopers, GRU Spetsnaz (posing as VDV)
- Light green - Border Troops
- Maroon - OMON
- Red - Internal Troops of the MVD
Soviet 1936 silent propaganda film We Come from Kronshtadt started aestheticization of telnyaskha with the scene of Bolshevik sailor emerging from the sea in his torn undershirt after he survived execution by drowning.
Telnyashka has become such evident symbol of masculinity in Soviet culture, that it is sported by dozens of popular non-military characters of the cinema and even children' cartoons, notably The Wolf in the Nu, pogodi and Matroskin the Cat in the Troe iz Prostokvashino.
There is a popular saying that ironically presents telnyashkas as an attribute of "real men": "We are few in number, but we wear telnyashkas!" (Russian: "Нас мало, но мы в тельняшках!", Nas malo, no my v telnyashkakh!).
- Henrik Holt. "Mens Wear: Russian Style". ArticleSnatch.
- Zaitsev, Vassili. "Notes of a Russian Sniper." Trans. David Givens, Peter Kornakov, Konstantin Kornakov. Ed. Neil Orkent. Los Angeles: 2826 Press Inc., 2003.
- Presidential Decree N 921 of 28.08.2006 (http://lawrussia.ru/texts/legal_739/doc739a408x944.htm)