If you were to ask your parents about what the Soviet Union is associated with them, they are very likely to name ushanka hat among the first things that come to mind. And that is for a reason - while not being the first or the only country to use this headgear, the Soviet Union definitely played a big role in making it popular.
History of Ushanka hat
After the Second World War all branches of Soviet military forces, as well as the majority of civilians would wear some sort of ushanka hat. Each branch would usually have a specific variation - ground troops had grey ushankas from really bad material, and their colleagues from the navy had similar hats but in black. Officers had a way more privileged natural fur material, again - in two different colors.
The history of the ushanka hat is somewhat unclear. Before the Second World War, it was quite an uncommon type of headgear, though there is some evidence that it was used in the army in the 1930s. The regular winter hat at the time was the famous budenovka hat - well known as a symbol of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
After the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1940, the Soviets picked up quite a few ideas from the Finns - including the famous ushanka hat. In the following years, it became a very popular type of headgear and the majority of the Red Army personnel were equipped with it by the end of 1942. All in all, if you are really interested in the history of the ushanka hat I can recommend the following video. This is where most of my knowledge comes from and you can probably spot a couple of mistakes as I haven't rewatched it for some time.
Ushanka hat in the army
As was mentioned earlier, Soviet Army (Red Army at the time) started to receive the ushanka hat in mass during the Second World War. Since then it has become the standard headgear for most soldiers and officers. Until the collapse of the Soviet Union and some time after that, the ushanka hat design has seen little to no change with each next design iteration.
The regular soldier grade ushanka has seen three main changes since the end of the second world war. Firstly it has changed the design a little. The hats used during WW2 were quickly phased out by the end of the 1950s and received a more appealing look. The WW2-style ushanka hats were still used in prison camps until much later.
The next iteration was done sometime between 1967 and 1970. The design of the hat was changed very slightly by increasing the front side. However, it changed the overall appearance of the headgear and it became very distinctive.
The very last change before the Soviet Union collapse was finally done for practical reasons. Small buttons were added to the ushanka hats under the flaps. These buttons were supposed to be used to attach OKZK face cover - in case of use of the NBC weapons.
Ushanka hat in Afghanistan
This hat was used extensively in Afghanistan for a simple reason - it was available. Unlike any other more comfortable headgear, the ushanka hat was issued to every soldier without fail.
If a soldier was lucky enough to serve as POG - away from all the raids, ambushes, and column supports, he was generally in similar conditions as his colleague serving in the mainland Soviet Union. This means that he had a chance to keep his hat clean and shape it to his taste.
The situation would change dramatically if the hat was actually to be used on operations as main headgear. Not all soldiers were lucky to get a wool hat from the Gorka suit set, even though it was supposed to be a standard issue item. Civvy hats were not all that common either.
So just like in WW2 ushanka was once again the important wintertime equipment. There is not much to say about the - it was just used as intended.
How to make it squared
Now the main question for the reenactors and collectors is how to make the hat look good, the original photos good. Because the hat looks really bad if worn from stock. If you just put it on as it is - you will share your look with some farby US films from the 1980s.
First and foremost you have to hide the treads - more known as "antennas" in the army. Only soldiers in the very early days of their army service had these treads exposed. The easiest way would be just to hide them under the flaps but that won't hold. sewing them to the inner side of the flaps would loose the functionality. So here is the correct way - make a hole in the very center on the top of the hat. Then pull the threads inside and tie them together. This way it will both hold the flaps and you will be able to release them if necessary.
If you need your hat to fulfill the Afghan standards for "combat" use - that is pretty much it. I would not advise to do anything on top of that. However, if you want the hat to have more distinctive "peacetime" look than stay tuned.
After doing the first step, the flaps will stay together but the hat still wouldn't hold its army form. By this I mean a perfect square. Well, as perfect as it can be - it is unlikely that you will make a Kaaba out of it.
However, you should try. Because to have a perfect square on top of your head is one of two main ways to shape your ushanka. Second is, you guessed it - to have a perfect circle. Given that the ushanka is not designed to be either of these shapes it is quite a challenge.
So, to give it either of the shapes you will need to sew all the flaps. The front one is already done for you, but you will need to add some additional seams. The hat has to become one solid object with nothing sticking out.
Then you will spend a good deal with the iron. Choose your shape and act accordingly. To make a circular hat you should take a pot and to make a cube you should use a pack of books. Make sure the hat is sitting tight on them, but try not to stretch it - keeping ushanka 3 sizes smaller than your hat is essential for the iconic look.
After that's done, you will need to iron the hat. It will take longer than 10 minutes, so be patient. Spray some water on the hat as you are working on it. Repeat the process to get the desired shape. Overall, there are some other things that soldiers used to do with their hats, like sinking it in diesel or applying shoe polish, but we will not get into them as this will most likely end in the destruction of the headwear. And these are not produced anymore!