Fashion in the Soviet Union during the 1960s and 1970s was influenced by the socio-political environment of the time.
In an era characterized by political rigidity, the women of the Soviet Union found a remarkable way to infuse style with a distinct charm, creating a unique and surprisingly beautiful fashion.
In previous generations, fashion had not been a focal point for Soviet ideologists and was often viewed as an “anomaly in socialism” by these circles.
However, at the turn of the Second World War, during the Khrushchev Thaw, authorities became aware of fashion as a ‘natural force’ in society; particularly as more women became interested in dressing well.
Therefore, fashion became an avenue through which the Soviet government would, primarily, seek to rebuild a war-torn nation and revitalize the efforts of promoting pro-Party sentiment.
The symbol of the post-War “New Soviet People” would thus emerge, wherein trendy youths would help construct the modernist image of a new communist utopia and subsequently help fight counterculture movements like the stilyagi from the pop-cultural front.
From the early 1960s to the late 1980s, the USSR would develop the largest system of fashion design and marketing in the Socialist World, with 30 regional fashion houses employing over 2802 designers.
The state’s new approach towards fashion was carefully calculated. The promotion of exorbitant fashion that occurred in the Stalin era, and the contrast to actual availability, had led to public resentment.
In the Khrushchev era, the state-owned clothing industry was still unable to produce mass amounts of fashionable clothing.
However, simplified fashions, rejection of excess, and high prices gave the industry a measure of control over consumer demand.
By the early 1960s, the middle class’ standards of appearance had risen such that Moscow street fashion was nearly indistinguishable from that in a Western city.
At the same time, counterculture fashion movements grew among elite youths. The stilyagi, or “style hunters”, originally based their look on media portrayals of Western fashions.
Men wore items such as Hawaiian shirts, sunglasses, narrow slacks, and pointed shoes, while female stilyagi wore miniskirts and maintained a childlike demeanor.
These styles were labeled as “excessive”, and Komsomol groups would sometimes raid stilyagi hideouts and cut off their hair and pant legs.
By the end of the 1960s, Soviet fashion institutions, like the centralized fashion bureau ODMO (All-Union House of Prototypes), were embracing increasingly novel Western trends.
At the same time, there was still a need to establish distinctively Soviet fashions. “Space fashion,” for example, fits directly into state ideology by glorifying a triumph of Soviet science.
The reality, however, differed from ODMO’s designs. Soviet industry could not keep up with the demand for fashionable goods, and supply in USSR shops was worse than in other socialist countries.
The middle class increasingly idealized Western fashion, as it was visible but not easily obtainable. What emerged from this time was a testament to the ingenuity of Soviet citizens.
With access to Western luxuries limited, especially in fashion, Soviet women turned to their own creativity. Sewing machines hummed with life, transforming scarce resources into surprisingly beautiful garments.
(Photo credit: Natalia Zventova via VK / Pinterest / Wikimedia Commons).