Fashionistas behind the Iron Curtain: how women in the USSR managed to dress stylishly

We recall how Soviet women living behind the “Iron Curtain” managed to follow the fashion and dress beautifully during the shortage.

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

Fashion is always a search. The search for yourself, your style, and then no less complicated things that would reflect your whole essence. However, it is one thing to express yourself in times of fast fashion, when new collections appear in stores almost every week, and quite another in an era of total scarcity. Although, perhaps, it was this race for “treasures” that made fashion in the USSR not just a beautiful picture, but a whole ideology. After all, Russian women were ready to go through the thorns to meet the conditional dream dress. But how did they manage it?

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

Women in the USSR, 1959

The very first and quite logical solution that immediately suggests itself is a trip to the store. However, do not forget that we are talking about fashion-hungry times. What does it mean? And the fact that the stores at that time presented the same type of clothing models of dark or dull shades. All of them were of a simple style without a single hint of individuality.

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

So Soviet women were preparing for the wedding, 1961

The quality of things was lame, because production had not yet been established after the devastating events of the recent past. And the quantity was also far from necessary. Of course, there were shops that could boast of “overseas” outfits. But it should be mentioned that they were available only to the upper strata of society. And it is quite difficult to call them fashionable in the world sense, because by the time they appeared in these stores in the West, they had not been quoted for a long time.

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

Shop window in Irkutsk, 1967

It was these problems of Soviet fashionistas that the so-called fartsoviki volunteered to solve — people who brought things from abroad (or had any connections with foreigners inside the country) and resold them to the USSR at exorbitant prices. In fairness, it should be said that their assortment was not limited to clothes, but also included appliances, books and even food. Do you remember the famous scene from the movie “The most charming and attractive”, in which the main character added “jeans, a fur coat and boots that she tried on at first” to her wardrobe? That’s about how it looked. Although, you must agree, there is some romance in this. Or are we just calming ourselves down in these difficult times? .

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

A shot from the movie “The most charming and attractive”

But as already mentioned, fashionable things straight from abroad were far from affordable for everyone. And so enterprising Soviet fashionistas turned to seamstresses for help. What else could they do? Moreover, this method was relatively inexpensive. It seemed that everything around contributed to the flourishing of individual tailoring: the opening of cutting and sewing circles everywhere, the release of sewing tutorials by the magazine “Worker”, and ready-made patterns by model houses. Sometimes ideas were taken from the pages of foreign magazines, if there was access to them.

And there were plenty of dressmakers working at home. By the way, they were not held in high esteem by the authorities, because their activities allegedly hindered the development of light industry. But who cared if they helped ordinary girls and women feel a little happier? What can I say, among the clients of such “private owners” there were even stars of Soviet cinema and famous Soviet “dudes”.

Модницы за железным занавесом: как женщинам в СССР удавалось стильно одеваться

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Fabrics were also in short supply, so everything that could be obtained was used: from baby diapers to women’s knitted parachute underpants. And when the Vichy cage came into fashion, the girls attacked their father’s wardrobes. The target, of course, was their shirts.

As for accessories, plastic bags were very popular at one time. Yes, yes, you got it right! Packages with a bright pattern can be safely called an it-bag of that time. They were worn with special trepidation and cherished. These are the little joys in an era of scarcity.

Personal stylist and author of articles about fashion.

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