Facing the Monument: Facing the Future

11 March 2015 | By Bazarov

'Bolt' and the problem of Soviet ballet, 1931

16 February 2015 | By Ivan Sollertinsky

Some Thoughts on the Ballets Russes Abroad

16 December 2014 | By Isabel Stockholm

Last Orders for the Grand Duchy

11 December 2014 | By Bazarov

Rozanova and Malevich – Racing Towards Abstraction?

15 October 2014 | By Mollie Arbuthnot

Walter Spies, Moscow 1895 – Indonesia 1942

13 August 2014 | By Bazarov

The Genius of Erte

28 April 2014 | By Rachel Hajek

Solidarity, people!

24 March 2014 | By Renée-Claude Landry

Guest Blog | Pulsating Crystals

17 February 2014 | By Robert Chandler Chandler

Guest Blog | Stenbergs' Faces

03 February 2014 | By Paul Rennie

Shostakovich: A Russian Composer?

05 December 2013 | By Bazarov

Travelling with intourist

31 July 2013 | By Richard Barling

Dressing the Soviet Woman Part 3: "Are Russians Women?" Vogue on Soviet Vanity - by Waleria Dorogova

18 May 2016 | By

The mystery of what used to be worn in the young USSR frequented the minds of fashion journalism throughout the Soviet era. How do Soviet women dress, where do they shop? Condé Nast journalists in the interwar period were particularly keen to answer those burning questions of the Western fashion community, curious to find out whether Communism had succeeded in its objective to destroy "the wretched psychosis of fashion" – an odious reminder of court culture in the beaten tsarist régime.

In the middle of the 1930s the Soviet woman seized to be the unfashionable khaki-garbed creature, as she became known to the world in the aftermath of the Revolution. In a discussion on the rebirth of elegance in Soviet Russia, titled sarcastically "Are Russians Women?", American Vogue reviewed recent developments in their April issue of 1934. The article observed the changing attitude towards elegance and fashionable dress in Russia, where it had become apparent in recent years that "a woman's desire to dress up is stronger than all the engines of propaganda controlled by the largest nation in the world". A strong desire though, was certainly not enough to be well-dressed in the USSR. In a garment market characterized by government control, textile shortage and restrictions written by official fashion bureaus, the main problem was that there was simply nothing to buy. This substantial issue, addressed in the Vogue article "Russia opens the door", was found to have changed in 1936, when British Vogue sent a reporter to Leningrad, who was confronted with a new wondrous phenomenon: the Univermag. "Univermag, doushenka, that means universal magazine or store (...) the newest shops where you can see all the fashions and buy any clothes you want". What sounds like the basic concept of a regular department store was in fact the very first opportunity given to Soviet women to shop freely without a worker's card or communist party ticket, while the clothes offered did not satisfy Western customers and surely did not resemble the ravishing Paris-inspired dresses illustrated in the newly emerging Soviet fashion magazines.

"Fashions, how can you speak about fashions here?" cried an American woman indignantly, seeing Russia for the first time. "Why, I never saw such shabby, poorly dressed creatures in all my life. I haven't seen a single dress that I would care to buy or borrow or put on for ten minutes, not even for a 'hard times' party. Fashions indeed! What eyes have you got?"

"Russian eyes," answered the Vogue reporter firmly, "real Russian eyes that have seen the peasants and working women's dresses before the Revolution and after, and two years ago and again this year. And now definitely - oh, yes, very definitely, there are fashions in U.S.S.R. Poor, shabby, in your eyes, perhaps, but grand to the Russian youth, something lovely and much to be desired."

From a Russian perspective, the government's goal to transform the women of Moscow into counter-bourgeois, unalluring and fashion-unconscious comrades, had not succeeded.