You can find shops of old things and even entire markets of different vintage stuff in many cities in Europe. Dishes, Christmas decorations, trinkets for the house and a lot for “female happiness”. A pile of brooches and earrings, glasses and hats, belts and bags, leather gloves and even shoes, and more ‒ clothes. Dresses, skirts, lace blouses, checkered jackets, coats. All this can be 20, 30, sometimes 50 years old. These things belonged to the mothers or even the grandmothers of those fashionistas, who now willingly delve in these heaps, and then season their modern images with vintage finds.
We have few such stores and those existing ones are carrying goods from the same place, from Europe. We do not have our own reserves. Because our mothers had nothing that would be worth keeping for decades and would attract the attention of modern fashionistas or collectors. If suddenly beautiful things happened on their way, they were worn for years, worn out to holes, and then they were altered, processed into something “new”, and this new thing was also worn out to holes. There were no chances to live to our days in a more or less acceptable condition.
The wardrobe of a typical Soviet woman of the late Soviet era was a hellish mixture of worn out shoes, worn out skirts of stupid length “neither here nor there” and handmade sweaters of unknown origin yarn with uncertain color. If you managed to grab a “brand” turtleneck somehow, this already raised your wardrobe to an incomparable height. In summer, instead of sweaters, there were blouses, but any imported T-shirts of wild synthetics with any printed pictures and any inscriptions in a foreign language could easily kick all blouses out! It was considered valuable, the most fashionable and cool that it was obviously impossible to sew with one’s own hands, to coin from old rags and enthusiasm. All that modern fittings was on ‒ all these buttons, buckles, zippers. Synthetic poison-acid leggings were better than natural wool pants because pants could be theoretically sewn by Granny Galya on the knee, but the leggings had to be “found” and they could cost a lot of money.
There is no point in talking about accessories, bags, belts, silk scarves and similar pleasures. One black bag was enough. However, there was still a white bag, for summer ‒ that’s all, you are the queen of style. The bag should fit the shoes, and the shoes are black in winter and white in summer, is it clear? And it is a real happiness if there are at least some shoes. On the verge of a Soviet woman’s dream, there were goals: boots that do not get wet, and alive stockings. Any color, because there was no other than body color. In order to get a trendy black color, desperate women mixed smelly aniline dyes with water in their basins at home and washed body tights there. After that, they mercilessly shed on their legs, and worse, on lingerie. With the lingerie, by the way, things were the same as with everything else, that is, very bad. If you believe modern glossy magazines, the quality and regularity of sex essentially depends on the beauty of women’s lingerie, then in Soviet reality there should be no sex at all.
The classic of the European wardrobe ‒ a little black dress ‒ did not come to the Soviet women. Instead, we had our own genre: a single dress. Sometimes it could be black. It depends on how lucky you are. And just like a little black dress, a single dress was put on everywhere and at any festive or official occasion. However, a little black dress could be put on at every opportunity, because it was always appropriate. A single dress was worn everywhere because there was simply no other.
Magazines willingly distributed tips on “How to diversify wardrobe”. In the world of their fantasies, one and the same dress could be worn endlessly, on Monday you could pin a brooch to it, on Tuesday to attach a lace collar, on Wednesday to think up some other trick, and so on until Friday. According to the magazine, the people around had sincerely believed that there were seven different dresses as if they were blind. To add different shoes to the dress, various jackets or vests, were not usually suggested, because it was impossible to assume that Soviet women had several pairs of shoes, a lot of jackets and vests for one season, even for those masters of socialist realism, that is, conscious lies and varnishing of reality. As for the fact whether it was hygienic to wear the same dress for several days on end, the Soviet people did not pay attention to such trifles. It was considered normal for girls to go to school in the same woollen dress all week long. No matter was it dirty or not, that didn’t bother anyone; it was already dirty-brown from the very beginning.
Sometime in the mid-80s, a delegation of French schoolchildren arrived at our school in exchange. They came on the beautiful Intourist buses, were sitting with us in class and were hanging out at breaks for several days. After they had attended our classroom lesson and left, our teacher made a touching statement: “Just look how unhappy these children are! How they are poorly dressed”. We had to make incredible efforts in order not to burst out laughing in her face.
They were dressed fabulously! Incredible! Luxuriously! They all had real brand jeans! Many had not even one pair, but several different ones! They had sneakers! They had such wonderful sweaters made of thick knitwear (we hadn’t known the word “sweatshirt” then). Well, that is, you understand, in fact, they were dressed just like teenagers all over the world, simply and comfortably. No wonder. But to us, their clothes seemed absolute, transcendental luxury. Every hairpin in the hair of those French girls, every white shoelace in their sneakers was the subject of unfulfilled desires. After all, one could not get anywhere even such elementary things.
And our mothers, young, beautiful women, were torn between the desire to get something worthwhile for us, and the desire to have more or less decent look themselves. Mission was impossible, they usually suffered a crushing defeat on both fronts. If we add to this the harsh Soviet hairdressers, these factories for deliberate hair loss, lack of simple cosmetic care and general exhaustion from endless lines and strict life, it’s not surprising that women were considered and looked old and cracked by 40 years. And all these ridiculous advice “What cannot be worn after 40”, which for some reason still circulate in space, go from there.
We laugh at the outdated tastes of our women, the inability to combine things, play with accessories. And where this ability should come from if it was transmitted from grandmother to mother, from mother to daughter, and our grandmothers had nothing to play with and what to combine. Of course, against the background of other crimes of the Soviet government, the lack of clothes and shoes, the total shortage of the simplest means of hygiene and cosmetics ‒ these are such trifles! Just think, there were not enough tights! The country lacked freedom, human rights, free speech and free thoughts, opportunities for development and self-realization! Is it possible to compare this with some tights?!
In fact, it is! Because the lack of tights is also one of the manifestations of the lack of freedom. When there is no free sale of tights in the country, it is a guarantee that there is no freedom there for a long time. When women in the country are denied the right to dress according to their taste, this is a sign that, in general, things are bad with human rights. When all the women on the streets are dressed almost the same ‒ this is a sign of a police state. And the fact that the whole generations of Soviet women led lives and did not know what a wonderful taste they could have ‒ this is a crime.
Maya Tulchynska, fashion blogger