Most of us want to be stylish and follow fashion, but what if it is forbidden? What if you can be humiliated in the local newspaper just because you are wearing fitted pants or gaudy shirts? Nowadays this situation is unimaginable. However, from the 1940s to 1960s, it was quite usual in the Soviet Union.
It is 1945. The Great Patriotic War is finally over. The soldiers are returning home and have seen the world. They are bringing to the USSR new, Western culture, such as music, fashion, and magazines. From this moment, even though everything from the West is forbidden, Soviet young people begin to follow Western fashion. The government even devised a motto: “Today you listen to jazz, tomorrow you will betray your country”.
The followers of Western culture were called Stilyagi and can be translated as style hunters. Young people defied censorship and continued to wear what they wanted, for example, flashy ties, shoes with thick soles, and zoot suits. Young women put on a lot of make-up, their favorite being red lipstick, which was unacceptable in the USSR society. The main source of inspiration was American culture. What teenagers wore in the US, Russian teens wore too (the same about music and movies).
However, it was extremely difficult for young people to keep up with fashion. Post-war times were not easy, there were not a lot of clothes (especially fashionable ones) in the USSR. Nevertheless, Russian teenagers were highly creative and tried to sew something trendy from fabric that they found in the home. Rich young people bought the clothes that foreigners sold in the Soviet Union. Moreover, Stilyagi transferred their favourite Western music into X-ray’s plastic sheets because there were not many western musical records in the USSR.
The government of course did not accept that they were passionate about fashion and creativity, as any manifestations of individualism were not acceptable in communist ideology. Stilyagi were humiliated by mass media and sometimes people cut stilyagi’s hair and tore their clothes. But nothing could stop fashion lovers so eventually the government’s attempts to suppress them declined gradually in the 1960s.
Their mannerisms also made them stand out. They walked freely with their heads up and chewed gum like James Cagney in his movies. (Sometimes they chewed a piece of paraffin wax because it was not so easy to afford gum.) In the evening they walked in high streets that they called “broadway” (after the Broadway of New York) to show their clothes.
Stilyagi were inspired by American cinema and boys did hairstyles like Johnny Weismuller in “Tarzan”. Brigitte Bardot in the “Babette Goes to War” inspired girls’ hairstyles. After watching the movie young women had a hairstyle that was called “napped Babette”. Actually, quite a lot of movies influenced Stilyagi’s style; for instance, “The Roaring Twenties”, “Woman of My Dreams”, “Tarzan” and “Let George Do It!”
The movie “Sun Valley Serenade” had a huge influence on Stilyagi’s music taste. The lyrics from the movie’s song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became an anthem of stilyagi:
“Pardon me, boy
Is that the Chattanooga Choo-Choo
Boy, you can give me a shine”
The train from the movie could take teenagers to America, at least mentally.
But most of all Stilyagi loved jazz music and they did not only listen to jazz but sometimes played it too.
Stilyagi had nicknames that were inspired by American culture. The Russian name Misha could be replaced with the western name Michael, Andrey with Andrew, and Petr with Peter, and so on.
Also, style hunters had their own slang (a lot of words are from the English language) there are some examples:
Джакеток (jacketok) – a jacket
Чувак (вариант от: Человек Уважающий Высокую Американскую Культуру) (Chuvak- someone who respects American culture) – dude
Туса (tusa) – (from English to seat) – party
Олдовый (oldovyy) – old
Дринкать (drinkat’) – to drink
Хэток (khetok) – a hat