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FashionEast: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    The idea of fashion under socialism conjures up images of babushka headscarves and black market blue jeans. And yet, as Djurdja Bartlett shows in this groundbreaking book, the socialist East had an intimate relationship with fashion. Official antagonism--which cast fashion as frivolous and anti-revolutionary--eventually gave way to grudging acceptance and creeping consumerism. Bartlett outlines three phases in socialist fashion, and illustrates them with abundant images from magazines of the period: postrevolutionary utopian dress, official state-sanctioned socialist fashion, and samizdat-style everyday fashion. Utopian dress, ranging from the geometric abstraction of the constructivists under Bolshevism in the Soviet Union to the no-frills desexualized uniform of a factory worker in Czechoslovakia, reflected the revolutionary urge for a clean break with the past. The highly centralized socialist fashion system, part of Stalinist industrialization, offered official prototypes of high fashion that were never available in stores--mythical images of smart and luxurious dresses that symbolized the economic progress that socialist regimes dreamed of. Everyday fashion, starting in the 1950s, was an unofficial, do-it-yourself enterprise: Western fashions obtained through semiclandestine channels or sewn at home. The state tolerated the demand for Western fashion, promising the burgeoning middle class consumer goods in exchange for political loyalty. Bartlett traces the progress of socialist fashion in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany, Poland, and Yugoslavia, drawing on state-sponsored socialist women's magazines, etiquette books, socialist manuals on dress, private archives, and her own interviews with designers, fashion editors, and other key figures. Fashion, she suggests, with all its ephemerality and dynamism, was in perpetual conflict with the socialist regimes' fear of change and need for control. It was, to echo the famous first sentence from the Communist Manifesto, the spectre that haunted socialism until the end.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28916-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. 1-12)

    This book focuses on three main socialist sartorial narratives—utopian dress, socialist fashion, and everyday fashion—that unfolded over the course of seventy-two years in the Soviet Union, and forty-two years in Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Yugoslavia. The symbolic production of the first of these sartorial narratives, that of utopian dress, was informed by the initial Bolshevik rejection of the past and the search for a totally new type of clothing in the 1920s. Later, the dream of creating a utopia in East European countries following the Communist takeover also led to an insistence on an austere and...

  5. CHAPTER 1 ART VERSUS TECHNOLOGY Early Soviet Dilemmas on Dress
    (pp. 13-62)

    Throughout the 1920s, the Soviet urban population was surrounded by cubism, futurism, Bauhaus, jazz, commerce, films, and advertising. These radical expressions of Western modernity took place against the background of sweeping change brought about by the Bolshevik revolution. The modernist issues that engaged the West, from a crisis in the representation of woman to a crisis in the relationship between subject and object, were even more radicalized in the highly ideological, yet in many ways modernist, environment of the Soviet 1920s. The Soviet relationship with fashion embodied all the contradictions of the postrevolutionary utopian fervor. While it opposed fashion as...

  6. CHAPTER 2 BETWEEN SCIENCE AND MYTH The Birth of Socialist Fashion
    (pp. 63-98)

    Before introducing the First Five-Year Plan in 1929, the Stalinist regime abolished the NEP and its aesthetics as well as all the various avant-garde proposals and artistic experiments in dress. Although Stalinism rejected the concepts of gender that had developed during the 1920s, it used some aspects of them, including the glamour and femininity of the NEP, as raw materials for constructing its ideal of the female and imposing it on women. It rejected the angular constructivist body and reclaimed the curved female body, bringing about a return to conventional femininity. In a massive media campaign, the Bolshevik superwoman was...

  7. CHAPTER 3 EAST EUROPE From Utopia to Myth
    (pp. 99-136)

    In the late 1940s, the new East European Communist regimes repeated the Bolshevik utopian experiment of deconstructing established dress codes and imposing a new style of dress on the socialist woman. In comparison with their 1920s Bolshevik predecessor, the East European utopias were antimodernist projects. Emerging under Soviet political influence, their main role was to create an empty space for the advancing Stalinist mythical culture. Following the Soviet model, the exquisite sartorial prototype was introduced at a time when domestic industries were struggling to provide new clothes for the ordinary woman. Socialist dress contests and participation in international fairs provided...

    (pp. 137-180)

    Consolidating his rule in 1956, Khrushchev abandoned Stalinist isolationism and opened the Soviet Union toward the West. This ideological turn introduced the culturally more liberal “thaw” period which brought about a change in official attitudes toward fashion.¹ From then on, the official fashion practices in the Soviet Union and East European countries ran parallel to one another. As the Cold War race in technology was supplemented by a competition in everyday lifestyles, the socialist regimes embarked on a fashion war with their Western counterparts. Since the Soviet Union had rejected fashion for decades, and the East European socialist regimes had...

    (pp. 181-212)

    The emergence of new socialist middle classes helped to reconcile socialism to fashion. The new middle classes owed their appearance in the public arena to their tacit deals with the socialist regimes. They were expected to follow official rules on dress practices and social rituals. While these deals gave the middle classes visibility, they also provided them with a new socialist official taste, which combined the socialist values of modesty and moderation with the petit bourgeois values of prettiness and conventional elegance. Because the middle classes needed civilian clothes, women’s magazines and etiquette books channeled the new policies on fashion...

    (pp. 213-242)

    At the end of the 1960s, the central fashion institutions began to adopt the latest Western fashions, using them to create aesthetically updated dresses. However, these dresses were only displayed at socialist fashion congresses or as illustrations in fashion magazines. In parallel, the ethnic motif continued to be used in socialist fashion as an imposed ideological quotation. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the central fashion institutions were officially encouraged to promote change, they still controlled and tamed Western fashion trends within their highly bureaucratized structure. Embedded in this rigid hierarchical system, the state fashion designers and magazine editors mediated...

    (pp. 243-272)

    In everyday life, women in socialist countries found alternative ways to acquire pretty and fashionable dresses, whether they made their own clothes, purchased them on the black market or at private fashion salons, acquired them through their networks of connections, or had them made by seamstresses. Starting in the 1960s, these unofficial channels gained in importance, with the discreet approval of the regimes. Dress and beautifying practices developed within the second economies, which offered superior goods and services compared to those provided by the state. Mediated through such informal channels, everyday dress practices indigenized and adjusted Western fashion trends to...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 273-302)
    (pp. 303-318)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 319-326)