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How fashionistas dressed in the 1950s and 1960s, says Daria Serezhkina, a researcher at the Museum of Fashion Museum and Exhibition Center.

Fashion is cyclical, researchers say, much of what we will wear tomorrow was already invented in the twentieth century. In this case, inspiration can be drawn not only from glossy magazines, but also from museum halls. The collection of the Fashion Museum contains many exhibits that can give food for thought to both a designer and just a lover of interesting images. Consider the springiest of them – things that could be seen from March to May on Moscow streets in the middle of the last century.

Straight silhouette and small print

In the early 1950s, the USSR was experiencing the consequences of the Great Patriotic War. Light industry, which recently worked only for the needs of the front, has not yet fully recovered. As after the war, many women adapted military uniforms for everyday life, altering and transforming greatcoats and jackets. This technique became popular among the fashion designers of the All-Union House of Fashion Models, who came up with new seasonal collections. In the first half of the 1950s, women’s coats were often found, similar to military men, but adjusted for the female figure – shortened, with a narrowed waist, darts for the chest. In general, women’s fashion of that time practically did not differ from the trends of the previous decade with its characteristic strict straight silhouettes.

Soviet fashion lagged significantly behind European fashion. The Western world in 1947 conquered a new style with a narrow waist and a full skirt. Christian Dior’s invention made ladies look like an hourglass. Residents of the USSR at that time wore clothes that hid their figure. The image of a modest woman was promoted in society, it was indecent to stand out. Therefore, in the spring, on the streets of the capital, you could see Muscovites in coats with wide shoulders, woolen or bouclé (fabric with characteristic knots on the surface, reminiscent of astrakhan fur), black, gray or beige.

From under the coat peeped out chintz, crepe de chine or marquise dresses of all kinds of colors, often in small flowers, peas or a cage. If a Muscovite was in a hurry to work, then she was most likely wearing a two-piece suit: a jacket with three-quarter sleeves and a straight or a-line skirt, most often woolen or moire. The image was complemented by gloves and a scarf around the neck. On the head – a bright felt hat, on the legs – shoes resembling boots, with ties and low heels. Stilettos will only come into fashion in the late 1960s, and before that, a high heel was considered something indecent. As well as trousers, by the way. The heroine of Svetlana Svetlichnaya in the “Diamond Hand” was unambiguously perceived by the Soviet audience as a relaxed and windy lady thanks to her daring trouser suit. At the same time, the heroine of Nina Grebeshkova – an exemplary Soviet woman – appears on the screen only in a dress or a suit with a skirt.

Overseas trends

Soviet fashion gradually began to change during the thaw, that is, from 1953. The Iron Curtain opened a little – for example, in 1957 the World Festival of Youth and Students was held in Moscow – international relations were actively developing. Athletes and actors began to go on tour and bring fashion magazines and clothes with them. World trends gradually seeped into the USSR. But since this practically did not affect the mass production of clothes, Soviet women began to sew or alter outfits themselves according to Western patterns.

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Also during these years there was an active cultural exchange with the countries of people’s democracy: Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary. The shoes there were especially popular – boots or patent leather pumps. Wealthy ladies could afford to bring coats. The brown double-breasted gabardine coat, which is now kept in the Museum of Fashion, was produced in the 1960s in the GDR and brought to the USSR, probably by the wife of a diplomat. Interestingly, the straight silhouette of the exhibit does not differ much from that adopted in the 1950s in the Soviet Union.

Two dresses from the 1950s, which are kept in the museum’s funds, are also characteristic of that time: one of a mixed fabric in a black and white check, the other of crepe de Chine in a milky shade. Both dresses are below the knee, sleeve length is three quarters or one half, the waist is not expressed: in a white dress it is slightly emphasized with an elastic band, and in a checkered one it is indicated by a cut.

The main thing is the details

A hat was considered an obligatory attribute of the spring look of the 1950s. Headdresses came in a variety of shapes, colors and color combinations. For example, the museum has a red brimmed felt hat decorated with dark blue tasselled braid. Round hats were also popular – like this burgundy one with felt flowers. When it got warmer, women of fashion put on straw caps. The collection of the museum has such a black cap. Previously, it belonged to the Leningrad theater director Olga Mikhaltseva-Soboleva. The cap was donated to the museum by her heirs. In the 1960s, pill hats, berets and turbans became the most fashionable accessories.

You could decorate yourself by tying a bright satin or silk scarf on your head or neck (in the 1960s – from nylon). There were all sorts of colors, as well as prints – peas, checks, flowers. Traditional ornaments of different nationalities of the USSR were also popular. Soviet paraphernalia was also used – for example, as on this silk kerchief. In addition to floral motifs, the center depicts the main symbol of VDNKh – “Worker and Collective Farm Woman”. This headscarf was worn by Maria Kovrigina, who served as the USSR Minister of Health in the 1950s. Today, the scarf is kept in the Fashion Museum along with a leopard-print handbag, also owned by Kovrigina. This bag, made in the 1960s, follows the shape of the then popular string bag. It is made of nylon fabric. Leather in those days were already considered unfashionable, and Muscovites gladly chose leatherette and other artificial materials.

Synthetics and space

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the textile revolution took place around the world. Then polyester, lycra, acrylic were invented, nylon and nylon began to be actively used in light industry. They were easier to wash, they hardly wrinkled, and some did not allow moisture to pass through at all. New production required serious financial costs, so at that time synthetic fabrics were more expensive than natural ones.

In the 1960s, on the spring streets of Moscow, one could often see bolognese raincoats, which in 1962 began to be produced at the Naro-Fominsk Silk Factory. They were expensive – in the range from 60 to 80 rubles, which was half the average salary at that time. Initially, such light and practical raincoats were worn by Italian workers in the city of Bologna (hence the name). But Muscovites gladly began to wear them as fashionable outerwear in rainy weather.

The advantage of synthetics is the ability to dye the fabric in any color. So the dark utilitarian raincoats were replaced by bright ones. Such as, for example, this yellow nylon cloak with a black cage. It included a scarf that could be worn in the rain. This cloak and headscarf were made in Latvia in the 1960s and brought to Moscow, possibly by an actress. Things from the Baltics were very much appreciated by Soviet ladies. It can be assumed that the previous owner of this cloak did not go unnoticed.

At this time, space was actively explored, and all new materials, some of which were later used in light industry, were initially produced for astronauts. And after the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, there was a real boom in fashion for clothes and accessories related to the space theme. These are round hats, reminiscent of spacesuit helmets, and dresses made of “space” fabric. This white flared dress with a pattern of hearts is made from the fabric that was used to make space suits. According to those who wore clothes made of such fabric, it was very hot in it – but fashion requires sacrifice.

Despite the inconvenience, in the 1960s Muscovites happily wore bright coats and stocking boots made of artificial leather, nylon blouses and tight-fitting turtleneck sweaters with a high neckline. Long nylon gloves finished the look.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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