Melnyk M. Fashion in costumes of Soviet perestroika cinema // Nefiltravanae Kino: Proceeding of the film studies conference (Minsk, March 13, 2020). – Minsk: 2020. – P. 28-31.
Abstract. Today, the fashion of the perestroika period is again in trend. Collections and museum exhibitions are dedicated to it. The time distance allows us to look at the culture of perestroika more objectively. In the wake of the search for truth, the costume in the perestroika movie reflected the fashion of the time without censorship and embellishment, so films of that time are an important source of scientific research. This article offers an analysis of the costumes of the most popular and stylistically interesting films, including “Courier”, “ASSA”, “Eagle”, “Crash – Cop’s Daughter”, “Criminal talent” and “Interdevochka”. As a result of the analysis, the directions in the perestroika fashion are highlighted.
Keywords: perestroika fashion, soviet fashion, soviet cinema, cinema costume, fashion history, 1980s fashion.
The fashion of the Soviet perestroika is again relevant: collections of this style are shown on catwalks, costume exhibitions are held in museums. Perestroika, which officially began in 1985, refuted the official collections of Soviet state model houses, and the cinema of that time reflected not only how people dressed, but also how they perceived clothes, how they created their own fashionable images.
Among the scientific research of the declared topic are works by Jukka Gronow and Sergey Zhuravlev (Fashion Meets Socialism: Fashion Industry in the Soviet Union after the Second World War) , Karina Karaeva, dedicated to visual features of sots art in interaction with the visual language of Soviet cinema  and Ludmila Yatina, who studied the reflection of the lifestyle of young people іmage in Russian cinema . In 2019 the book “Ruptures and Continuities in Soviet/Russian Cinema: Styles, characters and genres before and after the collapse of the USSR” was published .
Perestroika abolished the main function of Soviet cinema: to serve the current ideological order of the state. This led to the loss of landmarks and even the loss of the “hero” but allowed filmmakers to show life without any embellishment. That is why perestroika cinema is stylistically very interesting and shows a truthful fixation of that time fashion.
Cinema, which was created in the harsh conditions of the social consequences of the Soviet Union, did not aim to educate the younger generation but reproduced the surrounding reality of temptations, problems, and difficulties, a crisis of values, lack of orientations and priorities.
At a time when old norms were being destroyed, young people sought to form their own contradictory views. The voice of the younger generation sounded louder, and films about youth problems became harbingers of future changes, emphasizing not just the revolt of generations, but the deep gap between parents and children.
Karen Shakhnazarov’s film “Courier” (1986) became a kind of Manifesto for the youth of that time. The film showed close and understandable characters. From the point of the costume view, this is a kind of mirror of the late USSR. The film begins with a scene of divorce, immediately after which the new wife of the main character’s father appears in a fashionable white suit with wide shoulders and a bright print, dressed over a red shirt – this is the new phase of the characters ‘ life. The main female character of the film is remembered in the fashionable and scarce “Adidas” tracksuit, which was a real marker of “coolness” in the years when not only branded, but just any things of foreign production were an indicator of the special status. Her image as a Professor’s daughter embodies the privilege of the top of old Soviet society. “The lower classes” lived differently: “I have a dream to buy a coat” – says one of the characters at the end of the film, summing up the sad reality of perestroika and voicing the dreams of many teenagers of that time.
In Sergey Solovyov’s film “ASSA” (1987), ethics and aesthetics are even tougher. This film, about the relationship between the girlfriend of a crime boss and a musician she meets by chance, became a symbol of Gorbachev’s perestroika. The characters are dressed in baggy trench coats, voluminous pantsuits, shapeless jackets, and shirts layered one on top of the other. Today, these are already familiar images, but in 1987 this style of a young girl’s clothing was interpreted as a revolt against fashion: against bright colors, mini-skirts, plastic jewelry, high-combed hair, and permanent curls. This is a revolt not only against the old Soviet Union but also against the depraved social system as a whole. The film created an anti-fashion, embodied in things without gender, age, seasons and trends, beyond the bounds of decency and good taste. A kind of anthem of this riot, as well as the entire era of perestroika, was the song of the band “Kino”, which sounds at the end of the film – “Changes are required by our hearts”.
The frontman of “Kino” Viktor Tsoi was an idol of young people; his image was imitated, so when, after “ASSA”, Rashid Nugmanov’s “Needle” (1988) appeared on the screens, this picture became a cult one. This is one of the first Soviet films that truly spoke about the young generation of the USSR in its language. Tsoi did not design his character’s style specifically, but only dressed as he did off-screen. The singer’s trademark was total black: a loose leather jacket or bomber jacket, a t-shirt and trousers rolled up from the bottom – all this is a kind of anti-fashion that periodically becomes mainstream.
Anti-fashion, but more provocative images are also shown in the film “Crash – Cop’s Daughter” (1989) by Mikhail Tumanishvili. Already at the beginning of the film, the father calls his fashionably dressed daughter a garden Scarecrow, demanding to remove her metal accessories. The daughter, like the rest of her company, has no authority and openly despises her elders, who before perestroika lied and hushed up the lawlessness in the USSR. Her enterprising grandfather getting “deficit” through the Union of war veterans. Crash teases him, challenging: “And can you get me some sneakers?”. The image of the Crash included a leather jacket and ripped jeans combined with high-combed hair and makeup in the style of “vamp” were very popular.
Not much rebellious, but revealing were the films about prostitutes – absolutely new to the Soviet screen heroines: “Criminal talent” (1988) and “Interdevochka” (1989).
“Criminal talent” by Sergei Ashkenazi depicts a cheater who, after coming to study in a big city, instead of training at a cloth factory, is engaged in prostitution and theft. A beautiful and fashionably dressed blonde cynically criticizes the injustice of the existing system, in which to buy boots, you need to starve, and “Chanel sprayed, Dior dressed” sounds as absurd as to introduce yourself as Claudia Cardinale.
Even more revealing of the rotten Soviet system is a parallel fashion story: the sixteen-year-old daughter of an investigator demands money from her father for expensive jeans from “Berezka”, which can only be bought with “connections” and paying double price, and for which an honest person does not have enough salary.
Pyotr Todorovskiy’s “Interdevochka” (Intergirl) is one of the most popular films of the perestroika period and the leader of the Soviet film distribution in 1989. The film has received numerous awards and prizes. The main character of the film together with her “colleagues” demonstrates the latest trends of Western glamour: “broad-shouldered” jackets, decorated by rhinestones, oversized jackets, silk blouses, mini-skirts, leggings, “boiled” jeans, massive gilded jewelry, lace gloves, fishnet tights. Clothing in this cinema not only performs a decorative role but also clearly indicates the social status of the characters. This is emphasized by the parting gift for the mother of the main character: Arctic Fox fur coat, which costs “a lot of money”. Mother, touched and frightened by this luxury, can’t believe it and say: “You are crazy, you are just crazy”.
A different view of fashion is demonstrated by Vasili Pichul’s film “Little Vera” (1988). The style of that time is shown through the prism of “social bottom”: the main character spends most of the screen time in a simple t-shirt and a black mini-skirt but highlighted combed hair, large plastic earrings and bracelets made the image iconic. The “Little Vera” was perceived abroad as a symbol of perestroika and glasnost.
The analysis of the costumes in most popular and style-revealing films of the perestroika period shows that at the peak of the outdated Soviet art modeling, which was accompanied by a “gray” commercial assortment, a total deficit and speculation, there were different directions of fashion alternatives: rebellious fashion of subcultures, little groups or individuals, compromise “poor” adaptation of fashion, corresponding to the economic crisis, and glamorous “Western fashion”, desired by the majority, but available to the elite only. All three directions were positively perceived by young people and sharply condemned by those who lived in the system of outdated Soviet values. Since perestroika fashion entered global trends in the early 2020s, Soviet films of that time can serve as a source not only of fashion history studying but also as a source of inspiration for modern and future fashion designers.
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