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The Failed Soviet Rival to the Flapper Dress

March 15, 2019 in History

By Natasha Frost

In post-revolutionary Russia, as the country’s thinkers attempted to work out a new way of life for citizens of the Soviet Union, a small number of artists grappled with a different problem: the clothes of the future.

Soviet clothing, they reasoned, should be “rational,” practical and comfortable and a place where art and politics came together on the body. This meant garments that were blocky and structured, with an androgynous quality not unlike the flapper dresses making headway over in the Capitalist west. They were known as ‘prozodezhda,” a portmanteau of the Russian words for industrial (proizvodstvennaya) and clothing (odezhda), and intended to serve as the post-revolutionary uniform for decades to come.

Artists in the Soviet Union looked towards Western fashion and saw unthinking fussiness and waste, with “luxury and privilege sewed into [the] seams” of garments, as one put it. In the Soviet Union, they declared, an entire repudiation of the fashion industry was necessary, from the shop window to the mannequin through to bespoke craft production.

Prozodezhda,” a portmanteau of the Russian words for industrial (proizvodstvennaya) and clothing (odezhda), was intended to serve as the rational post-revolutionary uniform for decades to come.

View the 6 images of this gallery on the original article

The enemy, after all, was profit. “The question of a rational dress could not be left to a fashion magazine which dictates to the masses the will of the capitalist manufacturers,” writer Sergei Tret’iakov explained in the radical Constructivist magazine Lef.

Instead, they felt, clothing should be utilitarian and produced on grand industrial scale, with no emphasis on profiteering or market trends. Aesthetically, the focus was on action, with a modernist bent that prioritized movement and purity of form. And so Constructivist artists, who were often referred to as “artist-engineers,” set to solving these problems—though their abstract thinking usually led to work that was functionally impossible to replicate and altogether too conceptual to be of much practical use.

Prozodezhda began in the theater. Inspired by the overalls worn by factory workers in the late 19th century, in 1921, artists Liubov’ Popova and Varvara Stepanova began designing costumes with colorful geometric patterns that echoed the actors’ movements across the stage—running, crouching, jumping. They would printed in red and black onto cheap, mass-produced cotton. These decorations were not merely ornamental, Stepanova wrote in Lef, but instead communicated something important about the body and its ability …read more


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