Fashion Dos and Don’ts in Russia Posted by Maria on Apr 7, 2014 in Culture
Having lived in the US for some time now, I can’t help thinking about certain fashion and grooming conventions that are matter-of-fact in the US but would stand out as bizarre in Russia and vice versa. Some of these will inevitably be subjective, but they are true for most cases I’ve observed. Despite the “do”/”don’t” form, these are not to be taken as recommendations but observations on what conventions exist in Russian society. I realize some of these enforce patriarchy and gender stereotypes, but being aware of these fashion trends is a good starting point for discussion.
Do: Have a Manicure
One thing that caused a lot of discussion after the royal wedding in the UK is Duchess Catherine’s simple manicure. As of mid-2000s, hand care and a manicure (маникюр) were considered good form for most young women in Russia, and lack thereof could make the person a slob in the eyes of others. In fact, one of the first things you would try to do as a teenage girl is grow out and paint your fingernails (ногти). “Stubby,” “unfeminine” fingers are considered unappealing. I have to admit that this trend is letting up, and in Moscow in the latter part of 2000s, short nails and “nude” manicure on women were becoming more common.
Interestingly enough, toenail polish as an indispensable part of a woman’s look is more common in the US than in Russia. It is fairly common to see women in open-toe shoes without nail polish (лак) on.
Don’t: Wear Sneakers with Slacks
Another thing I notice in public outside Russia is people wearing sneakers/tennis shoes/trainers (кроссовки) with slacks when going to work or in a public venue. That would stand out in Russia because sneakers are a relatively recent addition to the Russian wardrobe and are reserved for exercise, yard work, or casual walks. In the Russian fashion book, they are certainly not to be mixed with business attire, slacks, skirts, or dresses.
This, too, is changing, especially in the two “capitals” — Moscow and St. Petersburg. Young people may be seen combining styles, but it is considered a “hipster” thing to do and still stands out in public.
Do: Wear Heels (for the Ladies)
Wearing high heels (каблуки) is much more common in Russia than in Europe and the US in a variety of situations. First, heels aren’t limited to special occasion or office attire. They can be seen in universities, hospitals, on public transit, and on the streets as much as in a club or an office. Moreover, some women will wear heels in the winter, which I’m sure makes walking on ice interesting!
Do: Be Clean-Shaven (for the Gents)
Goatees and all sorts of creative facial hair is not very common among Russian young men (high school and college students and recent graduates). When you do encounter a young man with a goatee, it is almost seen as a fashion statement and a free-spirited thing to do. Stubble (щетина) is frowned upon as a sign of being unkempt. At the same time, older men are more likely to wear a mustache and it’s not considered “creepy” or “gross.” More information on cutting hair and shaving is available in this post.
These are some things that stand out to me as typical for Russia off the top of my head. Of course, fashion is always in flux and perhaps what’s rare now will become common in a few years. I would be interested to hear what stood out to you on your trips to Russia or when interacting with people from Russia. Did your sense of style change after spending some time in Russia?
Build vocabulary, practice pronunciation, and more with Transparent Language Online. Available anytime, anywhere, on any device.
Some ancient history… In 1968 I visited Soviet Russia with a group of American high school students. About half of the girls had straight long hair down to their shoulders or below, which was the style in the West at that time. They got strange looks from people, especially elderly men, some of whom made kissing faces. One even walked up to the tour bus and kissed on the window where a girl was sitting. It was shocking for everybody. But much worse was what happened at night in Moscow. We stayed at the Ukraine Hotel, not a shabby address. Some of the long-haired girls got harassing phone calls from unknown men asking for sex. They were afraid to complain and just hung up the phone.
@mike That’s interesting! I didn’t realize long hair was considered suggestive or anything like that. Could it be that the women were well-groomed and that stood out in comparison to the local women? It makes me think of the time Christian Dior models visited Moscow in the 50s. http://piximus.net/celebrities/christian-dior-in-moscow-1959 They are definitely getting some stares.
We were told that only prostitutes let their hair down in public as opposed to wearing it in a bun or covering it with a платок (which many Americans call a бабушка.) As for the hotel business, I figure there must have been some kind of ring operating out of the hotel, an inside job, because to get to someone’s room you had to know their room number and go through a switchboard. Or maybe our youthful imaginations ran wild!
I traveled to Russia in 2005 on an 8 week study abroad trip with my university. I noticed several things about Russia that were very different from U.S. cultural norms.
Firstly, Russians didn’t seem to get as much exercise (физических упражнений) as Americans try to do, and when they do, they don’t exercise in public. I was a runner back when I traveled to Russia, and I always got wide-eyed stares when I ran on the street (на улыце). One time, some guys in a car even stopped to ask me if I was okay! I think they though I might be running FROM something.
Another thing that is common in the U.S. but was very uncommon in Russia at that time was public tanning. In the U.S., it is not uncommon to visit a park and see women and men sunbathing. But never once did I see such a thing in Russia. I don’t even think there is a Russian verb for tanning! That’s good for Russia though. There won’t be as many skin cancers to treat!
One thing I thought was really cool was that Russians weren’t shy about swimming and splashing in natural waters! I splashed and waded in the river (в реке) Том, and swam (плавала) out at a dacha in a deep, chilly pond with water grasses tickling my feet under the water. It was great fun!
@Sylena Hi Sylena,
Thanks for sharing your experience. I think you are right about exercising outdoors. I would say that exercise in Russia tends to be either a part of life (walking, carrying groceries, climbing stairs out of necessity) or institutionalized (gym, sports club, dance studio, etc.). This is not to say there are no joggers or cross-country skiers, but they are fewer than in the US. For running, some of the biggest obstacles are stray dogs (бродячие собаки) and general lack of infrastructure, such as roads where you are safe from cars and potential assailants.
I’ve seen people go tanning in public parks in Russia, but I have to agree that it is not seen as very classy. (FWIW, to tan is загорать; a tan is загар.) People mostly tan when on vacation (в отпуске), gardening (в саду/на даче), or in a tanning bed (солярий).
Thank you for sharing your experience and come back soon!
One thing that struck me when I visited Volgograd a few years ago was that men did not wear shorts, even when the temperature was 30+ C. So of course I stuck out like a sore thumb.
@Ken Ha, interesting. I would say that people are less likely to wear what is considered beachwear in the city — so, shorts, flipflops, etc.
Women in Russia look like they have stepped out of fashion magazines! They look beautiful! Many Russian woman living in Argentina love the relaxed lifestyle here. They say it is hard work to dress up like that all the time. When we visit Russia, I love to dress up. Great post!
I spent two years in Moscow from 96 to 98, and then again from Nov 2013 to Sep 2015. I noticed that first impressions were more important in Russia than in th US. So women especially would dress up just to go to a store or anywhere really. No pajamas with their hair in a bun like you would see in the US.
Back in the 90s I served as an LDS/Mormon missionary, so I was almost always in a white shirt tie or suit etc., and so it wasn’t until these last two years that I realized how important looking good was. I had to buy a new wardrobe – no more t-shirts and shorts.
I appreciate your insights Maria. I taught English while I was there this last time and I went against your tips ( goatee/beard, sneakers with slacks etc) ……but I consider that it was advertising haha, if I looked like an American, then it interested people in learning English.