From the Vaults: Soviet Evening Wear

Posted on July 18, 2014

Part of a series featuring highlights of my recent research at the Library of Congress.


In my youth I was always fascinated by the bizarrely Orwellian nature of life in the Soviet Union.  An article on Communist sartorial propaganda in the May 1959 issue of GQ reminded me just how perversely fascinating the USSR was.

The article’s introduction sets the context for Soviet-sanctioned menswear:

The interesting drawings on these and the following two pages are from a style book printed in the Soviet Union in 1958 under the auspices of the Ministry of Trade of the USSR, with the assistance of GUM, the state department store in Moscow.  We obtained the book from Mr. Ray Josephs, the author and publicist, who found it in a Communist bookstore in Hong Kong.  As Mr. Marvin Kalb makes clear in the preceding article, no one would be seen wearing such “capitalistic” clothes on the streets of Moscow.  Why, then, did the Soviet government go to the trouble of printing this fashion book?  Apparently to impress the “underdeveloped” nations in the Far East with the “dynamic” and “progressive” attitude the Soviet Union takes towards a gracious and cultivated way of life for all citizens under the hopeful Communist banner.  The drawings are crude, reminiscent of a child’s cut-outs.  The fashions are anything but revolutionary.  Yet from evening clothes to sportswear to business suits, they do show that the Soviet hierarchy realizes the muzhik too wants more than a life of service to the State.

The Communist take on the patrician dinner suit is pictured above and described thus: “A dinner jacket of medium blue in a four-button double-breasted model, the long lapels rolling to a one-button closure.  Waist suppression, slanted chest pocket.”

On a related note, tuxedo manufacturer After Six took a potshot at Soviet formalwear sensibilities in a 1969 ad featuring then Premier Alexi Kosygin:

(Courtesy of After Six)

(Courtesy of After Six)

(For the full story on this ad – and the not entirely authentic photo – see I Was a Mad Man: A Madison Avenue Memoir, available for preview on Google Books.)

Posted in: History, Miscellanea