Due to a series of not so fortuitous events ( the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, the First World War, the overall rundown of the young Soviet country) women never had their needs attended to properly. Underwear was made, first and foremost, for the working class with no preferential treatment for the females so women had no choice other than to wear those sexless garments. This is probably the saddest part of the Soviet history.
These mini slip dresses were often the only specifically designed female undergarment (even the bras were made in one size up to mid-1930s). They were meant to ensure a better fit for the dresses, to provide an extra layer in winter and, for many women, it was a hygienic necessity: as the bath or shower did not feature in every household, sometimes washing up would happen only once in a few days.
The rumours have it that after the war some lucky women were brought the trophy slips from Germany — and wore them out as evening dresses. It might as well be an urban legend, but for some reason I would personally tend to believe it.
According to some document circa 1940s, the sanitary norms were that each woman should own at least two sets of underwear which she would not wear for longer than 5 – 7 days.
The magazinesof those times did not offer fashionable solutions: quite the contrary, they tried to lift the spirit of women by including some not so subtle propaganda articles. “A harmoniously developed person as a builder of the communistic future has a rich inner world, as well physical health, high morality and culture”
There were never any fitting rooms, as bras were considered to be a hygiene item and fitting was not allowed, nor exchange was possible. Considering that the size range was really limited (say, small, medium and large), being a woman wasn’t easy. However, the diy fans were really doing it themselves – any fashion book would have a detailed tutorial on how to sew a bra. Those who succeeded at this filigree activity were doing it for friends and friends of friends, as a nice secondary income. The fabrics would be plain (not stretchy!) cotton with buttons.
Usually the new models and designs were approved once every five years as high as the ministerial level. That was the main decision-making time: even the number of buttons had to gain consent.
When the problem with bras what somewhat solved (or at least minimised), tights and stockings were still in huge demand. It is truly unbelievable who the country, whose engineers could envisage sending people into the outer space, could not come up with something resembling lycra to provide women with elastic tights! The Soviet stockings were made of plain cotton and were of black and nude colour. Often the supply in shops was so minimal that women had to sew stockings to a pair of underpants
In a modern movie East-West the main female character fails her mission as she gets recognized as a Russian – the guard notices her truly horrible stockings! Moreover, knowing how fragile a pair of stockings is and how difficult it is to find it in shops, Russian beauties would share tips with each other on how to prolong the life of this delicate garment: the suggestions to freeze it before wear or mend the holes with nail warnish. Nothing works, of course, but it was well worth trying.