Due to a series of not so forÂtuÂitous events ( the Great OctoÂber SocialÂist RevÂoÂluÂtion of 1917, the First World War, the overÂall runÂdown of the young Soviet counÂtry) women never had their needs attended to propÂerly. UnderÂwear was made, first and foreÂmost, for the workÂing class with no prefÂerÂenÂtial treatÂment for the females so women had no choice other than to wear those sexÂless garÂments.Â This is probÂaÂbly the sadÂdest part of the Soviet history.
These mini slip dresses were often the only specifÂiÂcally designed female underÂgarÂmentÂ (even the bras were made in one size up to mid-1930s).Â They were meant to ensure a betÂter fit for the dresses, to proÂvide an extra layer in winÂter and, for many women, it was a hygienic necesÂsity: as the bath or shower did not feaÂture in every houseÂhold, someÂtimes washÂing up would hapÂpen only once in a fewÂ days.
The rumours have it that after the war some lucky women were brought the troÂphy slips from GerÂmanyâ€‰â€”â€‰and wore them out as evening dresses. It might as well be an urban legÂend, but for some reaÂson I would perÂsonÂally tend to believe it.
AccordÂing to some docÂuÂment circa 1940s, the sanÂiÂtary norms were that each woman should own at least two sets of underÂwear which she would not wear for longer than 5â€‰â€“â€‰7Â days.
The magÂaÂziÂneÂsof those times did not offer fashÂionÂable soluÂtions: quite the conÂtrary, they tried to lift the spirit of women by includÂing some not so subÂtle proÂpaÂganda artiÂcles. â€œA harÂmoÂniously develÂoped perÂson as a builder of the comÂmuÂnisÂtic future has a rich inner world, as well physÂiÂcal health, high moralÂity and cultureâ€
There were never any fitÂting rooms, as bras were conÂsidÂered to be a hygiene item and fitÂting was not allowed, nor exchange was posÂsiÂble. ConÂsidÂerÂing that the size range was really limÂited (say, small, medium and large), being a woman wasnâ€™t easy. HowÂever, the diy fans were really doing it themÂselvesâ€‰â€“â€‰any fashÂion book would have a detailed tutoÂrÂial on how to sew a bra.Â Those who sucÂceeded at this filÂiÂgree activÂity were doing it for friends and friends of friends, as a nice secÂondary income. The fabÂrics would be plain (not stretchy!) cotÂton with buttons.
UsuÂally the new modÂels and designs were approved once every five years as high as the minÂisÂteÂrÂial level. That was the main decision-making time: even the numÂber of butÂtons had to gain consent.
When the probÂlem with bras what someÂwhat solved (or at least minÂimised), tights and stockÂings were still in huge demand. It is truly unbeÂlievÂable who the counÂtry, whose engiÂneers could envisÂage sendÂing peoÂple into the outer space, could not come up with someÂthing resemÂbling lycra to proÂvide women with elasÂtic tights! The Soviet stockÂings were made of plain cotÂton and were of black and nude colour. Often the supÂply in shops was so minÂiÂmal that women had to sew stockÂings to a pair of underpants
In a modÂern movie East-West the main female charÂacÂter fails her misÂsion as she gets recÂogÂnized as a RussÂianâ€‰â€“â€‰the guard notices her truly horÂriÂble stockÂings! MoreÂover, knowÂing how fragÂile a pair of stockÂings is and how difÂfiÂcult it is to find it in shops, RussÂian beauÂties would share tips with each other on how to proÂlong the life of this delÂiÂcate garÂment: the sugÂgesÂtions to freeze it before wear or mend the holes with nail warÂnish. NothÂing works, of course, but it was well worth trying.
By 1970, the texÂtile indusÂtry had allowed a range of nine sizes for bras, which was more than welÂcome. HowÂever, the styles were still, well, behind, even by the most modÂest of stanÂdards. Another legÂend goes that when the French actor and singer Yves MonÂtand came to Moscow and saw the RussÂian underÂwear, he laughed so hard he couldnâ€™t stop for a whileâ€‰â€”â€‰and then bought the whole lot to disÂplay in Paris later. The exhiÂbiÂtion, underÂstandibly, was popÂuÂlar with the French and not so popÂuÂlar with the RussÂian authorÂiÂties, so the relaÂtionÂships became tense.
The uniÂsex of the comÂmuÂnism epoch would not allow any beach wear up to 1970s: before that the swimÂsuits were either handÂmade (even knitÂted) or women had to wear the underÂgarÂments to theÂ beach.
The most imporÂtant mesÂsage here is probÂaÂbly that â€œSovietâ€ is not an ideÂolÂogy, it is about the planned econÂomy (badly planned, unforÂtuÂnately) and hence the affected every day lives of regÂuÂlar peoÂple who had no access to the forÂeign, imported, pretty things.Â Any item, be it a TV set or a bra, should just solely serve its purÂpose, and the frills are not necÂesÂsary atÂ all.