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FASHION FROM ABROAD: Stilyaga Style

At the center of Europe lies the Czech Republic. Although its borders and its name have changed over time, the area that is now the Czech Republic has been occupied since prehistoric times. Its more recent history of life under Communism as Czechoslovakia, however, is a much talked about topic and is still very relevant today.

Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union in 1949. Though not officially a part of the USSR, Czechoslovakia’s interests were subordinate to Soviet regulations. These rules included efforts to abolish identity and promote sameness across the population. Even style and dress were heavily regulated.

Western-inspired outfits with their bright colors and patterns, stylish feminine fits and statement accessories were completely disapproved of. One group in particular used these clothes to actively challenge the USSR. They were called the Stilyagi.

A name that literally translates to “stylehunter,” Stilyagi embraced 1950s American style. The girls wore fitted dresses tied with a sash at the waistline to add fullness and volume and therefore emphasize their figures, accompanied by high hairstyles and bright red lipstick. Their bold dress contrasted starkly with the standard muted colors and shapeless silhouettes. What’s more, many Stilyagi made their own clothes and accessories due to the limited importation of Western items. This highly individualized sense of style surely shocked the regime.

When I spotted this Fashionista in Prague, I thought she was a true Stilyaga. But, she has modernized the look for city life. Her colorful maroon pants are a more muted version of the typical Stilyaga bright red, but her lipstick and nail polish directly reference it. The gold metal detail on her black boots elevates them to a pair Stilyaga girls would covet. Her nude-colored pea coat, cinched at the waist and pleated, introduces the characteristically ’50s feminine element. A large bag, perfect for a day out in the city, is composed of patch worked fabrics—similar to the DIY-look of Stilyaga-crafted pieces.

The Stilyagi used clothing to express themselves in original ways when doing so was discouraged. Although today many of us are free to be proud Fashionistas/os, we must not forget that this right and many others are not given to everyone. The Stilyagi faced public ridicule—some police officers cut their hair and clothes on the street—and a slandering campaign. This, however, was not very effective: to the surprise of Communist authorities, the slogan, “Today he dances jazz, but tomorrow he will sell his homeland” sounded pretty cool to the Stilyagi. They ended up reclaiming it as a trademark description.

Captured: I found this Fashionista in Old Town, Prague, outside of the Palladium shopping center—which, actually, used to be a military base.