Clothes, Costume, and Fashion in Russian Modernism
Clothes, Costume, and Fashion in Russian Modernism
- James RannJames RannSchool of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Glasgow
Writers have always been conscious of the contribution that clothes can make to their work—as material objects, as outward signs of inner character, and as metaphors, especially for language itself. In the early 20th century, however, a time of rapid technological change, as well as of industrialization, globalization, and urbanization, literary interrogations and descriptions of dress evolved to respond to the new ways in which garments were designed, made, marketed, and sold, and to fashion’s increasing pervasiveness in society. Particularly sensitive to these changes were many of the writers associated with modernism, who shared with the nascent fashion industry a preoccupation with questions of novelty and the presentation of the self. Russia was no exception, and there poets, playwrights, and novelists explored and exploited the meanings of clothes and fashion in order to address the urgent questions concerning sex, gender, and race that were thrown up by life in the modern city. Moreover, as elsewhere, these explorations were not limited to the page; rather, writers’ own wardrobes played a part, especially among those who styled themselves as dandies. In other ways, however, Russia diverged from the European norm in its relationship to clothes and fashion and, therefore, in their intersection with literature. First, the habit of appropriating motifs and styles from non-European cultures, which was further galvanized by the modernist turn away from 19th-century culture, had a very different significance in Russia. The long history of ambivalence about Russia’s place in European culture meant that Russians were capable of finding the exotic in their own backyard, leading, for instance, to a vogue for peasant poets. Second, Russia experienced a particularly intense craze for masquerades in the first two decades of the century, which was both reflected in contemporary literature and, in part, a product of an obsession with the connection between inner essences and outer appearances that also manifested itself in modernist poetry. Third, Russian writers of the time were more inclined than most to see their work as part of a wider transformative mission; this often took the form of an attempt to overcome the perceived division between life and art by infusing the everyday with creativity. Clothes, both on the page and in the streets, were an important front in this battle. Finally, the upheaval caused by the revolutions of 1917 and the emergence of the socialist state had profound effects on the organization of fashion as both industry and discourse. Some writers responded by imagining the post-fashion future; others by involving themselves in reconfiguring what socialist commodities might look like; still others by criticizing a surprisingly resilient consumer culture, at least until the Stalin-inspired reorganization of many aspects of society, including fashion and literature, in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
- 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
- Slavic and Eastern European Literatures
In Russia, as everywhere, writers have always been conscious of the power of dress—both in life and on the page. Clothes are almost as ancient an artifact of culture as language itself, and in the long period in which they have co-existed, people have not failed to notice the many analogies between textiles and texts, and a rich vestimentary vocabulary of threads, yarns, and denouements, of cloaking and unmasking, continues to be used to describe linguistic creativity, in Russian as in English. Moreover, clothes have long been understood both as bearers of meaning and as interlocutors in a wider cultural discourse, capable of bringing new perspectives to important questions, particularly those about identity and the relationship between humanity and the material world. Garments are not only the most ubiquitous “things” but also those closest to us. They both cover the body and replicate its form, simultaneously concealing our natural selves and articulating our place in society, positioning individuals in relation to wider categories of class, gender, sexuality, and ethnicity. They form both a barrier and a bridge between self and world.1
In addition to mediating between individuals and society as a whole, however, dress is also—along with other bodily adornments such as jewelry, makeup, hair styling, and accessories—a component of a complex socio-cultural phenomenon almost entirely dissociated from clothes’ primary practical functions: fashion. Just as words and texts are themselves constituents of a wider system, “literature,” that has both a discursive and a material existence, so nearly all clothes can be seen as participating (even if only by rejecting it) in “fashion,” a system of norms and desires, which even in a narrow reading encompasses the making, promoting, selling, buying, and critique of clothes, and which constantly prompts wearers and observers to understand clothes in a wider perspective that is not only interpersonal but also transhistorical and transnational.
Clothes and literature are not discrete, but conjoin, not only in text, in descriptions and literary devices, but in the physical world, as costume—that is to say, clothes worn on stage or screen in service of either symbolism or verisimilitude. Writers have been able, therefore, to make use of clothes as material objects as well as literary facts by having some limited control over theatrical costume. Furthermore, given that writers’ own public personae have often played a part in shaping the meaning of their texts (and vice versa), especially when they have achieved a degree of celebrity, authors and poets have often been able to find a site for self-expression in their own wardrobes, which then cross-fertilized with their written output.
This article will examine three functions of clothes both in texts and in writers’ lives—as costumes, as items of fashion, and as vehicles for meaning—in the first thirty years of the 20th century in Russia. This period saw not only enormous political and social change, primarily that contributing to and arising from the 1917 revolutions, but also the flourishing of a wide range of new and experimental literary movements in Russia, which, despite their diversity, can broadly be termed “modernist.”2 The writers mentioned in this article belonged to various evolving tendencies, which, despite vectors of influence between them and even occasional overlaps of personnel, differentiated themselves from each other on issues of poetics and theories of literature, often by means of hostile rhetoric. This notwithstanding, whether as adherents of Symbolism, Acmeism, Futurism, or any other grouping, these writers displayed in their work and in their lives an approach to clothing that, although different in its individual applications, was also typical of modernism more widely and can be seen as distinct in both type and extent from what came before and after and from the practice of peers with less interest in overturning the literary status quo.
Like all their contemporaries, modernist writers’ understanding of the meaning of clothing was conditioned by the accelerating impact of urban, technological modernity in the late 19th century and early 20th century and especially the changes it prompted in the nature of the clothing industry and fashion, which gave writers new ways of thinking—consciously or not—not only about dress but also about money, class, race, and gender. The era of modernism, which was partly a product of and reaction against this technological modernity, coincided with the emergence of a mass market of industrially produced “ready to wear” clothes, a change that transformed fashion from the concern of a narrow elite to a matter of almost universal interest, especially in those same cities in which modernism flourished—above all, in Russia, in Moscow and St Petersburg. Although lacking the variety and concentration of boutiques as Paris or London, these cities offered a wide range of clothes-shopping opportunities, running from western-style shops, to tailors, seamstresses, and more traditional bazaars (see figure 1).3 Accompanying these new ways of acquiring clothes was an increasingly sophisticated infrastructure of advertisers and brands promoting the discourse of insistent novelty that drives fashion’s cyclical self-renewal and which parallels a similar valorization of originality, ephemerality, and distinctive branding in the rhetoric of many modernist writers, both in its underlying commercial motivation and in the fact that in both cases making something new was often largely a matter of remaking something old.4
Although Russian consumers were self-conscious about their backwardness, in one respect the shopping experience in the Russian capitals was closer to what it would become in the 20th century, since the large numbers of people moving from the countryside and requiring new city wardrobes meant that mass-produced “ready to wear” clothes, rather than bespoke outfits, were more prevalent than in other European capitals.5 Regardless of this centripetal movement, however, fashion culture was not confined to these capitals and the provincial yearning to keep pace with the modish metropole was no less important in the early 20th century than it had been in the 19th century. Retailers sought to service this desire, and by 1908, the Moscow department store Muir and Merilees could send mail-order items as far afield as Manchuria.6 Moreover, just as small journals acted as vectors of literary developments, the burgeoning fashion press served not only to bring news about trends from the style capitals of western Europe but to disseminate them throughout Russia.7
Such global connections of commerce and information were quicker and more extensive than ever before, but both the material and discursive elements of fashion had been transnational long before industrial modernity and as such shaped by imbalances of power that manifested themselves in the flow from colonized to colonizer of both raw product and of styles in sometimes extractive or fetishistic instances of “borrowing” and influence (a process also evident in literature). These inequitable processes were, however, accelerated and accentuated by technological modernity, and modernist writers across Europe showed an awareness of the way clothes spoke to an international context and could be used either to amplify or interrogate national and racial difference.
Perhaps even more noticeable than these geographical and social boundaries was the way in which garments, and the discourse and experiences that accompanied them, were implicated in the construction of gender difference. In addition to the obvious dissimilarity in male and female dress, in Russia, as elsewhere in Europe, shopping was seen as a female pastime and a suspicious and even dangerous one since it allowed for the public expression of female desire.8 Although many writers reinforced the long-held and often dismissive association made between women and fashion, others at the time, particularly female ones, subverted it to challenge assumptions about the visibility and agency of women and the meaning-making potential of women.9
Theater and Masquerade in Prerevolutionary Russia
One arena in which women were both visible and active was the theater. Drama served as both a mirror and an engine for fashion. Just as movie stars would be in later decades, so in the 1880s and 1890s, stage actresses were seen as paragons of chic, both as the objects of male desire and as examples for women to emulate. Since actresses were obliged to buy their own dresses and the pressure to wear the latest European styles reached such “pathological proportions,” many of them struggled financially.10 This problem is raised in Anton Chekov’s The Sea Gull (Chaika, 1896), in which the successful actress Arkadina bemoans the fact that she has been impoverished by her expenditure on her costumes for the stage.11
Chekhov’s play further captures its historical moment in the way it depicts a literary and theatrical clash of generations. Arkadina has a younger counterpart in Nina; likewise, the older writer Trigorin is (ineffectually) challenged by the young Treplev, whose play is staged—and abandoned—in act 1. In it, we see a new type of theater and a new type of costume: The sole actress Nina is dressed simply, “all in white.” This simple, almost ceremonial garb is of a piece with Treplev’s eschewal of plot and naturalism in favor of lofty aspirations and empty rhetoric about “dreams” and “what will be in two hundred thousand years.” Arkadina snidely but accurately diagnoses this as “Decadent,” aligning it to the fin-de-siècle artistic tendency, which, in its mixture of world-weariness and aestheticism, laid the groundwork for the closely related Symbolist movement and for all subsequent modernist tendencies that favored outré experimentalism over the subtle naturalism advocated by Chekhov.12
A characteristic of all the different movements that comprised Russian modernism was the predominance of theater in people’s lives—not only in the way it features in The Sea Gull, as a real place in which to aspire to work, but as a fundamental metaphor for human existence as a whole. The enthusiastic uptake of both Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner in Russia in the late 19th century had helped to fuel attempts to overcome divisions between spectator and actor, taking theatricality beyond the theater. The director Nikolai Evreinov, for instance, drawing further inspiration from Oscar Wilde and the commedia dell’ arte, called for “a theater for oneself,” in which everyday life could be improved by treating it as a performance.13 In this spirit, many writers at the time did not just write for theater, but allowed theater to inform their lives as well as their fiction, drama, and poetry and to serve as the arena for the fusion of art and life—a utopian ambition cherished by many Russian modernists of all stripes and encapsulated in the doctrine of “life-creation” (zhiznetvorchestvo), in which “art turned into ‘real life’ and ‘life’ turned into art.”14
With this enthusiasm for theatricality came a focus on clothing as costume. Not coincidentally, in the first two decades of the 20th century, Russia experienced a craze for masked balls, a phenomenon well analyzed by Colleen McQuillen, who argues that the masquerade became “a master trope of modernist literature on the levels of plot and discourse.”15 Masks, disguise, and costume are a leitmotif in, for instance, Andrei Belyi’s novel Petersburg (Petersburg, 1913), and the first decade of the century saw many works with “mask” in the title, including texts by Belyi, Aleksandr Blok, and Viacheslav Ivanov, the leading lights of the Symbolist movement that dominated poetry in the first decade of the century.16
One of the reasons that masks and disguises were attractive to these Symbolist writers and their peers, both in life and in literature, was that they helped to lay bare the “the contingent relationship between surface and essence” and as such could be used to challenge “the idea of a single, stable identity”—both on the page and in everyday life.17 More concretely, McQuillen shows how the costume practice of the Symbolists and their poetic successors was shaped by an analogy with their theories of language: Masquerade challenged essentialist readings of appearance in much the same way that Symbolist language severed any straightforward link between a word and its referent.18 In Blok’s famous poem “An Unknown Woman” (“Neznakomka,” 1906), for example, the mysterious woman of the title is characterized almost solely by her clothes; she is introduced as a “girlish figure captured in silks,” and the poet is entranced not so much by her physical beauty as by her outfit and ostrich-feather hat. Blok activates the metonymic relationship between clothes, which mediate the person, and the imperfect representativeness of language, which the Symbolists believe both conceals and reveals greater mysteries. Thus not only do her clothes stand in for the unknown woman’s whole being, but what the poet sees behind her veil is not her face but an ethereal world beyond, “a charmed shore and a charmed distance.”19
This analogy between poetic language and the clothed body was not a modernist innovation but rather draws on a persistent tendency in Russia, emerging from an amalgamation of Orthodox theology and Neoplatonist philosophy, to treat both words and selves as possessing a perceptible, contingent outer shell and a hidden, essential inner core, and therefore as analogous to each other.20 It is this ability of material to model the immaterial, even the imperceptible, that made clothing attractive to the Symbolists, and it was due to this same preoccupation with the intangible that they would later be criticized by other poets for being overly concerned with representation and insufficiently engaged in physical reality.21 This argument, however, somewhat overlooks the self-critique already present within Symbolism, which was expressed, in part, through clothes. Blok’s play The Fairground Puppet Booth (Balaganchik), for instance, which was staged by Vsevolod Meyerhold in 1906, combined wordplay, commedia dell’arte, cardboard costumes, and cranberry-juice blood to lampoon hackneyed symbols and to satirize the high hopes for world-transformation placed on the theater at the time, in a manner not dissimilar to Chekhov a decade earlier (here, too, the heroine wears white).22
What interested Blok at this stage of his career was not so much the ineffable in itself as its relationship with reality. On the one hand, the collision of the lofty and the mundane took place when art imitated life and vice versa. For example, after the premiere of the play, which itself drew on the author’s own love life, there was a masked ball, with costumes taken from the play; the writer Mikhail Kuzmin later fictionalized these events as The Little Cardboard House (Kartonnyi domik, 1907).23 On the other hand, Blok grounds his flashes of the world beyond in a believable reality. “An Unknown Woman,” for instance, is set in a seedy St Petersburg suburb, and its inspirational heroine is implied to be a prostitute. Blok reinforces the common connection between fashionable clothes and sexual availability, which is made still more obvious in the following poem in his cycle The City (Gorod), “There women flaunt their fashions . . .”24
Dandyism and Constructions of Gender
The title of Blok’s book and his fondness for chance encounters with mysterious, strikingly adorned women shows his familiarity with the urban lyrics of Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal (1857) and especially “To a Passerby,” in which a fleeting glimpse of a woman and her clothes allows the flâneur-poet to focus his attention, see past “the roaring street,” and be “born again.”25 Baudelaire, like later thinkers such as Georg Simmel and Alfred Loos, saw dress as an emblematic field of contact between the individual and the collective in the metropolis, both as social realities and as ideas.26 A crucial figure in the discussion of this interaction was the dandy. Although dandyism as a phenomenon emerged long before mass-produced fashion, the notion of the extraordinary individual whose clothes and attitude separate him—and it nearly always is a him—from the crowd acquired new significance as anxiety grew about the increasing homogeneity of everyday dress, with “off the peg” clothes encouraging standardization and the growing fashion media communicating new trends beyond narrow elites.
This connection between the dandy and anti-populist elitism eventually inspired Blok, after the revolution, to condemn dandyism as a pernicious “devouring flame,” fanned by poetry, which ate away at solidarity between fellow citizens.27 Blok’s reading of dandyism is certainly polemical, but it does respond to the realities of Russian literary clothes culture in the preceding decade, which drew much of its strength from the enormous popularity of Oscar Wilde and the conflation that encouraged between cultivated dress, aesthetic refinement, disdain for mass culture, and non-heteronormative sexualities.28
The most visible of the Russian responses to Wilde, at least in retrospect, came from the poet and author Mikhail Kuzmin, whose belief in the power of creative harmony to elevate humanity was partly manifested in his distinctive, colorful clothes. The story that Kuzmin had 365 waistcoats may well be apocryphal, but he was certainly willing to align himself with the vogue for dandyism. He contributed, for instance, to an issue of the short-lived magazine Dandy when it came out in 1910, and he wrote the foreword for a new Russian translation, published in 1912, of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly’s essay about the legendary English dandy Beau Brummell.29 While he was an outlier in his commitment to sartorial diversity, Kuzmin, who never comfortably belonged within a single group or tendency, showcased a typically modernist attitude to clothes inasmuch as he saw in them both an element of performative display and a possibility for transformation. Writing about theatrical costume in 1923, he said
Even something trivial like, say, changing underwear is effective not only as the touch of clean linen against the body but in a psychologically refreshing way. For particularly sensitive people, shaving or doing your hair means becoming a different person.30
This thought is hardly novel; even a humdrum figure such as Sorin in The Sea Gull expresses a similar sentiment when he urges Arkadina to buy her depressed son Treplev some new clothes in the hope that a change on the outside will inspire change on the inside.31 It is, however, characteristic of both Kuzmin’s elitist aestheticism and his belief in the power of theatricality that he proposes that this commonplace sensation can have a transformative effect for a select few only.
While Kuzmin’s attire had made a stir on his entry onto the literary scene in 1906, the response to his dandyism was relatively placid compared with the scandalous notoriety acquired by the Futurist poet Vladimir Maiakovskii and his wardrobe after his debut in 1912. Maiakovskii meditated on his own dandyism in his 1914 poem “The Fop’s Blouse” (“Kofta fata”):
I will sew black trousers
From the velvet of my voice.
A yellow blouse from three yards of sunset.
Along the Nevsky of the world, along its polished stripes,
I will flâner with the stride of a Don Juan and a fop.32
Maiakovskii aligns himself with Byronic and Baudelairean precedents, alluding to Don Juan and the flâneur, but instead of the dandy’s usual refinement and artificiality, he puts emphasis on his mastery of the physical world and his ability to tailor the universe to his taste, transforming nature into culture. In line with the valorization of direct, aggressive self-expression that was one of the ways in which the Futurists distinguished themselves from their Symbolist predecessors, Maiakovskii also underlines the dandy’s capacity for shock and his disdain for the crowd. In the following lines, he pictures himself assaulting springtime and describes his verses as “as sharp and necessary as toothpicks.”33
In a move typical of the blurred lines of life-creation, the yellow blouse mentioned in the first stanza refers to a real garment. According to his fellow Futurist Benedikt Livshits, the penniless twenty-year-old Maiakovskii refused to perform in his usual black shirt and so had searched Moscow for the brightest possible cloth—a favorite pastime of Kuzmin too—which he then presented to his seamstress mother to work into a shirt.34 We can see in the handmade blouse a gesture against the conformity of male dress and a reassertion of the rights of the individual in the face of the dehumanizing modern city, but we should also not underestimate the extent to which Maiakovskii was also very much a dandy of the modern “ready to wear” era. The looks adopted by Maiakovskii and his Futurist allies did draw on the traditional repertoire of the dandy—Maiakovskii’s mentor David Burliuk, for instance, shared Kuzmin’s fondness for garish vests and was often seen sporting a monocle—and have, accordingly, been read intertextually as reminiscences or even parodies of earlier dandies, but in their outfits for the streets and for the stage the Futurists also referenced the newer trends of the modern metropolis such as tango dancing, team sports, and the emergent subculture of hooliganism.35
No less typical of the contemporary urban experience, with its omnipresent advertising, was the fact that Maiakovskii and his comrades often thought of their literary image as a commodity—Maiakovskii once compared them to a firm making galoshes, saying, “What is a Futurist? It is a brand name, like ‘Triangle.’” The yellow blouse became his trademark and he and the Futurist group, of which he was a member, used eye-catching, confrontational clothes to establish their reputations.36 For Maiakovskii, these looks changed regularly over the years, from his emergence as a Rimbaudian bohemian with a floppy, pussy-bow style cravate, which featured on the front cover of his first solo collection Me (Ia) in 1913, to a somewhat anachronistic self-stylization as a polished gentleman in a top hat, followed by a self-presentation, during the Civil War period, as a glowering, shaven-headed man of action, and then, finally, the expensive but understated outfits of a globe-trotting literary celebrity (see figure 2). At every stage, however, Maiakovskii was conscious of the possibilities of cross-promotion, disseminating his latest looks using not only his own verses and public performances but also photography and later film.37
On the surface, the self-image promoted by Maiakovskii and the other Futurists was aggressively masculine, even misogynistic. This is not unusual for the dandy—a role that, according to Jessica Feldman
exists in the field of force between two opposing, irreconcilable notions about gender. First, the (male) dandy defines himself by attacking women. Second, so crucial are female characteristics to the dandy’s self-creation that he defines himself by embracing women, appropriating their characteristics.38
The paradoxical relationship between dandyism and the feminine is captured in two aphorisms by Baudelaire: “The woman is the opposite of the dandy” and “appearing is being, for Dandies as for women.”39 The dandy, in his studied artificiality, is the opposite of the “natural” woman, but he shares with women an awareness that looks can determine and therefore alter social reality. Ultimately, Feldman argues, the male dandy can undermine gender norms, relocating dandyism “beyond male and female, beyond dichotomous gender in itself.”40 Maiakovskii fits this paradigm well: he was capable of outrageous rhetorical attacks on women and womanhood, but also frequently positioned himself as the passive victim of women’s attention or indifference (and that of the universe more generally).41 In “The Fop’s Blouse,” for instance, he describes himself as the object of a female gaze and presents this as both a product of and inspiration for his dandyism:
Women, loving my flesh, and that
Girl looking at me like a brother,
Throw your smiles at me, the poet,
And I will sew them onto my fop’s blouse as flowers.42
Instead of the clichés of women coveting clothes as a sublimation of sexual desire or as a means to seduce men, here they openly lust after the metaphorically denuded poet on the stage, who bares his “flesh.” The poet then inverts the accepted notion that clothing incites sexual attraction by transforming the attention he receives into a garment, turning the crowd’s gaze into a nice bright blouse with artfully appliqued flowers.
Despite the obvious femininity of this embellished floral blouse, Maiakovskii’s transgression of gender boundaries is partly disguised, here and elsewhere in his poetry, by his aggressive bluster. More obvious to contemporaries, and therefore more shocking and influential, was the challenge to conventions of dress laid down by Zinaida Gippius, a poet, diarist, and prolific letter-writer who expressed her sexual and philosophical radicalism as much through her actions, and her looks, as through her writings. Central to Gippius’s identity was her celibate marriage to another writer, Dmitrii Merezhkovskii, and the two were key players in Russian modernism for more than four decades, first in St Petersburg, where they were associated with the first wave of Symbolism, then in Paris. This marriage began, in 1889, with a clear fashion statement: In lieu of the traditional white dress, Gippius wore a gray suit and hat—a nod to the stylings of the po-faced Russian radicals of the 1860s who had eschewed both bourgeois convention and ostentatious clothing.43 As well as looking backward, however, this gesture also set the tone for Gippius’s adoption of a series of meaningful looks that demonstrated and challenged stereotypes of femininity, from the maiden to the femme fatale. In the first instance, Gippius modelled a pointedly virginal aesthetic of white dresses and a long plait; in the second, she wore a diadem to invoke the Decadent figurehead Cleopatra. More controversial than this interrogation of female dress, however, was the fact that, just as Georges Sand had before her, Gippius also occasionally dressed in men’s clothes—a public enactment of her literary practice of using male pronouns and pseudonyms.44 A famous portrait of her, painted in 1906 by Léon Bakst, shows her in a louche and defiantly masculine semi-reclined pose, channeling the insouciance and disdain of the dandy in a ruff and tight knee-length trousers.
Gippius’s dandyism was all the more transgressive for coming from the dandy’s “opposite,” and her inhabiting of different roles, including male ones, exposed them as social constructions. Sandra Gilbert once argued that, in modernism, a distinction can be made between the attitudes to clothes and costume adopted by men and by women, with the latter more attuned to irony and ambiguity “in part because women’s clothing is more closely connected with the pressures and oppressions of gender and in part because women have far more to gain from the identification of costume with self and gender.”45 Parallels appear between Gippius’s performative dress and the sensibility of other female modernists such as Virginia Woolf, whose “frock consciousness” allowed her to use “fashion and fabric as heuristic devices to develop affectively attuned and materially grounded modes of describing established, emergent, and potential ‘patterns of everyday life’.”46 The same could also be said of the popular female feuilletonist Nadezhda Lokhvitskaia, known as Teffi, whose short stories often used single items of clothing to reveal the intersection of class and gender, and of the poet Anna Akhmatova, who made subtle use of garments and accessories—a tight skirt, a glove worn on the wrong hand, a riding whip left on a table—to capture both a nuanced sense of individual emotion and wider aspects of gender relations.47 Kuzmin aptly described Akhmatova as a “thing-lover,” someone with an unusual ability to “love and understand things in their opaque connection with moments of experience.”48
Nevertheless, Kuzmin’s sensitivity to Akhmatova’s “things” (the Russian word, veshchi, can often mean clothes) and his own experiments with dress suggest that Gilbert’s dichotomy between male and female might not be applicable to the men of Russian modernism. At the very least, in this context, Gilbert’s assertion that men prefer “balancing self against mask, true garment against false costume” and that “working variations upon the traditional dichotomy of appearance and reality, [they] often oppose false costumes to true clothing” seems questionable.49
Ethnicity and Sexuality
Two factors, often interrelated, complicate any straightforward opposition between men and women in the area of modernist literary clothing. The first is that many men in the era, especially gay men like Kuzmin, were aware that masculinity, too, was less a natural state than a constantly contingent performance and as such another area of the everyday that could be reshaped by theatrical life-creation. The second is that in Russia at time there was no form of dress that was considered an unquestioned, natural default—not even the bourgeois uniform of dark suit, shirt, and tie.
The instability of the category of “true clothing” in Russia was not the modernists’ innovation—although they did exploit it—but rather a time-honored feature of Russian culture. The shape of all European fashion has, to a certain extent, always been defined by its relationship with a non-European other, both materially and metaphorically. The imagined “orient” and its dress was both a negative pole against which western dress was defined and a persistent (and often exploited) source of inspiration, motifs, and actual fabric, especially in the early years of colonialism.50 In Russia, however, this relationship looked somewhat different because of Russia’s ambivalent position vis-a-vis European culture and the widespread perception that the Russian culture of the cities and the elites, and especially their clothes, were an import from the west, imposed on the Russian people during Peter the Great’s westernizing reforms in the early 18th century. The most visible of these was the imposition of “German” (that is, western) dress on the Russian upper classes and the prohibition of beards. From that moment on, although the boundary between “western” and “Russian” dress continued to be mobile and porous, the flexibility of these categories only helped to maintain their prominence and, as Christine Ruane argues, Russians constantly looked to a “native” alternative to European fashion as one way in which “to express their political, social, and cultural allegiances.”51 The availability of this option was further reinforced by the presence in cities not only of representatives of the Russian Empire’s many different ethnicities, often wearing their own distinctive dress, but also of peasants, clergymen, and merchants, many of whom still sported traditional loose kaftans and beards, for men, and plaits and headscarves, for women. In the 19th century, therefore, noble, French-speaking authors such as Konstantin Aksakov and, latterly, Lev Tolstoy could choose to make a statement by favoring “Russian” dress, which is to say styles that they associated with the rural peasantry, such as long collarless shirts and baggy trousers.52
By the 20th century, however, nearly all Russian city-dwellers had adopted standard western bourgeois clothes, and by the 1920s it would have been an oddity to see non-European dress on the streets of Moscow or St Petersburg. At the same time, the modernist reaction against the culture of post-Enlightenment Europe inspired a reappraisal of the status of the non-European others and their role in fashion. Other cultures were mined for inspiration, especially those deemed to possess a certain “primitive” purity and power. Russia was unusual in that, because of the imagined bifurcation of Russian culture in Peter’s reign, it could locate this non-western potency within its own borders, finding in Russia’s “Asiatic” pre-Petrine past and its rural legacy an autochthonous primitive.53 While this celebration of this other, non-European Russia, which was largely the product of metropolitan imaginations, did have some influence on Russian dress habits, especially in womenswear around the turn of the century, its greatest impact was on western fashion.54 On their European tours, Sergei Diaghilev’s wildly popular Ballets Russes presented an attractive image of a vaguely oriental pre-modernity, regardless of whether their ballets were set in Russia (Prince Igor, Petrushka, The Firebird) or in more nebulously “eastern” settings (Les Orientales, Scheherazade—see figure 3). In particular, the dancers’ colorful, flowing costumes designed by Bakst, Natalia Goncharova, and others inspired the orientalist styles (harem pants and turbans, for instance) of French couturier Paul Poiret’s 1911 collection and as such helped to reshape the dominant silhouette of womenswear.55 Just as the stage brought western fashions to Russia, so it helped to sell “Russia” to the west, or at least an orientalized version of it.
The Ballets Russes were made for export, but their self-orientalizing approach did reflect a wider tendency to embrace Asia as both the origin and destination of Russian culture.56 The visionary poet Velimir Khlebnikov, for instance, saw the 1917 revolutions as an opportunity for Russia to facilitate “the coming together of the peoples of Asia,” and in 1918 he wrote a manifesto that included among its measures the introduction of “simple, light clothes,” anticipating his own adoption of the stylings of a (particularly disheveled) Persian dervish when travelling in Iran in 1919–1920—a cultural interaction that he understood as genuinely anti-orientalist and anti-colonialist.57 Like many of the one-time Futurist’s aspirations, this came to naught, save perhaps for the accidental fulfilment of his wish in the wardrobe of Akhmatova, who throughout her life favored loose shawls and kimonos.58
Instead, the most obvious manifestation of the anti-European current in clothing was the prerevolutionary enthusiasm for celebrity peasants wearing traditional rural dress in the metropolis. The most famous of these was the monk Grigorii Rasputin, but also self-styled peasant poets such as Sergei Esenin and Nikolai Kliuev. The ever clothes-conscious Maiakovskii recalled that the first time he met his future rival Esenin, around 1915, the latter was wearing “bast-shoes and a shirt embroidered with cross-stitch.” Perhaps because he was writing this in 1926, when the vogue for fancy dress had long since passed, Maiakovskii describes this traditional look as inappropriate and disingenuous:
This was in a very fine Leningrad flat. Knowing the pleasure that a real peasant man, as opposed to a decorative one, takes in changing his garb to gaiters and a jacket, I did not believe Esenin. To me he seemed stagy, fake.
Conscious, however, of his own self-fashioning and his own attention-seeking yellow blouse Maiakovskii asks Esenin “What’s this all for—advertising?”59
Such skepticism about the authenticity of non-European clothing was nothing new. The philosopher Petr Chadaaev, for instance, alleged that Aksakov’s attempts to dress like a Russian led to genuine peasants misidentifying him as a Persian (anticipating the orientalized Russianness of the Ballets Russes).60 This sense of artificiality notwithstanding, there is an evident difference between the peasant dress of Esenin, who really was from a Russian village, and, say, the contemporary eschewal of typical bourgeois western clothes by European writers such as Woolf. For all her skepticism of imperialism, either when she wore the flowing orientalist clothes of the Omega Workshop or when more consciously in costume, such as when she dressed as a savage “à la Gauguin” at the 1911 Post-Impressionist Ball, Woolf was reveling in the distance between these colonized identities from her own; there is no doubt that any connection is only imaginative.61 In contrast, despite his skepticism towards Esenin, Maiakovskii acknowledges that peasants in the countryside really do dress differently and that, within Russia, different contexts demand different clothes. Even if Esenin is only playing at being a peasant, he is playing with the possibilities of Russian identity, not its impossibilities. In this way, Esenin recalls Tsar Nicholas II at his masquerade ball in 1903 in which guests wore pre-Petrine Russian dress. It was undoubtedly a theatrical occasion, a calculated performance of an imaginary version of Romanov Russianness, but it was also founded in the possibility of authenticity; as can be seen in figure 4, Nicholas wore the actual robes of his 17th-century predecessor, Peter the Great’s father Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich.62
Just as manipulation of dress can lay bare the constructedness of ethnic identity, so too can it challenge the stability of gender as a category; in fact, the adoption of a different race in fancy dress has often been accompanied by a change in gender, allowing two boundaries to be transgressed at the same time.63 A plot line in Fedor Sologub’s extremely popular novel The Petty Demon (Melkii bes, 1907), for instance, centers on disputes and confusion over the gender of androgynous schoolboy Sasha Pyl’nikov. The novel climaxes at a masked ball at which Sasha appears dressed as a Japanese geisha and is rewarded with both the prize for best costume and a lot of male attention. Just as Gippius and other female poets of the era sometimes used male pronouns, a form of verbal cross-dressing, so here Sasha is referred to as “the geisha” and “she.”64
While Sasha thrills at the excitement of secretly inhabiting a different gender, the idea that unusual clothes constituted a form of costume and, therefore, a potential threat to stable gender categories also inspired normative critique, especially retrospectively. Despite his own subtle flirtations with submissive, “female” positions, Maiakovskii connects Esenin’s pretense at peasanthood with stereotypes of feminine duplicitousness. He says that, after taking offence at his jibes, Esenin went to join Nikolai Kliuev, who is described as behaving “like a mom who takes their daughter aside when she is being seduced for fear that her daughter does not have the strength and energy to resist.”65 Although there is a certain homoerotic charge to Maiakovskii’s metaphor, in which he is the seducer, his feminization of Kliuev and Esenin is also a dismissive allusion to the fact that Kliuev was openly gay and thus held to be responsible for indoctrinating Esenin into the dangerous and effeminate practice of playacting.66
For the same reasons, Kliuev’s own peasant dress was also viewed with suspicion. The poet Georgii Ivanov, by then having emigrated and in France, recalled his first encounter with Kliuev in terms strikingly similar to Maiakovskii’s account of Esenin. He claims that he came across Kliuev in an apartment wearing a collar and tie, reading Heine, but that Kliuev then insisted on changing into peasant garb before leaving. For this disingenuousness, Ivanov calls him a “travesty of a little peasant man” (muzhichok-travesti), impugning his masculinity as well as his authenticity.67
The equation of homosexuality and sartorial theatricality could, however, also be presented more positively by gay men themselves. Recollecting his own literary debut, Kuzmin argued that he was an “aesthetic Rasputin long before Kliuev” and reminisced about the stylized Russian outfits in which he first appeared at literary soirees: “a small, sticking out beard, [. . .] red boots with silver soles, brocade shirts, a peasant-style overcoat of thin cloth, perfume.”68 Looking back in his diary of 1934, Kuzmin, who was born to a noble family and grew up in St Petersburg, was happy to admit that his appearance was an artificial construct. In fact, he argues that his enthusiasm for the Russian look was made possible by his awareness of classical antiquity, orientalism, and his own sexuality:
The Russian element opened up for me very late, and, therefore, with a degree of fanaticism to which I am not inclined. And I came to it by a roundabout route, via Greece, the Orient, and homosexuality. [. . .] There was a fair amount of masquerade and aestheticism in it, especially if you take into account my thoroughly western complex of passions and tastes.69
Kuzmin suggests that it is his very westernness that prompts him to dress à la Russe; he is indulging in sartorial exoticism, much in the same way as a Parisian buying from Paul Poiret, but he is able to do so with more credibility because of his access to genuine Russian clothes and fabrics bought from bazaars. Nor was this sartorial self-analysis only a matter of hindsight; in his novel Wings (1906), Kuzmin gave the same path of intellectual development to Larion Shtroop, the elegantly dressed aesthete with a passion for Russian antiquities who inspires the hero’s sexual and intellectual awakening.
The End of the Masquerade? Fashion and Literature in the Early Soviet Union
Although Kuzmin’s recollections are not inaccurate, his diary and the reminiscences therein are presented very much as a remembrance of a lost time. Kuzmin and others continued to stand out for their clothes in the 1920s, but for many, 1917 marked the moment when the masked ball of modernism came to an end. The idea of the revolution ending the costume party was reinforced by the fact that the February Revolution coincided with the premiere of Meyerhold’s staging of Mikhail Lermontov’s play Masquerade (Maskarad, 1835).70 Both this play and Blok’s The Fairground Puppet Booth are alluded to in this regard in Akhmatova’s cryptic late poem Poem without a Hero (Poema bez geroia), finished in 1962, which is something of an elegy for the prerevolutionary era. “You will have to leave your masks in the hall,” writes the poet, “and your capes, staffs, and crowns.”71
Nonetheless, there was also considerable continuity across 1917. For one thing, the modernist obsession with the interplay of appearances and essences in itself had its own revolutionary potential in the way it disrupted assumptions and proclaimed the possibility of a new future.72 This was particularly apparent in the prerevolutionary dress practice of the Futurists, who set out to shock and disorient the complacent public. In one famous incident, for instance, instigated by the artist Mikhail Larionov and writer Il’ia Zdanevich, Maiakovskii, Burliuk, and others took to the streets with abstract designs painted on their faces. This disruption of the natural contours and features of the face was presented as a corollary to the rejection of realism and mimesis in art and testament to the avant-gardists’ ability to create something utterly new. The accompanying manifesto stated
City-dwellers have long since pinked their nails, lined their eyes, painted their lips and cheeks and dyed their hair—but they are all imitating the earth. We have no business with the earth, we are creators, our lines and colors arose with us.73
Within texts, too, elements of attire could signal the possibility for fundamental transformation. Maiakovskii, for instance, puts garments, the quintessential commodity of consumer capitalism, at the center of a myth of existential revolution in his early play Vladimir Maiakovskii: A Tragedy (Vladimir Maiakovskii: Tragediia, 1913):
And suddenly all the things started moving,
Tearing their voice,
Throwing off the rags of worn out names.
[. . .]
The tailor fainted and his trousers ran off—on their own!—without human haunches!
Drunk, a chest of drawers, its black maw agape, fell from a bedroom.
Corsets slipped down, afraid to fall, from the “Robes et modes” signs.74
Here, clothes are both a metaphor for the failure of language (objects’ names are worn out rags that misrepresent their wearers) and the best example of a thing that can overcome this false representation in language and be transformed. Maiakovskii imagines clothes escaping the commercial world of tailors and shop signs to take on a new life.
The Bolshevik Revolution was not, however, so thoroughgoing as to emancipate trousers as a class; indeed, it struggled even to liberate people, either from the inadequacies of language or from the grip of commodity fetishism. At first, however, in the war-torn and impoverished years immediately after the revolution, it seemed possible and, to some, desirable that fashion might be finished in Russia, to be replaced, perhaps, by the rational dress beloved of 19th-century utopianists.75 It was in this context, for instance, that Khlebnikov believed that people would soon only wear “simple, light clothes”—“no one can be internally free if he or she is cramped by their external environment,” he argued, proposing that loose clothing would be a small victory in “the war against all conventionality, material or immaterial.”76 The more skeptical Evgenii Zamiatin, in contrast, presented fashion-free dress as itself an agent of social control in his dystopian novel We (My, 1921), in which the citizens of the future all wear identical numbered uniforms.77
Neither Khlebnikov nor Zamiatin was right. While uniforms certainly did proliferate in the burgeoning bureaucracy of the early Soviet Union, they had also been a notable feature of prerevolutionary life due to the abundance of imperial civil servants in uniforms reflective of their rank. What is more, the replacement of the tsarist style with the Bolsheviks’ martial aesthetic of Galliffet trousers and copious amounts of leather—a trend hymned in Boris Pilniak’s novel The Naked Year (1922) and mocked in Mikhail Bulgakov’s Heart of a Dog (1925)—did not mean the end of fashion. Instead, these items soon became modish even outside of party ranks.78
One of the advantages of uniforms was that their homogeneity chimed with the early Soviet preference, in rhetoric at least, for the collective over the individual. This same drive towards sameness can be seen in one of the most influential attempts to replace fashion with an ideologically more acceptable alternative: In the atmosphere of ruin and possibility that followed the revolution, avant-garde artists such as Varvara Stepanova, Liubov’ Popova, and Aleksandr Rodchenko, known collectively as Constructivists, started designing textiles and garments that, supposedly, ignored concerns of style in favor of practicality and as such could subvert the desire generated by fashion with a new kind of “socialist object” that would “forge a new form of socialist consumption as the necessary counterpart to socialist production.”79 For modernist artists to turn to actually producing clothes was by no means unparalleled—it was anticipated, for instance, by the Italian Futurists—but it does show the lengths to which the Russian avant-garde was willing to go to in order to merge art and life and take an active role in shaping the future.80 Although Constructivist clothing was the work of artists, this mission was as much a literary fact as a material one, since many more people read the manifestos promoting these garments than would ever wear them. One venue for these essays was the magazine LEF (Left Front of the Arts), which was edited by Maiakovskii, whose early brand-consciousness and interest in the boundaries between the animate and the inanimate found a new outlet in the project to foster a socialist consumerism. He took on the task of providing rhyming copy for a series of advertisements, designed with Rodchenko, to promote new Soviet-made products such as galoshes and watches.81
The emergence of the Soviet brands promoted by Rodchenko and Maiakovskii was facilitated by Vladimir Lenin’s decision in 1921 to end the central control of the economy instituted during the Civil War and to implement the so-called New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed a limited role for private enterprise. The partial market economy of NEP afforded modernists considerable opportunities but, for the most part, they condemned it as a backward step into the old world of acquisitiveness and class division. One obvious manifestation of this backsliding was the resurgence of consumerism, as the meager comforts of NEP replaced the privations of the preceding years. In a memoir, Nadezhda Mandel’shtam, wife of the poet Osip Mandel’shtam, recalled her obsession with stockings and her excitement when Osip bought her a (fake) fox fur with the fee from his Second Book (Vtoraia kniga, 1923). “The poor women of NEP,” she wrote, “dashed after any old clothes because they were sick of walking round in hand-me-downs, in strange skirts made out of their father’s trousers.”82
Mandel’shtam calls her contemporary Bulgakov a “simpleton” for mocking this desire for little luxuries, but Bulgakov was far from alone in ridiculing the resurgence of fashion. Both modernist writers and less experimental satirists took aim at the spivvy “NEPmen” who sold clothes and the superficial, oversexed women who bought them. In The Twelve Chairs (Dvenadtsat’ stul’ev, 1928) by Evgenii Il’f and Konstantin Petrov, the former is represented by the seditious profiteer Kisliarkii, who wears a “tussar-silk jacket and boater hat,” and the latter by airheaded Ellochka, who, beguiled by foreign magazines, improvises elaborate outfits in an imaginary rivalry with an American heiress.83 Such dubious personages may have been figures of fun but they have proved considerably more enduring in the popular imagination than contemporary characters who reject the temptations of makeup and glamorous clothes, such as Vasilisa Malygina, the heroine of Aleksandra Kollontai’s 1923 feminist novel of the same name, or her ideological comrade Mil’da Gringau in avant-gardist Sergei Tret’iakov’s play I Want a Baby (Khochu rebenka, 1926), who goes so far as to dress in men’s clothing.
Despite being both the author of slogans and, thanks to the expensive foreign attire that post-revolutionary success afforded him, a walking advertisement for conspicuous consumption, Maiakovskii was also outspoken in his condemnation of fashion and its temptations. His 1928 play, The Bedbug, opens with street hawkers selling “self-sewing buttons” from Holland and fur brassieres, which the idiotic hero Prysipkin, a proletarian seduced by the bourgeois lifestyle of his manicurist fiancée, mistakes for hats.84 Fashion was not just ridiculous, however, but dangerous. In 1927, Maiakovskii wrote a poem called “Marus’ia poisoned herself,” based on a newspaper report of a young woman who killed herself because she could not afford a new pair of shoes.85 Fashion, many thought in the 1920s, was not just reflecting class divisions but actively reproducing them; the art historian Aleksei Fedorov-Davydov warned that NEP’s fashion culture was creating an “aesthetic barrier” preventing the emergence of a classless society.86
In 1928, however, Stalin brought NEP to a close as part of a series of radical changes to the organization of the economy, all of which had profound consequences for fashion, literature, and the interrelation of the two. Nevertheless, just as there had been before and after 1917, there were considerable continuities with the subsequent period of high Stalinism. For one, the prerevolutionary modernist obsession with masks did not disappear but rather took on a new significance when, instead of celebrating the possibility for transformation and multiplicity inherent in adopting new guises, masks became synonymous with dissembling, with the concealing of a single, stable “true” identity.87 Although this new, constrictive reading of masquerade only became entrenched in the 1930s, elements of this logic, which came to predominate across literature, too, appear in the Constructivists’ plans for fashion-free clothes. Writing in LEF in 1923, Varvara Stepanova argued that the garments of the future would do away with indeterminacy: “the whole external appearance of the ensemble will not be arbitrary, but emerge from the demands of the task.”88 Despite fashion’s partial rebirth under NEP, a new era was beginning in Russia, with Stalin as its moving spirit—an era in which, with clothes as with words, spontaneity, play, and indeterminacy were required to surrender precedence to organization, practicality, and authenticity.
Discussion of the Literature
A 2019 study of the topic of fashion and modernism begins by saying that “Previous research on fashion as part of modernism is oddly enough rather limited.”89 The only cavil one might have at this indubitable statement is the tone of mild surprise. It was only in the last decades of the 20th century that academic consensus was achieved on the validity of subjects that, like the topic of clothes in modernism, encompass highbrow and lowbrow, material and immaterial, national and global, and only then did such interdisciplinary fields as “fashion and modernism” themselves became fashionable. What is more, the concert of historical, art historical, literary, and theoretical methods and sources required to pursue questions in this area continues to present challenges, not least because the relevant scholarship is scattered across different disciplines. For these reasons, the study of modernist literary dress cultures is a comparatively young and underpopulated field. But it is a dynamic one, too, in part because it fits well with the wider project in modernist studies, initiated in the 1990s and dubbed “the new modernist studies” in 2008, to expand the scope of “modernism” as a category to match the diversity of “modernism” as a diverse, global lived phenomenon, paying more heed to women and to topics coded as feminine, such as fashion, but also acknowledging modernism’s entanglement with dynamics of power in relation to gender, sex, and colonialism, and—importantly for fashion—with the material world of money and things.90
The more particular question of Russia, fashion, and modernist literature is no exception to this general picture of initial scarcity and recent growth, but the transnational history of the discipline has led to some divergence from the development evident in English-language modernist research. First, the study of Russian modernist literature in English, which for much of the 20th century was beset by problems of access and of political polarization, was somewhat slower to broaden its scope of inquiry than its counterparts in other languages, meaning that the field is even younger and more dynamic. Second, more happily, the distinct contribution of Russophone thinking on the meaning of dress has, as one might expect, been influential, especially approaches derived from the semiotic analysis of literature and life pioneered by Iurii Lotman and his followers. Just as a broad range of researchers working at the interstices of clothes and language have benefited from the semiotic approach taken by Roland Barthes in The Fashion System (1967), so the influence of Lotman and his concept of “the poetics of everyday behavior” has been widespread, diffuse, and amenable to use in conjunction with other disciplinary methodologies, for instance in the work of scholars such as Raisa Kirsanova and Ol’ga Vainshtein. (Vainshtein is one of the co-founders of the journal Teoriia mody (Theory of Fashion), an important platform for research on fashion and literature.91)
Russian-speaking scholars working on dress cultures and modernism have, therefore, been able to benefit from both the diversification of frameworks used within modernist studies and from the Russian semiotic tradition and the fruits it has borne in the study of clothing and literature in other epochs.92 The most comprehensive English-language analysis of modernist literary dress is Colleen McQuillen’s Modernist Masquerade, which puts particular emphasis on costumes and masquerades, but does so with due consideration of a wider cultural and philosophical context; a similar focus on masks and on Symbolist poetics can be found in Olga Soboleva’s The Silver Mask. Such works are particularly valuable for the attention they pay to the prerevolutionary period and to literature. The clothing experiments of the 1920s have tended to receive more systematic study, following pioneering work by historians of art and fashion such as Christine Kiaer and Djurdja Bartlett.93 Nevertheless, a fuller understanding of the cross-connections between literature and Soviet dress culture is still needed, although work (in Russian) by Vainshtein and Ol’ga Khoroshilova has made advances in this direction.94 Indeed, the question of text and dress in early 20th-century Russia as a whole awaits fuller investigation.
- Bartlett, Djurdja. Fashion East: The Spectre that Haunted Socialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2010.
- Delaney Grossman, Joan Paperno, and Irina Paperno, eds. Creating Life: The Aesthetic Utopia of Russian Modernism. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994.
- Durst, Elizabeth. “Designs for Everyone: Transforming Women’s Fashions in Early Twentieth-Century Russia.” Experiment 22 (2016): 72–87.
- Feldman, Jessica R. Gender on the Divide: The Dandy in Modernist Literature. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.
- Kiaer, Christina. Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.
- Lehmann, Ulrich. Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.
- McQuillen, Colleen. The Modernist Masquerade: Stylizing Life, Literature, and Costumes in Russia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013.
- Posman, Sarah, et al., eds. Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Material Exchange. Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2013.
- Ruane, Christine. The Empire’s New Clothes: A History of the Russian Fashion Industry, 1700–1917. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.
- Soboleva, Olga. The Silver Mask: Harlequinade in the Symbolist Poetry of Blok and Belyi. Oxford, UK: Peter Lang, 2008.
- Wallenberg, Louise, and Andrea Kollnitz, eds. Fashion and Modernism. London, UK: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019.
- Demidenko, Iuliia. “Futurizm glazami obyvatelei: Kostium-karikatura i karikatura na kostium [Futurism through the Eyes of Philistines: Costume-Caricature and Caricature of Costume].” Teoriia mody 44 (Summer 2017): 215–226.
- Dmitriev, P. V. “Byl li Kuzmin ‘Russkim dendi’? [Was Kuzmin a ‘Russian Dandy’?]” Russian Literature 76 (July–August 2014): 134–149.
- Khoroshilova, Ol’ga. Molodye i krasivye: Moda dvadtsatykh godov [The Young and the Beautiful: Fashion in the 1920s]. Moscow, Russia: Eterna, 2016.
- Vainshtein, Ol’ga. Dendi: Moda. Literatura. Stil’ zhizni [The Dandy: Fashion. Literature. Lifestyle]. Moscow, Russia: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2017.
1. See Rita Koppen, Virginia Woolf, Fashion and Literary Modernity (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2011), 35: “[Clothes] also circumscribe and mediate the body as thing, the materiality-effect of the corporeal. Precisely because they exist on and as a boundary, clothes are experienced at once as quasi-objects and quasi-subjects, as chiasmic figures interstitially inhabiting/invoking the organic and the inorganic, life and death.” See also Emma West, “‘hap-hap-hap-hap-happy clothes’: Avant-Garde Experiments in/with Material(s),” in Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Material Exchange, ed. Sarah Posman et al. (Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2013), 67–81, 67.
2. On the diversity of Russian modernism and on terminology, see Leonid Livak, In Search of Russian Modernism (Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018).
4. See Louise Wallenberg and Andrea Kollnitz, “Introduction,” in Fashion and Modernism, ed. Louise Wallenberg and Andrea Kollnitz (London, UK: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019), 1–15, 3; and Ulrich Lehmann, Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000), 168. On the proliferation of advertising in early 20th-century Russia, see Sally West, I Shop in Moscow: Advertising and the Creation of Consumer Culture in Late Tsarist Russia (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011).
5. See Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 67.
6. Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 135. See Franco Moretti, Atlas of the European Novel (London, UK: Verso, 1998), 65: “fashion, this great metropolitan idea, designed for young people (and by them); this engine that never stops and makes the provinces feel old and ugly and jealous—and seduces them forever and a day.”
7. See Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 111.
8. On the gendering of shopping in this period, see Rita Felski, The Gender of Modernity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 66–73.
9. See, for instance, Elizabeth M. Sheehan, Modernism à la Mode: Fashion and the Ends of Literature (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018).
10. Catherine Schuler, “Actresses, Audience and Fashion in the Silver Age: A Crisis of Costume,” in Women and Russian Culture: Projections and Self-Perceptions, ed. Rosalind J. Marsh (New York, NY: Berghahn Books, 1998), 107–121, 108, 109.
11. Anton Chekhov, “Chaika: Komediia v chetyrekh deistviiakh,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v 30-ti tomakh, ed. Nikolai Bel’chikov et al. (Moscow, Russia: Nauka, 1974–1982), 13: 3–60, 36. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are by the author of this article.
12. Chekhov, “Chaika,” 13.
13. See Tamara Boikova-Poggi, “La théâtralité chez Evreinov et les futuristes russes,” Revue des Études Slaves 53 (1981): 47–57; Silvija Jestrovic, “Theatricality as Estrangement of Art and Life in the Russian Avant-Garde,” SubStance 31 (2002): 42–56; and Sharon Marie Carnicke, The Theatrical Instinct: Nikolai Evreinov and the Russian Theatre of the Early Twentieth Century (New York, NY: Peter Lang, 1989).
14. Irina Paperno, “Introduction,” in Creating Life: The Aesthetic Utopia of Russian Modernism, ed. Irina Paperno and Joan Delaney Grossman (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), 3–11, 3. See also Katerina Clark, Petersburg, Crucible of Cultural Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 74. A key aspect in “life-creation” was a widespread sense of replaying the era of Russia’s most famous poet, Aleksandr Pushkin (1799–1837), and particularly the life of Pushkin himself, who was also notably interested in the meaning-making functions of clothes.
15. Colleen McQuillen, The Modernist Masquerade: Stylizing Life, Literature, and Costumes in Russia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), 6. On masks in prerevolutionary Russian discourse, see Mark D. Steinberg, Petersburg Fin-de-Siècle (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 84–119. For more on masks in literature of that period, see also Olga Soboleva, The Silver Mask: Harlequinade in the Symbolist Poetry of Blok and Belyi (Oxford, UK: Peter Lang, 2008).
16. Viacheslav Ivanov, “Novye maski,” in Sobranie sochinenii, ed. Dmitrii Ivanov and Ol’ga Deshart (Brussels, Belgium: Foyer Oriental Chrétien, 1971–1987), 2: 76; and Aleksandr Blok, Snezhnaia maska (St Petersburg, Russia: Ory, 1917); Andrei Belyi, “Maska,” Vesy 1, no. 6 (1904): 6–15.
17. McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 26–27.
18. McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 25.
19. See Liubov’ Kikhnei, “Poetika byta kak bytiia v kartine mira i poetike akmeistov,” in Poetik des Alltags: Russische Literatur im 18.–21. Jahrhundert (Poetika byta: Russkaja literatura XVIII–XXI vv.), ed. Alexander Graf (Munich, Germany: Herbert Utz, 2014), 171–180, 172.
20. Sergei Bulgakov, for instance, is typical of the tradition that stems from the philosopher Aleksandr Potebnia in describing the word as consisting of a nucleus (iadro) and a covering (obolochka). Underlying much of this interest and these metaphors was an abiding fascination with the question of the nature of God’s incarnation in Christ. See Thomas Seifrid, The Word Made Flesh: Russian Writings on Language, 1860–19 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 189, 42. See also Steven Cassedy, Flight from Eden: The Origins of Modern Literary Criticism and Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 101.
21. For a critique of Symbolist representation, see Osip Mandel’shtam, “O prirode slova,” in O Poezii: Sbornik statei, ed. Osip Mandel’shtam (Leningrad, Russia: Academia, 1928), 26–45, 41.
22. See Colleen McQuillen, “From The Fairground Booth to Futurism: The Sartorial and Material Estrangement of Masquerade,” The Russian Review 71 (2012): 413–435, 418.
23. See Cameron Wiggins, “The Enchanted Masquerade: Aleksandr Blok’s The Puppet Show from the Stage to the Streets,” in Petersburg/Petersburg: Novel and City, 1900–1921, ed. Olga Matich (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010), 174–193.
24. Aleksandr Blok, “Neznakomka,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 20-ti tomakh, ed. Viacheslav Bystrov et al. (Moscow, Russia: Nauka, 1995), 2: 122–123, 123.
25. Charles Baudelaire, “A une passante,” in Les Fleurs du Mal (Paris, France: Gallimard, 1964), 109. The women in both Baudelaire’s and Blok’s poems wear the black of mourning. See Denis Ioffe, “‘The Discourses of Love’: Some Observations Regarding Charles Baudelaire in the Context of Brjusov’s and Blok’s Vision of the ‘Urban Woman’,” Russian Literature 64 (2008): 19–45.
26. See Lehmann, Tigersprung, 134–136; and Janet Stewart, Fashioning Vienna: Alfred Loos’s Cultural Criticism (London, UK, and New York, NY: Routledge, 2000), 134.
27. Aleksandr Blok, “Russkie dendi,” in Sobranie sochinenii v 8-ti tomakh, ed. Vladimir Orlov, Aleksei Surkov, and Kornei Chukovskii (Moscow, Russia: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1962), 6: 53–57, 56.
28. See Betsy F. Moeller-Sally, “Oscar Wilde and the Culture of Russian Modernism,” The Slavic and East European Journal 34 (1990): 459–472, 463; and Pavel Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin ‘Russkim dendi’?” Russian Literature 76 (July–August 2014): 134–149, 135.
29. See Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin,” 140–141.
30. Quoted in Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin,” 139.
31. Chekhov, “Chaika,” 36.
32. Vladimir Maiakovskii, “Kofta fata,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 13-ti tomakh, ed. Vasilii Katanian, 13 vols (Moscow, Russia: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1955–1961), 1: 59.
33. Maiakovskii, “Kofta fata.”
34. Benedikt Livshits, “Polutoroglazyi strelets,” in Polutoroglazyi strelets: Stikhotvoreniia, perevody, vospominaniia (Leningrad, Russia: Sovetskii pisatel’, 1989), 306–546, 425. On Kuzmin’s shopping habits, see Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin,” 140.
35. On Futurist dress as a response to Symbolist dress, see McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 162–63, and Iuliia Demidenko, “Futurizm glazami obyvatelei: Kostium-karikatura i karikatura na kostium,” Teoriia mody 44 (Summer 2017): 215–226, which also addresses Kuzmin and tango. On hooligan style, see Joan Neuberger, Hooliganism: Crime, Culture and Power in St. Petersburg, 1900–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 62; on the role of the monocle in dandyism, see Lehmann, Tigersprung, 353–358.
36. On dandyism as a response to the homogenised urban environment, see Lehmann, Tigersprung, 135. A counterpoint comes from Roland Barthes, who suggests that dandyism is precisely a product of increased uniformity, which forces distinction to be found in small details; once clothes became more various in the 20th century, the dandy’s field of operation disappeared; see Roland Barthes, “Dandyism and Fashion,” in The Language of Fashion, trans. Andy Stafford, ed. Michael Carter (Oxford, UK, and New York, NY: Berg, 2006), 60–64.
37. See Maiakovskii, “I nam miasa,” in PSS, 1: 313–15, 314. In the same essay, Maiakovskii compares Futurism to the red cape of a toreador. On Futurism and branding, see Irina Ivaniushina, Russkii futurizm: ideologiia, poetika, pragmatika (Saratov, Russia: Izdatel’stvo Saratovskogo Universiteta, 2003), 35, 235.
39. Feldman, Gender on the Divide, 4.
40. Feldman, Gender on the Divide, 11.
41. For instances of misogynistic language in Maiakovskii, see Aleksandr Zholkovskii, “O genii i zlodeistve, o babe i vserossiiskom masshtabe,” in Mir avtora i struktura teksta, ed. Aleksandr Zholkovskii and Iurii Shcheglov (Tenafly, NJ: Hermitage, 1986), 255–278.
42. Maiakovskii, “Kofta fata,” in PSS, 1: 59.
43. Olga Matich, Erotic Utopia: The Decadent Imagination in Russia’s Fin de Siècle (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 162, 164. See also Victoria Thorstensson, “Nihilist Fashion in 1860s–1870s Russia: The Aesthetic Relations of Blue Spectacles to Reality,” Clothing Cultures 3, no. 3 (2016): 265–281.
44. Matich, Erotic Utopia, 173. See also McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 97–107, and for the societal response to cross-dressing, Steinberg, Petersburg Fin-de-Siècle, 108–111.
45. Sandra M. Gilbert, “Costumes of the Mind: Transvestism as Metaphor in Modern Literature,” Critical Inquiry 7 (1980): 391–417, 393.
46. Sheehan, Modernism à la Mode, 29–30.
47. Anna Akhmatova, Stikhotvoreniia i poemy (Leningrad, Russia: Sovetskii Pisatel’, 1976), 57, 30, 29.
48. Mikhail Kuzmin, “Predislovie,” in Vecher, ed. Anna Akhmatova (St Petersburg, Russia: Tsekh Poetov, 1912), 7–10, 8.
49. Gilbert, “Costumes of the Mind,” 392.
50. See, for instance, Adam Geczy, Fashion and Orientalism: Dress, Textiles and Culture from the 17th to the 21st Century (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
51. Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes, 2. Many of the different ways in which “Russian” and “European” dress were defined and re-defined are astutely discussed in the articles in a special edition of Clothing Cultures edited by Victoria Ivleva and Amanda Murphy; see Clothing Cultures 3, no. 3 (2016).
52. See Ruane, The Empire’s New Clothes, 12.
53. See Irina Shevelenko, Modernizm kak arkhaizm: natsionalizm i poiski modernistskoi estetiki v Rossii (Moscow, Russia: NLO, 2017), 30.
54. See McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 73, for a discussion of the influence of Russian national styles in Europe.
55. See Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 180; Peter Wollen, “Fashion / Orientalism / The Body,” New Formations 1 (1987): 5–33; Sheehan, Modernism à la Mode, 51–55.
56. See, for instance, Jane Ashton Sharp, Russian Modernism between East and West: Natal’ia Goncharova and the Moscow Avant-Garde (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
57. Velimir Khlebnikov, “Asiaunion,” in The King of Time: Selected Writings of the Russian Futurian, trans. Paul Schmidt, ed. Charlotte Douglas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), 1: 343. On Khlebnikov’s Persian dress, see Ronald Vroon, “A Russian Futurist in Asia: Velimir Khlebnikov’s Travelogue in Verse,” in Central Asia in Global History: Writing Travel at a Cultural Crossroads, ed. Nile Green (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), 170–192, 187.
59. Vladimir Maiakovskii, “Iz stat’i ‘Kak delat’ stikhi?’” in S. A. Esenin v vospominaniiakh sovremennikov, ed. Aleksei Kozlovskii, 2 vols. (Moscow, Russia: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1986), 2: 358–360, 359.
60. Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 154.
61. See Urmila Seshagiri, “Orienting Virginia Woolf: Race, Aesthetics, and Politics in To the Lighthouse,” Modern Fiction Studies 50 (2004): 58–84, 64; Sheehan, Modernism à la Mode, 55; Moira Marsh “Bunga-bunga on the Dreadnought: Hoax, Race and Woolf,” Comedy Studies 9, no. 2 (2018): 200–215.
62. See Ruane, Empire’s New Clothes, 166.
63. See Jessica Berman, “Is the Trans in Transnational the Trans in Transgender?” Modernism/modernity 24, no. 2 (2017): 217–244.
64. Fedor Sologub, Melkii bes (St Petersburg, Russia: Nauka, 2004), 231–235. See also McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 58–61. It is noteworthy that it is initially assumed that the geisha must be the local actress Kashtanova.
65. Maiakovskii, “Iz stat’i ‘Kak delat’ stikhi?’” 359.
66. It has been suggested that Esenin and Kliuev were indeed lovers. See The Encyclopedia of Gay Histories and Cultures, ed. George E. Haggerty (New York, NY: Garland, 2000), 2: 456–457. It is perhaps not a coincidence that this same period saw the emergence, for the first time, of a visually distinctive gay subculture in Moscow and St Petersburg, reinforcing the connection between unusual dress and alternative sexualities. See Dan Healey, “The Disappearance of the Russian Queen, or How the Soviet Closet Was Born,” in Russian Masculinities in History and Culture, ed. Dan Healey, Barbara Evans Clements, and Rebecca Friedman (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001), 152–72, 160.
67. Ivanov’s account is quoted in Michael Makin, Nikolai Klyuev: Time and Text, Place and Poet (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2010), 50.
68. Quoted in Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin,” 137.
69. Dmitriev, “Byl li Kuzmin.”
70. See Clark, Petersburg, 74.
71. Akhmatova, “Poema bez geroia,” in Stikhotvoreniia i poemy, 431–442, 433.
72. See McQuillen, Modernist Masquerade, 162–163, and Ivaniushina, Russkii futurizm, 219.
73. Vladimir Markov, ed., Manifesty i programmy russkikh futuristov (Munich, Germany: Fink, 1967), 173.
74. Maiakovskii, PSS, 1: 151–172, 163.
76. Khlebnikov, “Asiaunion,” 343.
77. Zamiatin was likely influenced by the more positive description of universal rational dress in Aleksandr Bogdanov’s science fiction novel Red Star (1908). See Bartlett, Fashion East, 22.
78. See Ol’ga Khoroshilova, Molodye i krasivye: moda dvadtsatykh godov (Moscow, Russia: Eterna, 2016), 340; Boris Pil’niak, “Golyi god,” in Sobranie sochinenii v 6-ti tomakh, ed. Kira Andronikashvili-Pil’niak (Moscow, Russia: Terra, 2003), 1: 23–183; and Mikhail Bulgakov, “Sobach’e serdtse,” in Sobranie sochinenii v 5-ti tomakh (Moscow, Russia: Khudozhestvennaia literatura, 1989), 2: 153.
79. Christina Kiaer, Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 2005), 90. See also Olga Vainshtein, “Designing the Future: Constructivist Laboratory of Fashion,” in Fashion and Modernism, ed. Louise Wallenberg and Andrea Kollnitz (London, UK: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019), 101–124; and Djurdja Bartlett, “The Constructivist Sartorial Utopia and Its Revolutionary Potential: Then and Now,” in The Oxford Handbook of Communist Visual Cultures, ed. Aga Skrodzka, Xiaoning Lu, and Katarzyna Marciniak (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2019).
80. On artists’ experiments with clothing, see Radu Stern, Against Fashion: Clothing as Art, 1850–1930 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004).
81. See Marjorie L. Hilton, “The Invention of Soviet Advertising,” in Material Culture in Russia and the USSR: Things, Values, Identities, ed. Graham H. Roberts (New York, NY, and London, UK: Bloomsbury, 2017), 119–134.
82. Nadezhda Mandel’shtam, Vtoraia kniga: vospominaniia (Paris, France: YMCA Press, 1983), 135.
83. Evgenii Il’f and Konstantin Petrov, Dvenadtsat’ stul’ev (Moscow, Russia: Vagrius, 1999), 426. See also note on 539.
84. Maiakovskii, “Klop,” in Polnoe sobranie sochinenii v 13-ti tomakh, 11: 215–274, 217. On the disjunction between Maiakovskii’s fine clothes and his anti-fashion rhetoric, see Ol’ga Vainshtein, Dendi: Moda. Literatura. Stil’ zhizni (Moscow, Russia: Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie, 2017), 524.
85. Maiakovskii, “Marus’ia otravilas’,” in PSS, 8: 188–198.
86. Quoted in Emma West, “‘hap-hap-hap-hap-happy clothes’: Avant-Garde Experiments in/with Material(s),” in Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Material Exchange, ed. Sarah Posman et al. (Berlin, Germany: Walter de Gruyter, 2013), 67–81, 73.
87. See Sheila Fitzpatrick, Tear off the Masks! Identity and Imposture in Twentieth-Century Russia (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 92.
88. VARST, “Kostium segondiashnego dnia - prozodezhda,” LEF 2 (1923): 65–68.
89. Louise Wallenberg, “Introduction,” in Fashion and Modernism, ed. Louise Wallenberg and Andrea Kollnitz (London, UK: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019), 1–13, 2.
90. On “the new modernism,” see, for example, Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123 (2008): 737–748. On global modernisms, see, for instance, The Oxford Handbook of Global Modernisms, ed. Mark A. Wollaeger and Mark Eatough (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012) and Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2018). Works in the 21st century to address fashion and modernist literature (outside of Russia) include Jessica Burstein, Cold Modernism: Literature, Fashion, Art (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012); Koppen, Virginia Woolf, Fashion and Literary Modernity; Sheehan, Modernism à la Mode; Celia Marshik, At the Mercy of Their Clothes: Modernism, the Middlebrow, and British Garment Culture (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2016); Lehmann, Tigersprung; Posman et al., eds., Aesthetics of Matter: Modernism, the Avant-Garde and Material Exchange, which looks at modernism and materiality more generally.
91. Iurii Lotman, “The Poetics of Everyday Behavior in Eighteenth-Century Russian Culture,” in The Semiotics of Russian Cultural History, ed. Alexander Nakhimovsky (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985), 67–94. See also Iu. M. Lotman, Kul’tura i vzryv (Moscow, Russia: Gnozis, 1992), 127. Raisa Kirsanova, Rozovaia ksandreika i dradedamovyi platok: kostium—veshch′ i obraz v russkoi literature XIX veka (Moscow, Russia: Kniga, 1989); Vainshtein, Dendi.
92. See, for instance, Victoria Ivleva, “A Vest Reinvested in The Gift,” Russian Review 68, no. 2 (2009): 283–301; Victoria Ivleva, “The Locus of the Fashion Shop in Russian Literature from 1764 to 1806,” Eighteenth-Century Studies 46, no. 3 (2013): 363–383; Gitta Hammarberg, “Sartor Resartus: Gogol’s Overcoats,” The Russian Review 67 (2008): 395–414; Nailia Abieva, “Dynamics of the Costume in Chekhov’s Prose,” Bulletin of Kemerovo State University 1 (2017): 143–147; Marina Dudukalova and Ol’ga Sysoeva, “Clothing Attributes of the Main Character in the Novel ‘Anna Karenina’ by Leo Tolstoy,” Studia Humanitatis 1 (2019); Amanda Murphy, “The Empress Undressed: Dress, Disguise, and the Next Generation in Pushkin's Prose,” Russian Review 76, no. 4 (2017): 713–731; Helena Goscilo, “Keeping A-breast of the Waist-Land,” in Russia—Women—Culture, ed. Helena Goscilo and Beth Holmgren (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 31–63.
93. Kiaer, Imagine No Possessions; Bartlett, Fashion East.