Styling with Stilyaga

Shortly after the second World War and into the early 1960’s in the Soviet Union there was a sort of social counter culture revolution. With exposure to western culture, especially American culture from the second World War, many men and women took a liking to it especially to jazz music. The name for the men who took part in this counter culture was the Stilyaga, generally used as a negative comment.  One author in 1956 described the usage of the word stilyaga “Here in our country the word ‘style’ has come to mean only bad things and the word “stilyaga” to denote a person of bad style.” (Rusakova). In popular media a stereotypical Stilyaga is portrayed as a man who dresses in an ill-fitting zoot suit that has outrageous designs and/or colors, they also had a tendency to use a different manner of speech. While part of the Stilyaga movement was an appreciation for certain aspects of western culture, it was also used as a blanket term for anyone who deviated from the accepted social norms.

Boris Prorokov’s Papa’s Triumph (1954) is a stereotypical depiction of a Stilyaga

It wasn’t really an organised movement that was trying to accomplish anything significant, it was really more about the appreciation of American culture. It was frowned upon by older generations and by people in authority but not taken as a very serious threat. Besides the men who would dress in outlandish zoot suits, many other men were considered stilyaga. Someone who uses a more American version of their own Russian name, puts only the bare minimum effort in at work, doesn’t take responsibility for his actions if ever possible, these sorts of behaviors would earn someone the title of stilyaga.

Literary Sources:

https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13976434

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/stilyaga/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/stilyaga/stilyaga-texts/krokodil-on-stilyaga/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/stilyaga/stilyaga-texts/in-search-of-melancholy-baby/

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/stilyaga/stilyaga-texts/grigorii-dudko-finds-friends/

Photo Source

http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1954-2/stilyaga/stilyaga-images/#bwg138/770

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10 thoughts on “Styling with Stilyaga

  1. I was so excited to read your post because the stilyaga is one of my favorite movements in Soviet history!! I like how you mentioned that the term grew to mean more than just this one movement, but anyone who was not fitting social norms. Despite this movement being social and cultural, rather than political, why do you think it was looked down upon so much? Did the Soviet government do anything to try and end this movement?

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    1. Honestly it’s pretty similar to how early rockers and punk rockers were treated in America, they weren’t a threat to anybody but they were visually different and easily distinguished in a crowd. They were accused of being poor workers, irresponisble, pretty much anything that wasn’t positive for a Communist. Jazz was also considered to be the music of the bourgeoisie and if that wasn’t bad enough it was American culture that the stilyaga were trying to emulate during the Cold War. It could have been anyone of these reasons or all of them combined, just the term stilyaga became a blanket term for a social deviant.

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  2. I really enjoyed your post! I was actually thinking about the other day about the influence of western culture on Russia then came across your post! I wonder what other western influences there was on the Soviets besides the clothing/jazz music.

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  3. That image you chose is one of my all time favorites of the Stilyagi. I’m also really intrigued by non-conformism that isn’t overly political — and that definitely describes the Soviet hipsters. What did the articles you found in the Current Digest have to say about them? Also, check out this post by Emma, which discusses a recent (2008) film about the Stilyagi: https://emmajeanhistory.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/before-the-west-was-cool-soviet-hipsters-in-the-50s/

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    1. Sorry I forgot to check if that link worked before I posted this, but it’s fixed now. The article is titled “Which of them is the Stilyaga?” and the author gives four examples. The first is the stereotypical stilyaga, dressed flamboyantly, the second is a man who comes to work tipsy, the third believes he is better than his peers without actually being better than them, and the third is willing to abandon his pregnant girlfriend so he wouldn’t have to be a father. The author goes into a lot more detail than that, but that’s the basic idea anyway.

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  4. It would be interesting to see if the USSR had any impact on the US like the US had on the USSR in this way. We gave them Jazz and bad suits so I’m curious what soviet things our soldiers brought back from the war. I find this kind of cultural exchange really interesting.

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  5. It seems like stilyaga was really just a derogatory word for anything the Soviets didn’t like. It’s a shame they were so against everything American because really, jazz is one of our best exports.

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  6. It interesting how one can draw similarities from the stiyaga in the Soviet Union and what we have come to know as hippies. Both counter the meta culture of the times and are therefore looked upon negatively. Great post and it was very interesting to read about!

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  7. This was a very interesting post! I learned so much about stilyaga from your discussion. It is amazing that people were given an entirely new “name” just because of the way they may have dressed. At the same time though, we still see people treating people like this in society today. Anyone who deviates from the societal norms is often looked down on by those who believe they are better. I think the stilyaga sound pretty cool.

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