The Stilyaga: Soviet Hipsters


When one pictures cultural rebels in the United States these days, we often think of artistic hipsters who steer away from mainstream standards in music, art, and media. In the 1960s, one might think of these people as the famed “Greasers,” or the outlandish flapper girls of the 1920s. For Soviet Russia in the 1940s, the “Stilyaga” were considered the originators of a new cultural wave that veered away from the cookie-cutter conformity of socialism.

“Stilyaga” was the intentionally insulting nickname gi
ven to this group of people by those who opposed their forwardness. In many major Russian cities, the stilyaga could be seen sportingĀ narrow trousers, thick-soled shoes, and jackets that hung to their vdk079knees in bizarre colors. For more great images of these youth, click HERE! I was quite surprised when I learned that the majority of these trendsetters originated as the children of the wealthier SovietĀ elite. While they did not have any political rebellion in mind, they did center their tastes around Western culture. They often hung out in nightlife establishments that catered to their musical interests, specifically jazz and the sounds of the saxophone.

The communist ideology left little room for individualism, but many Russian youths found ways to incorporate western style into their own Soviet lives. For example, chewing gum was considered to be a very western practice. If gum wasn’t available, paraffin wax acted as a suitable replacement. Stilyaga often made their own clothes, even their own instruments, when materials weren’t readily available. While this group never promoted illegal activity, authorities launched a campaign against them by casting them as “enemies of society.” I cannot imagine growing up in a society where the freedom of individual expression is not valued like it is in America today. That being said, I greatly admire the stilyaga and their passion for stretching the norms of Soviet society in the 1940s.


Additional Sources:

Image 1: Vsevolod Ssorin, Stilyaga on a Stroll with Two Girls (1951), Photodome 1999.

Image 2: B. Prorokov, Papa’s Triumph (1954)

5 comments for “The Stilyaga: Soviet Hipsters

  1. Parker Leep
    November 9, 2015 at 3:17 pm

    It makes sense that the wealthy elite would begin this trend because they were much more exposed to the West than poor Russians were. These images of the stilyaga look straight out of the movie Grease. They were definitely the hipsters of the 1950s Soviet Union. There is some really cool cultural parallels between this and the current day hipster trend; thanks for sharing!

  2. zmartin
    November 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm

    The set of pictures was very interesting. These people were definitely out of place, and I could see how the government would look down on them. Its also understandable how the wealthier kids were involved in this movement since they had more resources and were subjected to the west more than their counterparts.

  3. malw14
    November 9, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    I like how you compared the Stilyaga to hipsters, greasers, and flappers. It definitely helped put them into perspective. It also brings to light the fact that every culture during every time period has a so-called “hipster” or rebellious group who goes against the mainstream. Great post!

  4. Mvalentine
    November 10, 2015 at 4:27 am

    i wrote about the same subject and i found it almost comically ironic that the Stilyagi represented the same kind of cultural rebellion that started the Marxist movement and created the communist government, its an interesting role reversal to see the “revolutionary” government suppress a small stylistic revolution!

  5. November 18, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    I wonder if the only reason that they could establish this “movement” was because they were the only young people with enough money to wear the type of clothes they did and stay out at night at jazz bars and chew gum. Since the majority of these young people were a part of the rich Soviet families, they were really the only ones able to do this. I would say that they were the “hipsters” of there time, and they do look more “Westernized” in their dress. Very interesting! The link provided in the article also helped.

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