Every time I plan another trip to Russia I face a dilemma of sorts – I need to go through my closet to pick the best outfits. Perhaps that is standard operating procedure to nearly all of us, but what does that mean for me and you? Do people in the US and in Russia really dress differently?
To answer, I must establish a simple premise: It’s more difficult to discuss an “average American” than an “average Russian”. American society is a melting pot comprised of people from all over the world with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. One common theme in the USA is tolerance to others and this tolerance starts with the way people look.
Here it’s more difficult to surprise society with unusual appearances as the definition of “usual” appearance has seen marked change in the past 40 years here (my husband says it was not always so). With individual liberty comes individual expression. This is not to say that there is no cohesive theme to dress. No. What I mean to say is that people choose to look the way they like and sometimes that choice is quite dramatically different. There are certainly some standards within particular social groups and regions, e.g. business attire for work, jeans accepted as casual dress; however, there is no universal fashion and, what is more important, there is no “enforcement” of such. Each person follows their personal criteria often giving equal consideration to comfort ahead of style. A woman in a business suit can walk downtown wearing tennis shoes…need I say more?
This is just one of the important differences between Americans and Russians. For years we have been hiding our personalities in collective society, now we choose to emulate “everybody else”. Having seen Tobolsk, Tyumen (both in Siberia), Moscow and Saint Petersburg within the past month, I have noticed one trend for women in all of these cities: this year it is skinny jeans tucked into high boots with heels. Anywhere you look, you will see young girls and women following this common trend. Having traveled and lived in all different parts of the US, I will only note dominating shorts, jeans, T-shirts, tennis shoes and flip flops. After seeing this kind of clothing, I always find it weird to get back to busy Moscow subway with its high heels and expensive outfits often purchased with their very last dollar (ruble as it were). Russian women tend to spend much time, energy and money (some might say too much) on looking good exaggerating the importance of our appearance. Said another way, looking fashionable for Russians carries with it a steep price and commitment.
Just remember, regardless of how good someone looks on the outside, it is what is on the inside that matters.