The official political fashion following the Iranian Revolution went through a curious transformation following the 1979 Revolution. The sartorial spirit of the nation went from the trendy aspirationalism of a growing middle class to a more pietistic and “third way” foreign policy look. The flashy ’70s suits perhaps by Travolta’s iconic image on the cover of the 1977 production “Saturday Night Fever”, were less prevalent and in their place was a more neutral, drab look that may be termed “Revolutionary Fever”.
The Revolution saw the regime declare war on the perceived excesses of the west, the Shah’s domestic ostentatiousness, and secularism. The most notable fashion victim of the Revolution was the beloved neck tie. Ties vanished within a few years from public life in Iran partially due to their prevalence among Communist Party members in the pre-revolutionary days (which Khomeini eventually liquidated) and partially as their symbol of western decadence. Some have traced back the disappearance of ties to a Khomeini quote in which he denounced the “tie-wearing cronies of the West”.
Thus, since the early 1980s, Iranian officials have donned interesting mixes of collared and non-collared button-up shirts in an attempt to present themselves as politically palatable in the revolutionary state. Take for instance, Ahmadinejad. One will never see him in a tie, even in a formal environment such as the United Nations. This populist clearly prefers the common man’s look of cheap Chinese suits with occasional knock-off CK brand spring coats. Another look is Saeed Jalili who dons a more formal wool pinstripe with pink collarless cotton shirt (oddly copied by Ferragamo’s Spring 2009 collection). This clearly Iranian take on pietism, populism and third-way fashion has knock-on effects on other movements and leaders that forego ties in the name of fighting global imperialism.
Unlike many revolutions, fashion in the French Revolution was noted in the history books because of the large role played by the fishmongers of Paris, tri-colour apparatchiks, and Sans-Culottes in the early days of the Revolution. What the history books miss, however, is the longer effect of intellectual basis of the Revolution.
In the early days of the Terror fashion most likely became fairly muted as peasants and aristocrats alike took to hiding in burlap to avoid being taken away and guillotined as the zealots targeted the perversely gilded excesses of the Sun King’s court. Out of liberté, égalité, fraternité, égalité was the name of the game in fashion during the Terror.
The real impact of the Revolution was the massive change in overall fashion that lasted through much of the early 18th Century. Classicism took hold due to the of the enlightenment basis of the Revolution. Out were the fitted corsets, exploding pannier skirts, and powdered wigs for both men and women of Louis XIV Court. Stockings were also replaced by trousers and jackets were greatly simplified for men. As the 19th Century dawned free flowing high-waisted dresses became the norm for many women of wealth, reminiscent of ancient Greece and Rome. The reason? The French Revolution was heavily based in Enlightenment thinking which looked back to classical thought for a new society based on reason that rejected the gaudy excess of court and church alike.
Unlike Russia, slightly over a century later, the French would move away from the tyranny of the early revolutionary days and continue the world in Fashion throughout the 19th Century in the relatively free breathing space allowed by the French system.
The overall effect of the Russian Revolution on fashion is a disaster, unless one is involved in hipster businesses selling “communist chic” t-shirts and memorabilia.
The turn of the 20th Century saw the Russian nobility embrace a more uniquely Russian style than the previous two hundred years. Costume based on the romanticism of the time became worn occasionally. Elaborate robes, based on the old Kaftans of Northern Russia during the time of the Mongol occupation, along with heavy jewellery and kokoshniks became some hallmarks of this throwback movement in style. On top of this, the aristocracy would also don classic imperial uniforms and the tuxedos and dresses best embodied in the depictions of leftist propaganda of the day.
However, with the Revolution a push to equality in gender and class became main drivers. De facto substantive equality was imposed all (except those in the Bolshevik inner circle) through the Civil War, economic devastation, and other conflicts like the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-21. For the most part, the Revolutionary style could be considered one of pure utilitarianism mixed with angst to avoid any semblance of being labeled bourgeois to avoid being deported to Siberia or worse by Revolutionary forces. The effect on uniforms, too, was grotesque and did not begin to recover until after Stalin.
Lenin’s New Economic Policy of the early 1920s, which attempted to harness some market power in an attempt to stem economic catastrophe following the Revolution, may have actually increased the supply of clothing, however, this policies were soon abandoned in Stalin’s first Five Year Plan in 1928.
Overall, the Russian Revolution’s effect on fashion was nothing short of terrible through the abandonment of international connections that served as drivers of innovation, trade and the creativity of free enterprise. Ordinary citizens’ creativity, however, was not fully repressed: many in the post-Stalinst thaw successfully replicated European clothing designs, traded homemade patterns based on icons such as Jackie Kennedy and set up underground clothing factories to bypass officially sanctioned and centrally-planned chic.
France was known for its extravagance in the arts with exuberant architecture, costume and future design the mode of living in France was at its zenith. With the abolition of the class system men and women of different classes had to intermingle willingly or unwillingly and they had to be looking the same, living the same and dressing the same. An explosion of dull colours and cotton. The colors of their clothes are primarily blue, white, and red; the colors of the French flag (le tricolour). The bonnet rouge, or red cap, is another very important and prominent symbol of revolutionaries. The last article of clothing that is clearly associated with revolutionaries is the long pants or sans-culottes. This attire was also a class marker, for wealthier Frenchmen could afford finer, more elaborate clothing.
While the 18th- and 19th-century Russian aristocracy dressed identically to its French and Prussian counterparts, with the turn of the 20th century the traditional Muscovy Rus style of heavy fabrics, elaborate gold and precious stone embroideries and female half-moon-shaped headwear kokoshniks made its comeback and won over Europe with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
The Revolution of 1917 made the Russian fashion adjust to the new Communist norms, which condemned everything “bourgeois” and extraordinary. In its early phase the Soviet state introduced equality among sexes and classes, instantly affecting the Russian style by radically simplifying the dress.
However, creative Russian women managed to retain their style even in the worst times, going to great lengths to get hold of Western European clothing designs and replicating Jackie Kennedy’s dresses, it wasn’t until Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raissa that the Russian style started coming back to the world arena.
While the 18th- and 19th-century Russian aristocracy dressed identically to its French and Prussian counterparts, with the turn of the 20th century the traditional Muscovy Rus style of heavy fabrics, elaborate gold and precious stone embroideries and female half-moon-shaped headwear kokoshniks made its comeback and won over Europe with Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The Revolution of 1917 made the Russian fashion adjust to the new Communist norms, which condemned everything “bourgeois” and extraordinary. In its early phase the Soviet state introduced equality among sexes and classes, instantly affecting the Russian style by radically simplifying the dress.
Lenin’s NEP (New Economic Policy) In 1921, lands and people under Soviet control were in desperate need of relief of the famine that was killing citizens in scores. Additionally, necessary goods, like cooking implements and clothing, were scarce.
Revolutions not only alter the political structure of countries and societies but also touch the daily lives of those who live through them. One, often ignored aspect in the history books is fashion. Whether aesthetically pleasing or wacky, lasting or impermanent major shifts in political and economic orders will shake up how people dress.