Sovlegrpom - composed of ‘sov’, ‘leg’ and ‘prom ’ - is short for ‘sovetskaya legkaya promyshlennost’ which translates as ‘soviet light industry’. In other words, it is the same industry that produces fashion - as mush as the word applied to life in the USSR. But it is not just about apparel manufacturing branch and ugly department store clothes I spoke of here. There was more to it. Sovlegprom was a mentality, a mindset, a whole culture, if you like.
women fingering brasssieres over a department store counter - a scarce commodity as the long line of willing buyers indicates
There was time in Soviet history when the light industry was slighted (battology intended). More important goals were in view. Making a virtue out of necessity, dressing up was pronoucned wrong. Fashion in the USSR and sophisticated clothes were associated with petit-bourgeois and “the decadent influence of the West”. Female peasants and workers in chintzy floral dresses were to stay in awe of the leader cult (male leader). They were not taught to think that they could be worthy of more. On the other hand, transformations in life then were so formidable that it compensated. There was a big, bright communist future ahead.
Children were brought up thinking that good clothes were bad. It was the “inner beauty” and readiness to do something for the society that mattered. It affected girls in particular. Whole generations of women totally incapable of presenting themselves right have grown up and gone on to life with a heap of ‘issues’, believing they were somehow inferior because they felt the wrong urge to wish for pretty clothes.
Soviet school uniform consisted of a dark brown dress and a black apron sewn from twill or serge
The establishment (nomenklatura) were the first who failed to bring up their own kids right. The golden youth and close circles often had better clothes and mocked those clad in ‘sovlegprom’. The garment industry continued in the same vein - what else could it do? Peasants and workers remained simple and crude - an so did Soviet fashion. Or was it a matter of influence and power? The Union had its couturiers - like Zaytsev - but they served ‘nomenklatura’. A little something spilled over to residents of the largerst cities. When women went on business trips to Moscow or Saint Petersburg, they always tried to drop into big department stores in hope of snapping up something decent-looking.
In the final run, de-cultivating fashion values took the opposite effect. ‘Trends and brands’ mentality rocketed exponentially. ‘Sovlegprom’ (you may also call it ‘sovok’*) still thrives with the older generations of genuine communist builders. That’s what they have always known. But their children and grandchildren think different. The most outrageous is the fact that those who had ‘preached water’ were the first to divert. Their offspring embraced everything ‘Western-made’ – from clothes to lifestyle and values - especially those hollow values where there is nothing really valuable. But that’s a different story. Soviet fashion and styles - the Sovok - were an object of contempt and derision.
* sovok – a vague concept letting in everything associated with the simple life of Soiet people en masse including Soviets fashions and Soviet fashion industry.