Unfashionable me: Past, Present and Future

Last week Natalie of Another Perfume Blog dedicated to me one of her RSP (Runway, Sidewalk, Perfume) posts. She depicted me much better than I am in the real life – so you should go and read it if you haven’t done it yet!

Natalie’s post sent me sorting not only through my closet to streamlining my wardrobe but also through my memories.

I grew up in a fashion-challenged country: there were almost no fashion magazines, no advertising of any kind, runway TV shows or even sales catalogs. Still somehow everybody knew what was in fashion at any given time. And most women tried to follow that fashion. So the whole country would be wearing miniskirts, maxi skirts, banana pants, leg warmers, turtlenecks or wedges. Well, maybe not the whole country but inhabitants of big cities definitely would.

I don’t know how they (we) did it: light industry wasn’t the country’s strong suit (I haven’t decided if to consider that a pun); you couldn’t just go to a department store and buy nice clothes – you had to either come across new arrivals and stand in line for a couple of hours or “know somebody” (a sale assistant or a store manager). There was a third option – engaging in the hand-to-hand sale. The problem with the latter was that it was illegal and very expensive: a pair of fashionable boots, for example, could cost a monthly salary of a school teacher. Nevertheless, many women of all ages managed to get the desirable item into their wardrobe. Peculiarly you could unmistakably tell that year’s “it” from just walking the streets or riding a subway. Interestingly, when it came to fashion, looking like everybody else was considered a good thing.

Soviet Fashion in 60s

For the first several years after I moved to the U.S. I thought I was in heaven: not because of the abundance of nice clothes for almost any price range but because it seemed nobody cared for fashion. Most people around wore whatever they felt like wearing, in many cases just jeans and tops – comfortable clothes. Comfort has never been a priority for me (or my ex-countrymen) but what I actually enjoyed was the newly found freedom to wear what I wanted without the pressure to follow the trend or be like everybody.

Of course later I realized that fashion agnosticism that I, following my previous experience, projected on the whole country, was rather a reflection of the area where I lived: soccer moms and computer geeks are not much into hot couture or even just fashion trends.

I still do not care much for what is in or out of fashion. I like beautiful things and would wear something I like without thinking twice if others might think of it as dated. My taste and wardrobe changed a little over the years but I’m still more on the classic and conservative than modern and hip side. And, most likely, I’ll stay that way. If you want to know more, I touched upon my present attitude towards clothes (including a bizarre classification of things I wear) in the last year’s post For Every Occasion: Jul et Mad Amour de Palazzo.

As for the future, what I’m trying to change about my clothes is what I do already, more successfully, with perfumes: I think I will be happier with twice or even three times fewer items bought for the same money. I like variety but I don’t get as much joy from five $40 mainstream perfumes from a discount store as I would get from one even full price bottle of niche perfume of my choice. Two more issues I’m working on: overcoming my preconception that, borrowing from Mr. H. Ford, shoes might be in any color as long as they are black (an aftermath of having just one or two pairs at a time, which had to go with everything) and almost physical handicap preventing me from buying and wearing anything white, especially pants and skirts (I’m still not sure how people do that while using public transportation!).

I also decide to try my hand at making a fashion collage to pair with one of my favorite perfumes – Ormonde Jayne Ta’if (if you missed it, I told the story of this perfume in this year’s anniversary post Down the Rabbit Hole through the Looking-Glass).

Ormonde Jayne Ta'if Collage

Images: Soviet fashion, shoes and clutch for the collage – borrowed somewhere (can’t find owners), necklace, dress and perfume in collage – my own.

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16 thoughts on “Unfashionable me: Past, Present and Future

  1. Nice, Undina! I had gone over to another perfume blog to see what’s what and absolutely pictured you with the Climat look; it “confirms” your Ta’if collage for me. Not counting work clothes, which tend to be more “corporate” than not, i go for super casual (jeans and sneakers) unless I need to dress up (as in dinners during a cruise).

    • Thank you, hajusuuri!
      For many years I tried that “corporate look” – even though it was absolutely not required and finally gave up: it feels almost inappropriate to wear a suit and a silk blouse next to jeans, shorts and sometimes even flip-flops. Now it’s more business casual. And I love to dress up (and wish I had more occasions to do so).

  2. A gently revealing post, Undina, done in your very sincere and tasteful way. I love it when you write posts like these–and both pictures you used were perfect: the black-and-white that speaks of the fashion synchronicity (for lack of better word) that took place in your home country and the collage you created for a special perfume and a special look you enjoy now.

    And I have to add that Natalie has a good eye (knows your style), because her “Undina version” collages are very similar in spirit to the one you did yourself!

    • Suzanne, you’re one of a few readers who manages to express that they get exactly what I was trying to say. I hope that others understand everything right as well but your comments usually are very reassuring – thank you.
      I was very pleased with Natalie’s version of “me” (and I wish I were as cool as she made me for La Femme Bleue ; -) )

  3. I’ve read Natalie’s post and was thinking you must be a real classy woman! Interestingly, when I saw the collage Natalie did, I pictured you in the Climat look and the collage you did was, again, spot on the image of you I have in my mind.

  4. Happy Easter dear Undina and what a fun responce to the post Natalie wrote (I read that one too!)

    I was born in 1990, a year after the market was freed from the previous regiment and when democracy became a ruling system in Poland. But I remember stories told by my mum and I actually remember some of her older clothes. There were shops like “Moda Polska” which offered really great garments but most common were the second-hands.

    I don’t really know if we kept being trendy back then but we definitely are that way now, plus nowadays everything is allowed, you can wear whatever you want and do even the most weird pairings of patterns and colors.

    • Dear Lucas, Polish (as well as East German, Romanian, Hungarian, etc.) goods were much better and much more desirable than local ones back then ;-)

      I think nowadays it’s the same there as it is everywhere else. But behind the iron curtain interesting things were happening.

  5. So, so interesting Undina. Thank-you so much for this and pointing me in the direction of Natalie’s orignal post which I had missed for some reason.

    I often think of you wearing a white cotton shirt for work (which I think you’ve mentioned maybe once or twice) and kind of assumed your style was nearly always quite conservative. So that stunning metalic evening dress was a real eye-opener for me and showed a diferent side of you. Perfect for a special perfume like Ta’if too.

    I wonder if in your home country at that time it felt more important to be seen to be “in the know” as regards what was in fashion, just because it was so hard to get hold of. When it’s readily available perhaps you dont feel this need as much?

    • I’m sure that the importance of knowing/following the fashion was coming from the scarcity of everything and the desire “to keep up with the Joneses.” I don’t know if I would have overgrown it on my own, have everything stayed the way it was (knowing myself, I still might have ;-) ), but here and now I do not feel like I need to prove anything to anybody – so I just want to look good (whatever “good” means in my internal world).

  6. I really enjoyed this latest vignette of social history in your home country – this time from a fashion perspective. And I had the same thought as Tara that maybe being ‘on trend’ felt more satisfying because of the lengths you had to go to to acquire a fashionable garment compared with the glut of clothing where you live now.

    I thought Natalie did a great job in her post of pairing outfits with perfumes from your collection, and the one you picked out for yourself is perfect for Taif. I must say I have been known to accessorise my signature style of ‘preppy grunge’ with Ta’if on numerous occasions, because it is my go-to ‘going out’ perfume. ;)

    • I actually wore that dress with that necklace and that perfume. So I know that for me it fits perfectly (the shoes were different but they are too worn out now for the glamorous collage.

      It’s a known fact that people value something they work hard to get more than something that just happens upon them. So the hardship of life back then was offset by those small victories of getting something that was hard to come by.

      Even though it didn’t feel that bad then since we didn’t know any different, I wouldn’t want to go back… I’d rather deal with my first world problems ;-)

  7. Dearest U
    What a wonderful insight into ‘Soviet fashion’. I remember a very extensive documentary series we had in Britain back in the 1980s called ‘Comrades’ about life in the USSR. One of the striking features was the clothing, subtly different to that worn in ‘the West’ perhaps a couple of years behind the trends but at once more ‘space age’ to our eyes. And yes, apart from the episodes shot in the Caucuses, people did seem to dress much more alike than they did in the UK at the time when we had Punks and Goths and New Romantics all vying for the attention of young people.
    Love the style montage. More please.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • Thank you, dear Dandy. One day I might do another one – I have an idea ;-)

      I think we were slightly more than a couple of years behind (that iron thing was really hard to penetrate… Just in case: I’m talking about the curtain).

      I must say that now, when I’m watching older TV series (British and U.S. 60s – 80s), I feel much better about my past: it was one ugly (fashion-wise) period everywhere!

  8. This is so fun! That dress is gorgeous, and I had fun googling “Soviet fashion” and exploring a whole other world of not only style but also some nostalgia for all things Soviet, which I didn’t know existed. I agree with what others have said; you write with such beautiful subtlety.

    Do I understand correctly that you took all the photos for the vignette yourself?

    • Thank you for the idea, I enjoyed playing in pairing! :-)

      Yes, photos are mine. Perfume is from one of the pictures I did for that anniversary post in January; dress and necklace – on the day of the post.

      I spent several hours going through different sites and pictures, trying to find one to better illustrate the topic. The problem is that not that many ordinary people had cameras back then so most photos you can find are either professional or very composed, not “alive”.

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