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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Fashion Piece

By Kaitlin Ball

Vladimir, Russia, is known for a deep and bloody history as the ancient capital of modern-day Russia; it has never been known for its fashion.  If anything, Vladimir has been three steps behind European fashion since the tenth century.  Present-day Vladimir is no exception to this pattern, wrought with greasy mullets and track suits.  Therefore, it seems unthinkable that one would find some glimmer of fashion wisdom among the conventional industrial apparel that clothes most of the city.
      I spent a semester in the small town of Vladimir to get away from Western culture and immerse myself in Russian life.  And yet, nearly every day after class my friends and I would flock to the only mall in the province.  We would not seek out any pseudo-authentic Russian tea house, but instead always made our way to the chique coffee house.  The coffee house was full of sleek, red chairs that were as thoughtlessly manufactured as the pastries available in the display case.  We did not go here because it offered us something exciting and different; it only offered us something boring and safe. 
      And every day in this banal coffee house we saw a not-so-banal young Russian woman walk by.  She would strut by our coffee house like the poorly paved sidewalk was her personal runway, in a pair of jeans that seemed only to have drawn their inspiration from some synthesized boy-band from the nineties.  Like most Russians, she only had one pair of jeans, and she wore them every day.  These faded jeans had no pockets in the back (leaving very little to the imagination at times), and were bleached in a manner to imitate tie-dye, with a flare that ended awkwardly just at her ankle.  At one point, these jeans were probably very cutting-edge; but that flare had long since worn off. 
      Every day she walked past, going home from work or university.  And every day we saw her, and made fun of her.  Like most Russians in Vladimir, she had a sense of fashion that offended our need to assimilate to what was served to us by the prevalent fashion magazines.  This astounding young Russian woman was not at all unlike her peers on the street, from her hair color to her slender Slavic build, and yet we managed to spot her every day as she strolled by the coffee house. 
      Outdated and antiquated were among the kindest things we called her; it almost became a sport.  As it continued, I began to wonder why it was a sport.  Why did this otherwise ordinary Russian woman merit our attention every day?  I did not think it was because we led boring lives, we were constantly being enriched with new cultural and linguistic challenges.  Her outfits, however outdated and cliché they may have been, were thoughtful and much better composed than those of many of the men and women who often shared the street with her.  Why then, did I notice this young woman and her one pair of jeans every day, no matter what the weather?  Russia would hurl its best at her, wind, rain, and snow; and yet I never failed to notice her. 
      It took me over four months of reflecting after my departure from Russia to understand this young woman and her jeans.  It was not what she wore every day that drew our attention; it was the attitude with which she wore it.  Her very existence not only boasted confidence, but also some other mysterious ingredient that I am still unable to name.  She did not have many of the things we take for granted: the finances to invest in another pair of jeans, and even more likely many of the opportunities that allow so many of us to advance in life.  But she moved with a confidence and comfort that still have not mastered.  She did not draw eyes because of her keen following of some fashion guru in Moscow, she drew eyes because of her confidence and comfort with herself. 

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