Back to school for 50 million Soviet kids this week was a little special for boys in the Russian republic. It was their first chance to wear their trendy new uniforms with flared trousers.
Gone were the baggy peasant-like grey wool sacks which looked not only perpetually slept in but were like wearing an overcoat indoors, as one mother complained. Now the seven-to-15-year-olds sport a dark two-piece suit of denim material, squarish jacket with patch pockets and stitched seams, with pants billowing a bit at shoe level.
“Looks more mod than most men’s suits here,” said one young Englishman admiringly. It is the first change in the compulsory Soviet school uniform since the Second World War, and took ten years to negotiate – between the Ministries of Education and Light Industry (which makes the cloth) and the House of Fashion which designed it.
How do the children like it? “Very much,” replied one nine-year-old on the street. Four other boys about the same age laughed self-consciously and ran from the question, but one 12-year-old walking with a girl said in a sophisticated manner, “No complaints.”
For the girls, however, the same old brown dress with white collar and pinafore (white for special occasions and black for everyday wear). They look like maids from a Victorian age, particularly when white ribbons are braided through their hair.
Girls’ uniforms are unchanged since before the Russian revolution, and with the stylish new look for boys, the girls are jealous. “Our girls are puzzled,” wrote N. Murnova diplomatically in Sovietskaya Kultura in March. “They ask: why not us?”
Nine years ago an attempt was made. The House of Fashion designed a two piece navy blue suit with white and coloured blouses. But no new fabric was developed for it. Instead, test models were made of the old brown cloth that was dyed. But the dye ran, so the project was shelved, complained Murnova.