We all have an image of what Ukrainian fashion is. The skin-tight stone washed jeans with metal studs, super short mini-skirts, dramatic make-up, pleather jackets, and old women with scarves tied snuggly under their chins. The fashions of the 80s and 90s are still the fashions of today. I can now report that this is one stereotype that we found true.
I had hoped before arriving in Lviv that I could find a pair of jeans and a few t-shirt souvenirs to take back with me. I knew Molly is a fan of foreign t-shirts and Josh’s birthday is in just a few days, so we were excited to buy cheesy Cyrillic shirts for our siblings. Plus, Bhads and I have pretty much worn out our University of Vienna shirts we got on our first European adventure, and would’ve liked to replace them with one from Lviv. In short, we found two places to buy t-shirts: the university and a small souvenir shop. The university had 2 shirt designs, both only in XL, with a lion on one and the Virgin Mary on the other. They weren’t cheesy enough for us to buy or wear with confidence. The other shirts we found lived in a small shop on the Rynok Square. It was a tiny place, but the lack of things inside made the shop look enormous; you know that feeling when you get served a small piece of food on a large plate? That’s what it was. The man working the shop sat on his fold-up chair and drank his coffee, hardly seeming to notice the customers milling about his store. The shirts were displayed on the wall. The designs were bad, but not quite bad enough. Two of the shirts were in English; one saying “Vodka is Life” and the other “Merry Christmas from Lviv.” The others were variant colors of a big smiley face with a sentence of unknown Cyrillic written around it.
I can honestly say that we didn’t see anyone wearing anything with Cyrillic lettering the whole time we were there. All the shirts with text were printed in English. It doesn’t matter what they say, but English is a modern status symbol (see Bhad’s t-shirt blog below). It represents Pop Culture, wealth and prosperity; and in a country so impoverished and repressed as Ukraine I guess it’s only natural for people to strive towards that.
Besides t-shirts, we found people—especially women—wearing the most interesting things! Leather or pleather jackets in all shades of the rainbow (reminiscent of racing gear), permed hair and equally permed bangs, very tall boots with buckles and studs galore. Even a woman police officer we saw strolling across town was doing so wearing tall leather boots (see pic). I’m making an assumption here, but all of those years under Communism, where everyone was forced into anonymity and sameness, have created a black lash now against simplicity. Every purse in a shop window, every shoe, every boot, every pair of jeans are adorned with bright colors, metallics, jewels, and rivets. You just can’t find a piece of clothing that isn’t adorned with something.
On the other hand, the older generation seems to have stayed the same. This is probably similar in every culture, but it is so intriguing in Ukraine. The women, almost always, wear headscarves—usually in bright red, yellow, and blue traditional patterns. The men wear dark colored golf hats with their shirts and ties. We grew up with the image of the Ukrainian woman, round and fussy with a headscarf around her tired face. Even though some stereotypes proved true, many of the older women flashed hearty smiles and some even stopped on the sidewalk to chat with us. They would get tickled when we said we knew some Polish, and then cheerfully remind us that Lviv used to be Poland before the war. They’d say goodbye with a swish of the hand, and waddle off down the road, looking back to make sure we were doing the same.