Cold War fashion exhibited in Tallinn

  • 2012-10-17
  • By Sam Logger

Fashion of the day.

TALLINN - Fashion has often been considered as multi-dimensional and international.  People follow the brands to prove their social status and belonging to a specific period of time, demanding improved patterns of behavior and appearance. The Kumu Museum in Tallinn provides an opportunity to travel back to Soviet Estonia and explore how fashion let women become acquainted with the world behind the Iron Curtain. The exhibition “Fashion and the Cold War” introduces trends from the 1950s to the 1970s, bringing visitors as close as possible to this part of Estonian culture.

Soviet fashion was dual – mediating the West to the East and presenting the East to the West, it actually made the Iron Curtain useless. “In the East-West face-off, the intimate nature of fashion produced surprising results – fashion can be considered to be the most successful border crosser of the Cold War,” the exhibition curator Eha Komissarov notes. “All great wars change clothing habits and reform fashion. The Cold War, which lasted for 50 years, was very closely related to fashion because, along with the arms race, a relentless economic battle was fought between the West and the East.

The systems made the greatest efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to improve their images by increasing the living standards of their countries and people.” Thus, combining politics and fashion, the Soviet system ensured that its haute couture aspired to the excellence and development in the field, and Tallinn Fashion House’s designers and fashion magazine Siluett proved to be a good example of the combination.

The exhibition reveals units of the clothing traditions of the period, may it be the photos or fashion design. Displaying items of the Estonian History Museum, Tallinn City Archives and other collections, the exhibition states Estonia being the most Western-minded republic of the Soviet Union, as its clothing culture has always introduced the contemporary features of the industry to the local audience, building the vision of tomorrow’s fashion and implementing the Union’s goal to surpass the West. The exhibition also produces additional sections of industry of the time, showcasing the influence of space travel on fashion and the famous American exhibition, which was presented in Moscow’s Sokolniki Park in 1959, and haute couture of the Western world with an emphasis on  the Costume and Lace Museum in Brussels and the Finnish top model Carita Jarvinen, who worked as a model at the Paris fashion houses, to highlight the creations of Chanel, Nina Ricci and Dior.

What significant can we take from this exhibition? Firstly, it serves as a reminder for the older generation. As an indicator of the past, the exhibition makes the visitors remember their childhood and compare the used-to-be fashion with today’s. Whether the memories are vivid or blurred, the exhibition gives a nostalgic journey in colors, forms, and brands which have controlled women’s lifestyles for decades. Secondly, the exhibition can make a big impact on popular fashion of nowadays. Although trends change, the passion and dependence on particular shapes remain, hence the items, presented at “Fashion and the Cold War,” can serve as an inspiration for the modern wardrobe.

Still, visitors do not need to forget about the system! In every dress or hat a sign of a competition can be found. It can look like a perfectness in each detail or resemblance of a modest, but yet modern Soviet woman. There is a question how far from the capitalistic ambitions the Soviet Union actually was, and the visitors are invited to use their exhibition experience to give an answer.

In the end it may seem that the multi-national environment of the Soviet Union has bettered the Union’s fashion industry offering diversity and artistic viewpoints. The mediation between the West and the East has encouraged Soviet Estonian fashion to experiment, and possibly this perception is what takes modern Estonia forward today as well.

The exhibition is open till January 20, 2013. More information can be found at: