Before I left for Russia I commented on Russian style in regard to fashion (here and here). Now that I’m back in America, I’m reminded of this once again because the majority of the people I saw upon arrival were not very well dressed. It seems that the Russian attitude toward fashion favours style and a professional, polished look. Americans tend to value comfort and convenience. Of course I know this varies from state to state and even city to city and also depends a lot on the situation so I don’t mean this to be a generalization, just an observation made at the moment.
I also realize that I was at the airport and flying can be uncomfortable so many people were dressed down and wearing comfortable clothes. But, all the Russian airports I’ve been in have featured people dressed to the nines even though they were flying. Most Americans were seen wearing sweat pants, hooded sweatshirts, pajamas, baggy jeans, trainers, sandals and Ugg boots. Russian women were featured in tight jeans, high heels, accessories, skirts and boots with heels. Of course I was in an airport in the middle of the country in America and both airports I’ve been in Russia were in big cities (St. Petersburg and Moscow). But I’ve also been in Washington, DC and Chicago and have observed this as well.
So what does it all mean? I don’t mean to be critical toward Americans in the least but I couldn’t help but adopt a bit of a negative point of view through which I filtered what I saw. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing people dress a certain way that I’ve begun to consider this as the right way to dress. So it’s easy to see where cultural attitudes and expectations come from.
But I think the biggest difference here is what this can tell us about our two countries. Some might argue that Americans are sloppy, lazy and not very well put together while Russians are stylish, more professional and generally better dressed. Of course tastes in fashion vary from person to person (and culture to culture) so it’s not so cut and dry. But others with a better understanding of the two countries and cultures might observe that Americans don’t have a lot of pressure to look nice. Russians, on the other hand, must dress nice in order to be taken seriously and respected. They don’t have what some might perceive as the luxury of dressing down and being comfortable.
What this means on a deeper level, I’m not entirely sure. Why is there such an emphasis on looks in Russia? Is it superficiality? Or something more? I can understand dressing well at work, for job interviews, etc. But at the airport? Some might argue that you never know who you’re going to meet (future spouse, employer, etc.) so you should be prepared for anything. But aren’t Americans aware of this too? Or do we believe that because we’re on an airplane comfort takes precedence and people shouldn’t judge us because it’s not the time for making good first impressions? After all, whoever we meet will understand this and won’t pass judgment on us?
Does anyone have any insight into this? Perhaps it’s one of those unwritten cultural rules that becomes ingrained in you naturally. But such rules provide never ending fascination and I’m always trying to dig deeper to answer the question: Where do they come from?