Christian clothing lines are popping up all over Russia. And women love it.
It’s Sunday. You throw on your brown shabby skirt and black shabbier blouse and gray shabbiest scarf and slink to church with your eyes downcast, humble as can be. You are the true Russian Christian woman, aren’t you?
Wrong. Russian women are done being shamed for dressing “too” nicely for church. They are tired of trying to sew in fabric to cover up plunging necklines or wading through hundreds of mini dresses to find a cute maxi dress without cut-outs. They are also tired of people equating conservative with miserable and gloomy and all-in-all ugly.
They want clothes that fit with their life choices, their moral standard, with who and what they want to be; clothes that reflect their goals, their roles, their beliefs. Often, that means clothes that reflect their personal choice: to first and foremost be mothers and wives. In any case, they want options.
Fashionistas have begun to eagerly fill in this void. Orthodox dress lines are popping up all over Russia, such as Ksenyushka, Slavyanka, Miryanka, Dikona and Piety. The best-known store, Baryshnya-Krestyanka (Noble Lady-Peasant Girl or the best of both worlds), started off in a small dank room on the third floor above a gentleman’s club. Today, though, it has moved to Nikolskaya Ulitsa, a historical street that leads tourists straight to the Red Square in the heart of Moscow.
These companies aim to provide clothes that are more in touch with the Christian lifestyle and moral standard. They offer baptismal, wedding and maternity clothes; scarves (head coverings), blouses and skirts; some even offer modest bathing suits made of natural materials. But the staple good is dresses: long, flowy dresses that women secretly absolutely adore because they remind them of traditional joys, because they make them feel both beautiful and feminine. These stores want to provide women with styles that align with the rules of modesty in the Russian church, helping unite the secular and spiritual parts of their lives.
And while these clothes lines aim to bring back traditional understandings of virtue and develop a Christian culture of dressing, they also provide interesting options for women who prefer vintage, boho and/or ethnic styles.
When I was in Russia this summer, I noticed more and more women in long dresses in the streets. When I mentioned this trend to an American guy-friend, he asked, “are they both modern and modest?”
These dresses definitely don’t make women feel like sexy prima donnas or edgy warriors of feminism. But they also don’t make you feel like dowds in old sweaters. In some ways, they’re not modern at all, because they suggest that conservative isn’t boring or weird.
Unless, of course, you are willing to admit that, among Russian Christians (the overwhelming population of Russia), modesty is becoming the new modern.