The Original Hipsters


During the 1950s in Soviet Russia, a counter-culture movement called the “stilyagi” emerged.  This movement was pro-Western in culture; they wore outfits similar to the zoot suits of the West with bright colors and tight pants.  They were intrigued by Western culture, and went to great lengths to be immersed in it—even as far as making bootlegged records out of old x-rays, called “bone records.”

examples of “bone records”– aka bootlegged Western music on old x-rays (source)

The reason that these 1950s hipsters made such a splash during the time period was because of how different they were from the ideal Soviet culture. They never did anything specifically anti-Soviet or protest against the government; they only rebelled in terms of culture.  Not only were they pro-Western, but they specifically differentiated themselves from the rest of society, which basically goes against the ideas of Marxism and Communism.  The egalitarian, Soviet society was opposed to this as it undermined their rule.  Soviet rule was not just about government policies, but also about transforming the culture and letting it permeate all aspects of life.

Three stilyagi in 1950s Soviet Society (source)

Because of their departure from Soviet culture, stilyagi gained a negative connotation and even became a taboo term.  In “The Current Digest of the Russian Press” in 1958, a reader wrote in to ask how wide his pants should be “in order not to be considered a ‘stilyaga.‘” This shows the opposition that not just the government, but the general citizenry felt towards this counter-culture movement.  The movement was generally taken up by young adults who wanted to feel apart of the West or just wanted to express themselves.  The Soviets always emphasized the importance of children as the future of the country, so the trend of young people participating in these movements was very threatening to the Soviet government.  An article was written in 1957 about the upbringing of the young generation, citing it as “the chief job assigned by the party to the Young Communist League.” In this article, the author lumps the Stiyagi in the same category as more troublesome people in society: “Why are there still truants, drunkards, zoot-suiters [stilyagi] and hooligans among our wonderful youth?” This quote shows the importance of culture in the creation of the Soviet state and how threatened the government felt when a counter-culture movement arose.


This post earned a red star from the editorial team.


13 thoughts on “The Original Hipsters”

  1. I enjoyed reading your post. The thing I found most interesting was how much so many Soviet people rejected the Western ideas, not just the government apparently. I find their opposition to change respectable yet naive at the same time. You’re pictures are great as well. Cool post.


  2. From what I’ve seen with Russian history, there is always a hesitation to Western influences in their culture. This post highlights patterns in Russian cultural society, and does a good job of explaining how not every Russian conformed to Soviet ideals and what was expected to certain groups, especially the youth.


  3. This is so interesting since we talked about Stalin’s youth a few weeks ago and how they were so dedicated to the Soviet union. It doesn’t seem that they are really trying to rebel from socialism, just trying to create a counter culture and be different, which is still frowned upon in the soviet union. Great post!


  4. I remember seeing the picture at the top of your blog during our first class period together and wanting to learn more about it so I am glad you wrote on this topic this week! What is fascinating to me is how you mention that the children and young were always seen as the future of Soviet society, so when they rebelled in such a manner as this, it was highly threatening to the ideals that the Soviet Union then stood for.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a wonderful topic, and the images you included really helped visualize what the stilyagi was truly about! The section in the Digest where the reader wrote in to ask how wide his pants should be “in order not to be considered a ‘stilyaga’ was hilarious, but also demonstrated the imperative nature to distinguish oneself from the the movement if one did not agree. Great work!


  6. This is one of my favorite Soviet topics. You make the important distinction that the stilyagi did not politically rebel against the state, but rather they adopted the Western culture of the time without realizing the consequences. After Stalin’s death in 1953, there was a natural period of cultural experimentation, especially for youth. You provided some excellent images and sources!


  7. It is so interesting to see a state stand up against a cultural group like the Soviets did with the stilyagis. Although I understand why a state like the Soviet Union would stand up to a counter-culture movement, growing up in the United States in the 90s/2000s I witnessed countless sort of counter-culture movements that did nothing to threaten our government and was seen as just another phase or trend by the public. Awesome post!


  8. This is a really interesting post. This was a counter-culture movement that I was unaware of and it really surprised me. I always think of Soviet culture as very homogeneous so to see young adults dressed in a pro-western way is pretty neat.


  9. I really liked your post! This different culture, in my opinion, is quite similar to some of the youth found today in more traditional cultures. For example, in countries such as Nepal or India you often see teenagers and young adults favoring Western culture (i.e. they show more skin than more traditional elders and listen to Western rap music). However, the fact that this occurred under the more strict regimes of Communist and Marxist ideals is really interesting!


  10. I think was a very interesting, lighthearted post (most of this week’s post are the former but not the later haha). Hipsters always get bad raps, but they do often push against societal norms and expose issues that are present. Hipster lives matter! I can’t say that I’m surprised but I’m always interested when i see that US culture is being emulated in other countries. It is especially weird b/c of the nature of US-USSR relations during this time period.


  11. It’s interesting to see how not every Russian was fond of the Soviet Union and how the government’s reacting to this affected society’s perceptions. Nice post!


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