Issue 67, April 2014.

The History of Fashion in Lviv

Let’s start our story of Lviv’s fashion trends from the end of the 19th century, a period when the entire world was driven by a passion for beauty, the arts, and novelties in everything.

By the end of the 19th century, Leopolitan ladies were interested in the “Modern” style, which could be found in every sphere of everyday life – from hats and scarves to furniture and carpets. Ideal clothing among the elite and intelligentsia, the “Modern” style reflected the ‘le bon ton’ principles of conservative and respectable outfits. Representative examples included wide-brim hats decorated with bows or feathers, wide dresses, winter fur with muffs, veils, and thin gloves. Those that did not reflect the ‘le bon ton’ clothing and behaviour were unwelcome in high society.

The rise of feminism, along with its ideas about lifestyle in general and clothing in particular, led feminists to becoming leading fashion trendsetters in the 1920s. These women adored formal dresses in dark colours, without decorations or cleavages. During this period, Leopolitan ladies were passionate readers of ‘Nova Hata’, a popular magazine about arts and fashion. Nova Hata featured articles and fashion reviews about the hottest trends in Europe, which greatly influenced local designers and dressmakers. Interestingly, it was in Lviv that Nova Hata columnists proposed to integrate ethnic motifs into western-style women’s clothes. Decorating the wear with Ukrainian folk sewing patterns, they created an interesting fusion of western and local fashion styles. Among the many western fashion styles popularized by the fashion magazine was the so-called “Garson Style”, which also appeared in the 1920s. “Garson Style” was oriented toward the active ‘boyish’ woman that was able to master any man’s profession, including sport and dance. “Garson Style” jackets and dresses were designed to highlight the slimness of figure by prolonging it, leaving the figure as visually nearly flat.

Another fashion trend that caught on with middle-class Leopolitan ladies was the “Practical Style” that featured modest, but elegant everyday outfits. Women dressed in the “Practical Style” were often seen in long trousers and sweaters, made of plain materials.

It wasn’t only Leopolitan women that saw changes in fashion during the early 20th-Century; male clothing also became less strict, which allowed some ‘sporty’ elements and interesting combinations. One of these, which can still be seen today, is striped trousers with a black suit jacket that went well together with a stylish scarf. At the time, the high silk hat gave way to the more informal and romantic felt hat.

Throughout WWII, when fashion was geared toward military outfits and formal style, there was little change to the tastes of local ladies. Europe was concentrated on other priorities, so there was no time to introduce new fashion trends.

Following WWII, the majority of the population of the former USSR had just one ‘politically correct’ fashion style – “Soviet”. Local fashionistas were at a loss for what to do – to follow the popular slogan of the time “to be like everyone else”, or to follow Western fashion icons. Through the Stalin and Khrushchev periods, Leopolitans were prone to dressing in the style for workers: boring caps, grey head scarves, funny caps with ear-flaps (vushanky), and wide canvas trousers. Leopolitan ladies, long used to dressing with Western elegance, were now forced into wearing boring outfits, mass produced and worn in all corners for the USSR – from the Carpathians to the Urals and further. But our local beauties did not give up; they began creating original outfits by adding new patterns, ornaments, and models to the local fashion industry.

By the 1960s, one of the main characteristics of Leopolitan fashion became the introduction of ethnic ornaments in outfits which led to the wildly popular fad of wearing vyshyvanka (embroidered shirts). Initially party leaders tried to suppress the tendency, yet by the 70s and 80s the majority of Leopolitan citizens had already become interested in “Western” fashion with its jeans, sports jackets, and sneakers. During those times, many cooperative dressmaking and tailoring establishments offered various shirts, jeans, and jackets copied from Western fashion magazines. Over time, those cooperatives were driven out of business as Leopolitans turned to clothing produced in Turkey and later, by China.

Presently, Leopolitan ladies are primarily oriented toward a comfortable style; no longer does one see long, tight dresses or hats with feathers. Despite Lviv never having had its own “100% Leopolitan Style”, the women of Lviv have always done their best to dress elegantly and tastefully.

In fact, since early 2008, Lviv has even received its own fashion holiday – “Lviv Fashion Week”. The event has grown into a twice-a-year international festival attracting some of the most famous personalities in the world’s fashion industry. As one of the largest fashion events in Eastern Europe, Lviv Fashion Week has welcomed such personalities as legendary Japanese designer Kenzo Takada (the founder of Kenzo brand), Libya’s first and most prominent fashion designer Rabia Ben Barka, and senior eminence of the fashion world Donald Potard (founder of the Jean-Paul Gaultier company). Some of the many other renowned designers to have been featured at Lviv Fashion Week include Russian couturier Vyacheslav Zaitsev, French catwalk icon Christophe Guillarme, and Livia Stoianova – the designer of “On Aura Tout Vu”.

Currently West Ukraine’s twice-yearly fashion focus continues to expand its international appeal with every event. Leopolitans and guests of the city will be delighted with the Autumn/Winter 2014 exhibition of Lviv Fashion Week which is set to be held from May 7-11, 2014.