The stilyaga are an interesting phenomenon in Soviet History. Although the stilyaga culture had been developing quietly for some time, after Stalin’s death the social and economic “thaw” allowed the public debut of the youth movement. The stilyaga were a group of youths, usually the children of party elites, who revolted against Soviet uniformity and morality through an obsession with Western culture. They dressed loudly in bright colors, fashionably thin-cut trousers, and checked socks, and abhorred industrial work. If they held a job at all, it was generally in the arts. They listened to jazzy music heavy with trumpet and drums, chewed American gum, and in general bothered the hardworking communist populace with their outlandish vagabond tastes. According to Seventeen Moments in Soviet History public reaction to the dissident generation was mixed, varying from disdain to amusement.
It is interesting to me that the formation of a stilyaga movement was even permitted to form, much less become widespread in a time where despite some loosening of artistic and cultural restraints the regime still maintained highly anti-Western views and strict control over the media, arts, and literature. Politically speaking the stilyaga were harmless and harbored little aspirations for organized change; they really seemed to be more of just carefree, lazy, spirited youths who concerned themselves with fashion, partying, and “free thinking”. The irony of the stilyaga is that they were both what Stalin feared would happen after WWII and a demonstration that Stalin had nothing to fear. Stalin had cracked down socially after WWII fearing that Western exposure would “corrupt” the minds and values of the people, and turn them against Communism. Indeed, the stilyaga generation was influenced by Western exposure as a result of WWII, and they did turn against Communist values, but their movement was one of glorified idleness that posed no actual threat to the Communist Party. They are reminiscent of the 1920’s American materialist movement exemplified in The Great Gatsby, or even the hippie generation- a bunch of youngsters “fighting the system” with loud physically dissident habits and little political aspirations.
Information regarding Stalin’s fears of Western exposure to Soviet citizens: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia a History.
Information regarding stilyagi behavior, habits, and public reception of the stilyagi: