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Socialist Dandies International: East Europe, 1946–59

by Djurdja Bartlett

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This article maps the looks and lifestyle choices of small groups of young, like-minded people who emerged in the postwar Soviet Union and East Europe in the background of huge political, social, and cultural changes. With their androgynous bodies wrapped in drape jackets and narrow trousers, and their love of jazz and swing, these young men stood in a sharp contrast to the official ideology that promoted socialism as a new, pure, and highly rationalized project, its ideal robust and strong man, and its mass culture that insisted on educational and restrained forms of entertainment. Through the categories of dress, body, and big city, the article investigates the clashes, and the eventual truce between the socialist streamlined and rationalized master narrative and the young dandies’ fragmented and disordered narrative. The article argues that the socialist dandies were not politically minded, and that their challenge to the officially proclaimed values was informed by their adolescent recklessness and a general postwar desolation. They were declared state enemies because the socialist regimes did not allow for alternative types of modernity. Consequently, the authorities condemned the young dandies’ looks and interests as cosmopolitan, because they originated in the West, and as artificial, since they belonged to the culture that had preceded a new socialist world.

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