Vlad: a study of Russian male fashions

April 22, 2012


One thing that I’ve been fascinated by all year is that, despite rampant and often terribly misinformed homophobia and a beefed-up cultural machismo, Russian guys are often quite effeminate in their styles and preferences. A case in point is a man I met a few weeks ago while dining with a mutual friend. Let’s call this man Vlad. Vlad is, at first glance, a perfect example of the Russian muzhik, or manly-man. Big, burly, middle-aged but still drinks and smokes like a teenage rebel, Vlad has a scar stretching from his ear to the corner of his mouth, attesting to an occasional but brutal taste for violence. However, having refocused, I noticed that he also did or had many things that even a self-proclaimed “metrosexual” in the US wouldn’t even consider.

The first thing that got me was the purse. Here, “man bags” are the norm among young males, mainly because there are things you need at all times (say, your passport), but nothing big enough to merit a full-sized backpack. Unfortunately for men here, these are, for all intents and purposes, actually just purses, but fortunately for them, they don’t recognize this as a traditionally feminine piece of fashion.

Next was the skinny cigarettes. I’ve been to my fair share of countries where it seems every person on the street is waddling around with a white stub between their fingers, but Russia is the only place I’ve seen men smoking the thin cigarettes that, even here, are marketed toward women. Watching the hefty Vlad smoke one of these was as visually hilarious as watching Israel Kamakawiwo’ole play a ukelele (look for it on YouTube). I’m not really sure what the appeal of these skinny cigarettes is; it would make sense if they weren’t chain-smoked away twice as fast as the normal-sized ones. Perhaps they are to the Russian man as diet Coke is to the American sugar-conscious soda binger—a psychological comfort, and nothing more.

What really threw me, though, is that when Vlad smiled, I noticed something glimmering in his mouth. It wasn’t the golden teeth, it was behind that. Then he stuck out his tongue, and I saw it in all its glory; Vlad is the first grown man I have ever seen with a pierced tongue. While listening to someone, he would occasionally roll the silver stud around in his mouth, sometimes clicking against a tooth, to help maintain interest. This little eccentricity is something I had previously only associated with the girls in my high school Spanish classes with who had dyed their hair all sorts of un-hair colors. Most of those girls still have the wild hair, but long ago pulled out the piercing.

So that’s Vlad, a 40-something purse-carrying, skinny-cig-smoking, tongue-pierced man whose countenance is otherwise something you would not want to run into after dark. Just another bizarre find out here, but a nice man nevertheless.


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