50% fashion
kitsch 50%
Say hello to our new feature - voting poll. We invite you to express your opinion on this piece and let's see if you'll match with the other readers. Slide me! Slide me gooood!
Thanks for the vote! Merci!

This year the world is celebrating 30th anniversary after the Berlin Wall has been pulled down. To many of us, it’s an instant correlation with freedom and opening a window to the West. Less than a year after this historical event, my own country Lithuania reclaimed its Independence. It was started to be referred by many as a ‘former’ member of the Eastern Bloc. But what did this change in regular people’s lives and wardrobes? Everything and nothing at the same time, I believe.

abstract-stylist-fashion-tsunami-2.jpg

“Living under the socialist regime meant finding yourself in a place where theoretically everything is possible, but then you notice that there is no real access to various items and tools to express and sustain your individuality. ”

Living under the socialist regime

Living under the socialist regime meant finding yourself in a place where theoretically, everything is possible. Still, then you notice that there is no real access to various items and tools to express and sustain your individuality. For having, for example, a unique piece of clothing, first, you needed to be privileged enough to have relevant connections with someone who could ‘do you a favor’. And not for free, of course. Or perhaps someone in your social circle was a sailor and could bring you back a nice handbag from the USA. So, in a nutshell, back then people lived in a paradox of having money with no real possibility to spend it, or otherwise didn’t have enough to afford something more special.

“Gariūnai market in Vilnius (the biggest one), later Tilžė market in Klaipėda or Pabaliai in Šiauliai were equivalents to magical places where people from their cars used to sell tape recorders, hoovers and caviar together with velvet trousers, fur coats and brasseries – items back then considered as luxury goods. ”

Access to any goods was quite an underground thing since the trading of any non-food related items privately was considered being an illegal activity in the Soviet Union. There were places where people would be standing with full bags of goods selling handmade, imported, or pilfered items from their workplace you would never find in the local shop. Such side activity had many risks with unpredictable consequences; however, the demand for the black market was too strong and too profitable to be ignored. 

After the collapse of the socialist regime in Lithuania

After the collapse of the socialist regime in Lithuania, capitalism took a full swing from the early ‘90s, with physical marketplaces becoming legal. Gariūnai market in Vilnius (the biggest one), later Tilžė market in Klaipėda or Pabaliai in Šiauliai were equivalents to magical places where people from their cars used to sell tape recorders, hoovers and caviar together with velvet trousers, fur coats and brasseries – items back then considered as luxury goods.

After the regained Independence opening up new possibilities, market traders had to update their supply chain, which had to be selling good and profitable. The mitigating circumstances were that buyers weren’t too picky – wares had ‘just’ to be of good price and trendy Western style. This wasn’t much of an issue, but how such pieces of “fashion” found their way to the consumers?

“All you were doing was standing on a flattened cardboard box pantless waiting for the fifth pair of jeans to be removed from a mannequin because the trader promised that “this model is going to fit perfectly” on you. ”

From my perspective, as a ‘90s kid, I grew up shopping in a market for almost my entire garment needs (and SEGA games renting), because you could get anything in there. Imagine arriving in a crowded bus early in the morning; if it’s a cold season, it’s still dark. People spreading out in all directions to get closer to the tables and cars selling goods seemed like black water, while your main task was not to get lost in the crowd. All booths were loaded with thousands of pieces (locally called shtuka) different styles and colors of apparel – I mean anything for everyone’s taste. 

All you were doing was standing on a flattened cardboard box pantless waiting for the fifth pair of jeans to be removed from a mannequin because the trader promised that “this model is going to fit perfectly” on you. A fancier booth would have a heater in its tiny ‘changing room,’ more interesting pieces to try on, and you might deal with a small discount for your purchase. From the market radio, you could hear in which kiosk you could find best tasting ‘chebureks’ (hot meat and dough buns) or ice cream if it’s summer. Thinking retrospectively, this kind of reminds of today’s IKEA: after spending a great deal of a day you come back home with hands full of bags with items of stuff you didn’t necessary came for, with a fatty bun in your belly and happy, because every trader in every booth you tried a coat, jeans or boots on praised how good it looked on you.

abstract-stylist-fashion-tsunami-1.jpg

“Labels said it was made in Italy or Germany, but they were actually replicas produced somewhere in a local town or Asia. Not having an original piece concerned neither a trader nor even a buyer. ”

But I must confess that I never really gave it a thought where had all these things come from. Everyone bought their Adidas sportswear, Nike sneakers or Levi’s jeans, Gucci, and D&B bags with many other world-known brands. But did anyone think it was imported from across the Atlantic Ocean? Of course not! Merchandise used to arrive from Turkey, China, and Thailand, later from the UAE, Korea, and Syria but not from the land of dreams or Western Europe. Labels said it was made in Italy or Germany, but they were replicas produced somewhere in a local town or Asia. Not having an original piece concerned neither a trader nor even a buyer.

“The so-called Western-style goods had been started to be appreciated long before the Soviet bloc collapsed. Naturally, this correlates with an image of freedom, so who would be that dumb to care about some copyrights or shame distributing plagiarism when much more important statement is taken into account? ”

Western-style goods

The so-called Western-style goods had been started to be appreciated long before the Soviet bloc collapsed. Naturally, this correlates with an image of freedom, so who would be that dumb to care about some copyrights or shame distributing plagiarism when much more important statement is taken into account? Even soviets themselves were making ‘imported’ goods in the Russian factories and selling them in the underground for lots of money. Ironically, when the market became legal in Lithuania and people were able to travel to buy merchandise in China, sew a ‘made in’ label on and sold it as an original piece, same people from Russia and other places were coming to Lithuania to buy this stuff and bring back home to the faraway East. 

Up to this day, a market remained some kind of phenomenon in my country, although various supermarkets have firmly stepped in on the ground. However, an echo of an old-school market can still be heard, causing some flashbacks to all of us – ‘90s kids. There are no boundaries for our “fashion” choices, only opportunities to compensate for lost possibilities.

This article has been to a large extent inspired by the book of Pernille Hohnen “A Market out of Place?” and comes with a strong recommendation to (re)watch a movie by W.Becker Goodbye Lenin (2003) as well as visit the MO museum in Vilnius and its current exhibition “The Origin of Species: 1990s DNA”.

abstract-stylist-fashion-tsunami-3.jpg
About the author