Vladimir Mayakovsky: Socialist Dandy
at Costume Across the Curriculum & Into the Community, The Costume Society of America‘s Southeastern Region & Mid-Atlantic Joint Symposium
Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania, October 11-13, 2018
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The 1917 Russian Revolution upended the Tsarist regime, installing in its stead a socialist system based on the philosopher Karl Marx’s teachings. Within this new system, fashion was considered a product of bourgeois capitalism, and to a certain extent, viewed as antithetical to core Marxist values. As a Futurist writer and artist, Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a fierce proponent of socialism in the USSR, creating agitational propaganda with the goal of aiding the regime in its quest to build a fully communist society. Ironically, he was also very careful with his appearance, using dress and fashion as a vehicle to communicate his art and reinforce his sociopolitical beliefs.
Mayakovsky’s sartorial infatuation became evident in his youth. In 1913, he wrote a garment-centered poem, “The Fop’s Blouse” in which he states:
I’ll sew myself a pair of black trousers
from the velvet of my own voice.
A yellow jacket from three yards of sunset.
I’ll saunter along the boulevards of the world,
along its burnished stripes,
like Don Juan—dressed to kill.
Mayakovsky’s sartorial identity and the way in which he expressed it matured with his age; he even earned a reputation for being a globetrotting dandy.
During his 1925 visit to the United States, a New York Times reporter pointed out the inherent contradiction that was created by this appearance, stating that “the visiting poet likes to dress like a dandy and orders his clothes from the best tailors in Paris. He loves comfort and luxury and at the same time despises them.” His biographers, Edward J. Brown, and Bengt Jangfeldt, respectively referred to him as a “stroller of the streets, fop…” and a “Byronic hero.” In his prosaic travel notes, subsequently published as My Discovery of America, Mayakovsky took the opportunity to lambast the lazy, capitalist, and apparently jacket-less Americans whom he deemed to be improperly dressed.
Utilizing a combination of photographs of the author, and a close reading of various pieces from his literary oeuvre, this paper will present a nuanced examination of Mayakovsky’s fashionable, socialist life.