Nihilist Fashion in 1860s–1870s Russia: The Aesthetic Relations of Blue Spectacles to Reality

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The ‘nihilist epoch’ in Russia of the 1860s was plagued by the mismatches
between art and reality that could be discerned everywhere, from the philosophical
maxims of the nihilists to their dress. Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s notorious
master’s thesis ‘The Aesthetic Relations of Art to Reality’ started that episteme,
while his novel What Is to Be Done? provided codes of behaviour that
were followed minutely by its fans. The article explores the gap between, on
the one hand, the sartorial protests of real-life nihilists (fundamental to their
construction of nihilist identity) and, on the other, the dress of the ‘new men’,
modelled after the ideologues of the nihilist movement, such as Chernyshevsky.
The analysis of the sartorial code of nihilism shows that it organically grew out
of earlier European sartorial protest movements. In addition, I demonstrate how
Chernyshevsky undermined his aesthetic theory by ‘not looking at life through
blue spectacles’ as he tried to reflect reality and create the literary type of the
‘new man’, contributing to the later divergence between the sociocultural codes
of ‘new men’ and ‘nihilists’.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265–281
JournalClothing Cultures
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Nihilism
  • Counterculture
  • Anti-Fashion
  • Russian Clothing
  • Nineteenth-Century Fashion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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