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Every time I plan another trip to Russia I am faced with something of a dilemma: I need to go through my wardrobe to choose the best outfits. Maybe that’s standard operating procedure for almost all of us, but what does that mean to me and to you? Do people in the US and Russia really dress differently?

To answer, I must state a simple premise: It’s harder to talk about an “average American” than it is about an “average Russian.” American society is a melting pot made up of people from all over the world with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. A common theme in the US is tolerance of others, and this tolerance begins with how people look.

Here it is more difficult to shock society with unusual appearances as the definition of “usual” appearance has changed markedly in the last 40 years here (my husband says it wasn’t always like that). With individual freedom comes individual expression. This is not to say that there isn’t a cohesive theme to wear. No. What I mean is that people choose to look the way they like, and sometimes that choice is quite different. Certainly, there are some standards within particular social groups and regions, for example, business attire for work, jeans accepted as casual attire; however, there is no universal fashion, and more importantly, there is no “run” of it. Each person follows their personal criteria, often giving equal consideration to comfort as to style. A woman in a business suit can walk downtown in tennis shoes… Need I say more?

This is just one of the important differences between the Americans and the Russians. For years we have been hiding our personalities in the collective society, now we choose to emulate “everyone else”. Having seen Tobolsk, Tyumen (both in Siberia), Moscow and St. Petersburg last month, I noticed a trend for women in all these cities: this year it’s skinny jeans tucked into high heeled boots. Everywhere you look, you will see girls and young women following this common trend. Having traveled and lived in different parts of the US, I will only notice the dominating shorts, jeans, t-shirts, sneakers, and flip-flops. After seeing these kinds of clothes, I always find it strange to go back to the busy Moscow metro, with its high heels and expensive suits that are often bought with your last dollar (ruble, if you will). Russian women tend to spend a lot of time, energy and money (some would say too much) looking good, exaggerating the importance of our appearance. Put another way, looking fashionable for Russians comes with a high price and commitment.

Just remember, regardless of how good someone looks on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that matters.

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