“So, where do all the prostitutes work?”
Oh no, I thought. I am hallucinating from the hot Kiev weather and too many meetings with depressed and depressing Ukrainian political scientists.
A Ukrainian friend had another friend visiting from a European country where women in general, save for the Sex and the City fans, don’t fetishize high heels and mini skirts. He is a really nice but somewhat naïve guy who hadn’t traveled outside Europe before. He is really enjoying his stay in Kiev. He doesn’t mind hot weather, lack of air conditioning, or disastrous public transportation. He was warned about the mysterious Russian (in this case Ukrainian) soul and is very open minded. But taking him to a red lights district (if there is one in Kiev, of which I am not sure) is too extreme. What was my friend thinking?
“Where have you seen them?”
“On the metro every morning there are tons of them. Where are they going so early?”
And then it hit me. He seriously thought all the made-up ladies in revealing clothing he saw on the metro at 9am were in the business of selling their bodies. But they were just on the commute to work — which most likely didn’t involve selling their bodies.
The conversation above took place several days ago. Today, another friend told me a very similar story about a Dutch guy who asked the same question. This is just sad. The last few days have been really hot, so light, transparent and short clothing are a necessity. Most men on the streets, Ukrainian and foreign alike, don’t seem to mind. They probably don’t mind women wearing clothes like that at work.
Call me crazy, conservative, and non-Slavic, but I can’t wear a mini skirt and glittery, strappy sandals to work. Ironically, I spend enough time shopping, matching clothes, and collecting high-heeled shoes for my friends to make fun of me. Most of the time, I tend to be on the overdressed side. But not by Kievan standards. For the past few weeks, I have been feeling quite underdressed.
Being fashionable is not a universal concept. I don’t mean the glossy magazines kind of fashion that originates on the runways of Paris and Milano. I mean the street fashion that is born on said runways, gets processed through Chinese sweatshops and local mentalities and then is dispersed through the stores. That’s the kind of fashion one sees on people on the streets. In the US, it might mean a lot of sweatpants and sneakers, in Hong Kong, lots of bold prints, and in Russia and Ukraine, it inevitably spells high heels and short skirts in any and all weather.
By Ukrainian standards, I am hopelessly old-fashioned. My casual heels are not high enough, my work pants are not tight enough and my skirts are never short enough. My hair is not blond enough and my lipstick is not bright enough. And most importantly, I don’t even own enough golden jewelry — a must for most Slavs — to make an impression.
Without any doubt, there are many Slavic women whose clothing always satisfies the strictest of the Western dress codes. But the overall sense of fashion is on the fancier side. On the metro tonight, I saw a woman wearing loose, high-waisted, old-fashioned jeans, a very baggy T-shirt, sneakers and a baseball hat. She wore a plain ponytail, no makeup, didn’t carry a purse, and had short unpolished nails. I thought she was a foreigner. Sure enough, she took out her cell phone and began speaking in English with a thick British accent.
Do you want to know how I identified her foreign identity? She stood out too much. It is quite a pervert fest on the underground sometimes. I see young — and not so young — women in skirts so short that their underwear shows when they sit down. There are transparent tops worn with no underwear. There are delicate white pants worn with too much black underwear. There are lacy corsets worn as outerwear. Judging by briefcases, laptop cases, and A4 bags, most women who dress like that are headed to their desk jobs.
Slavic women pride themselves on looking good at all times. I believe it’s a reasonable approach to dressing oneself. However, it still remains a mystery to me why women would wear something really uncomfortable to work. A micro skirt may get attention, but an even slightly longer one would be more comfortable to work in.
A friend recently refused to walk further than a nearby café (we were supposed to go for a walk), because her feet hurt. She said that because of her new shoes, she hadn’t been able to walk further than a metro stop recently. She was not planning to get rid of the shoes, because they were “sooooooooooo fashionable.”
Another friend refused to go for a walk, because she was tired of having to make sure her mini skirts don’t ride up. She didn’t want to get any pants, because “skirts are the only right way to get a guy.” By the way, these two friends successfully attend some of the Ukraine’s most prestigious colleges and come from very good backgrounds.
The July edition of the Ukrainian Elle features an editor-in-chief’s letter that praises Ukrainian women’s ability to stay sexy and all times. According to it, if one is dressed up 24/7, it means you’re always ready for a reception with the President, an art exhibition, or a meeting with a really hot guy (that was a gist of the article; I have a copy if anyone needs it).
Dear Elle: please also write about the importance of dressing appropriately for walks when promising a visiting friend you’ll take her for one. I am tired of going sightseeing by myself.