Russian Schools: Soviet Era (1917-92)

Figure 1.--This photograph shows boys and girls in a Soviet primary school about 1978. Notice the hairbows, pinafores and pins. Also notice the book bag. The girl;'s pinafores here are rathr plain. We have noted some images where the girls had pinafores with extensive lace trim and frills.

We still have only limited information on Soviet school uniforms. We note school children wearing school uniforms in the earliest years of the Soviet Union. These uniforms seem especially prevalent in the cities. Children in the country side because of the widespread poverty may not have worn the inifotm as commonly. Presumably as conditiins improved after World War II (1939-45), wearing the perscribed school uniform became common place throughout the country.

Education System

The Soviets built a very impressive public school system offering a free public education to all. It had its weaknesses, but also strengths. There were no dark holes such as the inner city schools in the American system. Academic standards did, however, vary across the country. The principal difference was betweem urban anbd rural schools. Another problem was social class. Many children without the preferred background (worker and peasant origins) were disadvantaged in access to higher education. As to high academic standards. This is a tough one. In the humanities, how do you measure high academic standards? The students were given the answers and they learned them. I wholly agree that they were not encouraged to think, even punished for it. So how you measure high academic standards I do not know. In the sciences it was a different matter. The Soviets had very impressive scientific achievements. You don't get that without high academic standards. And I worked with Soviet fishery scientists and can tell you that they were every bit as competent, but not as well funded as our scientists. Even here, ideology siometimes intervened. Sobiet biological scienes wer significantly harmed by Stakin's support of deolically based appriosaches. And any assessment of the Soviet education system as to be put in perspective of our American system with substantial numbers of children leaving school functionally illiterate. And the fact that even well educated American kids leaving school with no appreciation of the importance and value of capitalism in our history and the world economy. This is the result of the pervsive left-wing ideology taught as fact in American schools, quite similar to Soviet ideological education. One undeniable achievemnent of Soviet education was the education of women.

Chronological Periods

Early Soviet Period (1920s)

We note children wearing school unifirms in 1924. Just when the school uniform regulations were issued and how prevalent they were throughout the country, we are not yet sure. Girls began attending school in large numbers after the Revolution. I'm not sure what boys wore to school in the 1920s, but by the 1930s military-styled uniforms were common. There does not seem to have been a standard uniform worn country-wide. Schools in Moscow and Lenningrad seem to have had quite strict uniform standards. Provincial and rural schools seem to have given less attention to uniforms. This may have reflected in part the parents ability to aford a formal uniform. The uniform has varied over time.

Stalinist Era (1930s-50s)

Stalin began to exert his control over the Soviet union in the mid-1920s after the death of Lenin and by the late 20s had largely defeated opponents like Trotsky as well as more moderate Bolshevicks. It was not until the early 30s, however, that he was in complete control of the country. We do not have much information about education Soviet education during the erly Stalinist era. We also note kindergartens in the 1930s. This appears to have been a Soviet innovation, of course imported from Germany. I'm not sure if Kindergartens exisited before the Revolutuion, if they did almost certainly they were for affluent families. I'm not sure how common Kindergartens were during the Soviet era. There appears to ave been formal school uniform, although we are not sure about the different styles and when they were introduced. We note a military-looking uniform after World War II consisting of a peaked cap, tunic, wide belts, and red scarf. Younger boys might wear short pants, sometimes with over-the-knee stockings. This uniform persisted even after Stalin's death in 1953.

Post-Stalinist Era (1960s-80s)

Basic education in the Soviet Union had 10 grades. Children began at 7 years and graduated at 16. Girls in grades 1-8 wore a brown dress with a black pinafore style-apron in front. Another source says a dark-blue or black dress with an Edwardian style pintafore white apron. Apparently the dress colors varied somewhat. On holidays the black apron was replaced by a dressier white pnafore which might be frilled. At the top of the dress, girls wore a white collar, often in the Peter Pan style, which could be detached and washed separately. Girls or their parents often added large white hairbows. The collar was expected to be kept spotlessly clean. In grades 9-10 the uniform changed to a navy blue jacket and skirt whicj could be combined with a blouse of the girl's own choice. Boys wore a still obligatory, but more civilian-looking uniform. It consisted of dark blue pants, short jacket with chevron (image of the book on a background of the sun), white shirt, and red scarf. The younger boys sometimes wore large white collars over their jackets, but this varied from school to school and over time. A reader tell us, "I met a russian girl studying biology at McGill University. I asked her if she wore black dress, white pinafores, and large bows on her hair as a school girl. She told me that she indeed did, but that girls no longer dress like that for school. She said, however, that each year children are encouraged to wear that costume at the end of the classes as if was a kind of national dress". A Russian reader tells us tht not all primary children wore uniforms. "Since the 1950s younger children sometimes were allowed to wear casual clothes to school -- for example, shorts. It depended on the regional weather and on the school administration opinion. In warm areas (like North Caucasus, i.e. Sochi, Crimea, Ukaraine and so on) school uniform often was used only in the colder period of the year. This wasn't common for the whole USSR territory of course." We see the girls more commomnly wearing the uniform than the boys.

Reader Comments

A reader noted photographs of Soviet school children in an article entitled "The Soviet Union Today", in National Geographic (??, 1990). He writes "Those pictures always asthounished me. I never understood why girls uniforms stayed so old fashioned until then. Note that I find them really charming. The fact is they are clothed like in my childhood if not my mother's! Why? Do you have an answer? Do you know some Russians able to answer my question. I feel that today American style is up-to-date . Anyway, I am curious." We are unsure why the Soiviets had such a school uniform. Hopefully our Russian raeders will have some insights.


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Created: January 19, 2000
Last updated: 5:16 PM 8/7/2018