If I said that I was about to analyze the Russo-Ukrainian War through the lens of an audiologist and explain how the various tones, accents and phrases betray the facade that propaganda built, you’d be all ears, right? Well, how would you feel if I said I could do the same through Fashion?

Fashion has been kind of a curious topic in the world; while bringing in over 3 trillion annually, it’s still seen as “less serious” in the public eye. While employing over 3½ million people and directly contributing to environmental destruction, child labour and slavery, you can still be seen as vain or superficial if you try to talk about it.

The fact that it’s seen as a vain perspective is actually a big part of why it’s an effective way of clearing the fog of war. Everyone knows how words and actions affect things and they’re careful to construct them in a way that builds the narrative they want… but their Fashion choices? Those betray them. Those show us the unfiltered truth they tried to cover up.

This article is going to take a visual cross-section of events before and during the war by analyzing the Fashion results of those involved.

So, without further ado, let’s have a look at this professional soldier’s Adidas track pants;

Russian Army

Now, personally, I’m all about the casual wear, but there’s a time and a place and it’s definitely not the front lines of Putin’s so-called “Special Operation”. In fact, before the world found out what the Russian army really looked like, the next picture is what we expected;

Russian Army in Ratnik

As soldiers of the prestigious ‘Ratnik’ program, the Russian forces were heralded as a fiercely equipped fighting force. Every bit of propaganda, before they revealed their hand in Ukraine, played into the narrative that they were professionally, even futuristically supplied and dressed.

If you are a regular reader, you already know how dangerous an ill-suited uniform can be. The contrast between the propaganda and reality stands as an apt symbol of Putin’s kleptocratic Russian Government.

While his soldier’s looted mink coats and even underwear (no, seriously) from Ukrainian citizens, Putin wore a puffer-jacket worth 14,000 dollars during a gathering to rally support for the war.

Putin in a puffy jacket

14 000 usd = 2½ years worth of income in Russia.

Their antiquated clothing and lust for simple necessities such as undergarments says more about the actual state of the Russian army than any state-sponsored news ever could.

Russian Army without socks

Russian footwraps.

Putin’s chest puffing is heavily contrasted by the leadership (and Fashion) style of his Ukrainian counterpart; Zelenskyy, since the invasion, has worn simple military fatigues and hoodies, or his now-iconic olive-green T-shirt.

Zelensky wearing olive clothing

Successfully portraying himself as the man of the people that Putin alleges he is, Zelenskyy has inspired citizens and leaders worldwide to join him in protecting his native Ukraine.

Before the war, Zelenskyy proudly wore high heels with a midriff-baring top during a dance routine and another time, a hot pink Elvis suit; the man is clearly comfortable with who he is and it shows in his Fashion choices.

Zelensky in a hot pink suit

Putin also wore something akin to high heels, but it was far from “proudly”; ample evidence shows he is known to secretly wear shoe lifts in order to make himself appear taller than he is. The disparity between the two speaks volumes, as does the way the international community has responded.

Putin in heels

French president Macron was one amongst many taken with Zelenskyy’s break with formality, as evidenced by his unexpected wardrobe-changeup. Moving from his usual conservatively-styled suit to a relatable jeans-and-hoodie combo, Macron took up the gauntlet and accepted the Zelenskyy-core aesthetic into his heart and public-relations strategy…

French president imitating Zelensky

Although you can glean plenty of info about people and things through their outfit choices, we get a much fuller picture of what’s going on when we incorporate all the Fashion choices people make, including what they buy and don’t buy, and what the Fashion Businesses decide you can and can’t buy.

For example, it’s no secret that Russia’s actions in Ukraine have caused a lot of the world to sanction them. Focusing on sectorial sanctioning, we can follow the impact the penalties have had on both the business and consumer side of the Fashion industry.

Shoppping clo

Anna Kalashnikova, a Russian actor and singer with over 2.4 million followers on Instagram, went into a Chanel store in Dubai and came out without a new handbag due to the sanctions.

She posted about this tragedy, referring to it as “discrmination” and in turn inspired a wave of Russian TV presenters, DJs, models and influencers to post videos of themselves cutting up their Chanel handbags with kitchen scissors and garden shears in protest of how unfair all this was towards them. This was all happening around the time the Bucha massacre was taking place.

Russian influencers choping their Chanel bags

Now, I understand that Russia isn’t exactly a free-speech haven; for example, calling Putin’s Special Operation what it is, which is a “war”, can get you into serious trouble there; anything ranging from getting your website blocked to fines and even jail time, with murmurs of torture… Still, even with those brutal consequences, many insanely brave Russians on the side of reason and humanity have spoken up.

For example, the Russian cosmonauts that went up to the International Space Station during the invasion wore colors emblematic of Ukraine’s flag as a “subtle” but powerful message of unity, with the official story being that they had “excess yellow material in the warehouse” that they needed to use up.

Russian cosmonauts wearing Ukraine colors

My stylistic favorite was this protestor who drew attention with her pastel-colored ensemble, complete with airpods. Whether she did it in hopes of getting more eyes on her protest, or because she just wanted to make her stand in a way that made her feel powerful, the outcome remains the same; she went out with style.

Russian protest

Also, just looking at the same picture; ask yourself, why is the internal “riot police” which suppresses dissent about the war so much better equipped than the soldiers being sent as cannon fodder?
Spoiler: what Putin fears most is his own people…
Don’t even get me started on how they look like fucking storm-troopers…

The effort to defend Ukraine, on the other hand, was involving the entire nation as there was no doubt as to what the right course of action was on that side of the border.

The popular local shoe-brand Kachorovska transformed their entire operation to make high-quality army boots. Fashion brand Milla Nova, known for its exquisite wedding gowns, started producing assault vests and military nets.

Movie-costume designer Anastasia Sudets used her industry skills to source uniforms, shoes, helmets, gloves, body armor, knee pads and other military equipment while local garment workers made uniforms and bulletproof vests.

Ukrainian garment workers

Now, there’s a lot we’re missing; for example, to say it was only Fashionistas that helped would be like saying that the entire Russian army was one dude; disingenuous, to say the least.

This “cross-section” look isn’t meant to be a tell-all that covers every nuance and aspect of what is a still-evolving and ever-complex situation; in fact, nothing can do that yet since many parts will only become clear after the fact, if ever.

I wanted to write about how there’s several recent pictures of Putin that would easily fall into Fashion tropes territory, whereby his suit is so badly fitted around his neck that it simply has to be a case of the Emperor's new clothes/nobody having the courage to tell him.

Putin wearing a poorly fitted suit

This would have fit into speculation about his physical health which there are plenty of rumors about, which in turn fits into why he is possibly so maniacal about achieving something “quickly”. But this is all speculation, and I promised Fashion Fact.

The fact is that Putin’s army was worse than anyone assumed, even Putin himself, who thought the invasion would be over in a few days, as sources suggest. The fact is also that Ukraine put up a nation-wide effort on both the fighting and media front, led by their olive-shirted President, that nobody in the world, least of all Putin, anticipated. The worst fact of all is that because of the irredentist* hubris of one man, countless others are suffering.

I’ve learnt a lot from the people of Ukraine recently and because of that, I want to make sure to end this glimpse into the situation with something hopeful, and a plan of action.

Just 20 days before the invasion began, the 50th Ukrainian Fashion Week was scheduled to occur, and despite major concerns of potential military escalation, they decided to go ahead with the show.

I share these last snapshots with you in hopes that the 51st UFW will know not just peace, but a Ukraine without the threat of war returning.

Ukraine FW 50th

To support Ukrainian creatives directly, you can buy any of their local brands linked here;

If you’re keen to support the defence of Ukraine, have a look at any of the following Ukrainian brands; they donate part of their profits to either the war effort or the various humanitarian groups on the ground today.

Read more about how Fashion affects the world and you.