Czech Women of Style: Nikes are the New Stilettos

American expatriate Clay Anderson was feeling unstoppable. After swiping through dozens of women he was finally paired with Annie, a green eyed, 5’ 5” Czech girl with long auburn curls and a smile he wanted to write home about. The online dating app Tinder had come through with another match and Anderson was far from disappointed.

“The first thing you’re told before coming to Prague is how gorgeous the women are,” Anderson said. “Actually living here just proved it to be true, most of them look like models.”

Waiting outside the restaurant in black dress shoes, slacks, and a stylish printed button-down Anderson felt confident he would make a good first impression. When his date arrived he said he was blown away. Partially, because she looked even better than in her pictures, but also due to the t-shirt, jeans, and beat up Nikes she had chosen to wear for their first date.

This type of attire may surprise some who have heard about the Czech reputation for embodying the essence of femininity and sexuality, but anyone who has visited Prague can tell you that outfits consisting of ripped jeans and pull over sweaters have very much become the fashion norm. Twenty-five years after the fall of communism a more conservative and casual style has taken to the Czech streets, signs of both the rejection of the archetypal female Eastern European look of sexual fantasy mixed with poise and charm, and the financial chasm between the Czech Republic and its European Union counterparts.

Filip Mottl, a 25-year-old Prague native has had similar experiences as Anderson did with the fashion choices of most women in Prague.

“I would say that Czech women are still afraid of being classy and chic, as they lean more towards a casual style,” Mottl said, “But it’s much better these days than in the past.”

Many younger generation Czechs who only lived through the last few years of communism still have images burned into their memories of mothers and grandmothers saving for months in order to purchase “special” fabrics from East Germany and when a white t-shirt was the only daily outfit available.

“It wasn’t about who had the money to buy the expensive gangster attire, but who could invent a better model from sewing, whose mom was a better seamstress, or if you could dye your T-shirt some fun way. We did a lot of tie-dye,” said Pavla Jonnsonova, lead singer and musician in a Czech girl band that formed during the reign of communism and is still active today.

Today many Czech locals believe it is in fact foreigners who dress provocatively or in a manner to draw attention. Prague student Nikolaj Havel who grew up in the outer Czech regions of South Moravia said that one of the easiest ways to distinguish between foreigners and Czech women without talking, are their fashion choices.

“I can recognize Czech women on the first look, they do not choose dresses that fit them properly, or they choose bad color combinations,” Havel said, “Foreigners wear elegant stuff and it looks really fancy. Especially in clubs, foreign girls seem to look more fun and don’t mind showing off their bodies. ”

Even in terms of the latest rising Czech designers such as Petra Ptackova, Jakub Polanka, and Jana Mikesova, styles emerging from the Czech Republic are anything but bold, mostly staying within the hues of whites, greys, blacks, and light browns, showing the mark of a society still recovering from the ideology that the last thing one wanted was to draw attention and the financial ramifications that followed.

At 17,378 CZK per month ($782 USD) the Czech Republic has one of the lowest average salaries in the EU ranking according to a 2013 survey by http://www.ecb.europa.eu. This is a stark difference to the salary of a Luxembourg citizen who earns 3,189€ per month (3,928.13 USD) on average and the equivalent monthly salary of a college educated American Citizen at $6068.66.

“I am sure that in cities like London, Milan and New York you will definitely find better dressed people than in Prague,” said Karin Dimitrovova, Junior Fashion Stylist at InStyle Czech Republic, “This reasoning lies in different backgrounds, histories, and cultures, in the Czech Republic.  Fashion has never been a number one priority, not even in the top five. The Economic situation is the primary reason for this. The clothes might be the same price, but the salaries are vastly different.”

It’s impossible not to notice that in the world of style, the Czech Republic can’t seem to find a look to set them apart. Many attribute this not only to the country’s financial situation, but also to its forty-year history under communist rule when individuality was crushed in order to strengthen the position of the state as a whole. Following both American and Western European statistics, the top selling clothing lines in the Czech Republic are H&M, Promod, Zara, and C&A. These stores offer casual, comfortable, and affordable clothing marketed to the younger generation and is beginning to blur some of the lines between global fashions.

“I feel that we, as a country, do not have something that could be described as a typical Czech style. Of course, with the ongoing globalization it is hard to tell nowadays what the essence of style is even in countries such as Italy or France, but in the Czech republic fashion has never been something people primarily focused on,” Dimitrovova said.

Although most agree that Czechs have much higher priorities than the latest styles, in the professional world they are apt to notice a prestigious label as much as the next person. Unlike the women of communist Czechoslovakia, modern Czech women assert their social and financial status through much more than tie-dye. Heather O’Brien, a fashion journalist focusing on trends in both London and Prague said that as the Czech Republic’s financial infrastructure begins to stabilize, she thinks that a greater priority will be put on brand names other than Nike.

“For these women the power of this economic status isn’t in the 80’s-style power suit or the 90’s mini-skirt, but a notion that the label, be that an Hermes scarf, Prada handbag, or Beata Rajska dress will speak volumes for you,” O’Brien said.

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