The Stilyagi, ‘style hunters’ or followers of fashion as we might say, were a small youth culture group (the only real Soviet youth culture group according to Art Troitsky), mainly Moscow and Leningrad based kids who dressed in an ersatz western style and aped American mannerisms. Like any youth subculture, they tried to use clothes and music as a way to identify themselves as separate to their more conventional peers and the values of the older generation. They made up a section of the audience for x-ray bootlegs but were only interested in Western Jazz and Rock and Roll.
The first reference to them as an actual group was a derisory piece in the satirical magazine Krokodil in 1949: "The most important part of their style is not to resemble normal people. And as you see, their efforts take them to absurd extremes. The stilyaga knows the fashions all over the world.. He's studied all the fox trots, tangos, rumbas, lindy hops in detail, but he confuses Michurin with Mendeleev, and astronomy with gastronomy... they flutter above life's surface, so to speak"
Over the next years, they were regularly lambasted in the press for being vacuous, vain, lazy, only interested in dancing or clothes and unappreciative of Soviet culture. There may have been some truth in those accusations - even some bootleggers who sold them x-ray records seemed to have found them a bit silly - but, as is often the way, the cartoon images that were published in the press have, to modern eyes, the opposite effect to that intended - that is, they actually make the Stilyagi look quite cool - certainly a lot cooler than the upright worthy Komsomol Soviet youths that were held up as being their moral superiors. You can't help wondering if the artists drawing the cartoons were perhaps a little bit 'Stilyagi' themselves?
In fact, the attention the press gave the Stilyagi probably rather pleased them and even the name 'Stilyagi', became a badge of honour. The had their own argot: they called Nevsky Prospekt 'Broadway'; they called each other American names like 'Bob', 'Bud' and Eddie'; they designed and made their own clothes, adapting curtains to make highly patterned ties and wide trousers; they chewed gum made of paraffin wax; they had their hair cut into elaborate ostentatious quiffed styles.
But they were rebels without a cause, more like hipsters than punks for although they are sometimes portrayed as bravely taking on the might of the Soviet establishment, they weren't really political at al. They weren't persecuted as dissidents and It wasn't an imprisonable offence being a Stilyagi, although they did sometimes suffer at the hands of the Komsomol and other disapproving citizens. There are stories of their hair being forcibly cut, skinny trousers slashed, kipper ties snipped by scissors.