Why is Russia in love with (Adidas) tracksuits?

Russian low-life thugs have almost made tracksuits a national symbol, though not the one all Russians are proud of

Russian low-life thugs have almost made tracksuits a national symbol, though not the one all Russians are proud of

Natalya Nosova
The German sports brand’s relationship with the country dates back to the Soviet Union, and the three (sometimes two) stripes made a serious splash over the eastern side of the Iron Curtain. No one could have predicted that Adidas would become the hallmark of Russia’s criminal world.

Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of the fashion house Chanel, once said: “Sweatpants are a sign of defeat. You’ve lost control of your life so you’ve bought some sweatpants.” If this is true, then many Russians don’t have a handle on their lives.

Tracksuits often have nothing to do with sport in the country – especially in the provinces. Instead, a lot of people wear them as everyday trousers and they’ve become something of a national symbol. Just check out these memes! Sure, not everyone wears Adidas shell suits in Russia (especially these days), but the pictures are pretty funny.

In Russia, no matter how old you are, you can find a tracksuit for yourself.

However, a few decades ago tracksuits were not regarded in the same light. In fact, they were almost considered classy. But why?

Adidas at the Olympics

Back in the Cold War era, right before Moscow hosted the 1980 Olympic Games, Adidas signed an agreement with the Soviet government and supplied the national team with a striped uniform.

Not that Leonid Brezhnev and the like were too pleased about Soviet athletes competing in Western-made threads – but the quality of textiles over the eastern side of the Iron Curtain were of inferior quality. The USSR did its best to erase capitalist signs on the uniforms, so they did not showcase the Adidas logo and only had two stripes (instead of Adidas’ trademark three).

This didn’t stop the Russian public cottoning on to the fact their heroes were wearing Adidas though. The brand’s popularity soared in the Soviet Union after the Games.

In vogue

So, in the early 80s Adidas tracksuits became a sign of ultimate chic. Of course, buying these getups legally was difficult so a whole industry producing cheap counterfeits sprung up. The famous three stripes were slapped on all types of garments – so the lucky few who could afford the real deal felt like they were wearing tailored suits.

The authorities were not keen and viewed the brand in the same light as jeans, bubblegum, and other Western stuff – but they could hardly do anything. A little ditty was even created: “The one who wears Adidas will sell the Motherland tomorrow!” (it rhymes in Russian).

Threads for thugs

After the fall of the Soviet Union, tracksuits - including brands other than Adidas - became especially popular in the criminal world. Prisoners would dress in tracksuits as many jails had no uniform - also, during the 90s some ex-sportsmen turned to crime to make ends meet and they wore the same thing they trained in.

The combination of Adidas sweatpants and leather shoes is especially classy (especially if you're a gopnik and have no sense of style at all)

This dress code even found its way to the top of some businesses (almost always firms run by criminals) so the idea of a fat cat sporting an Adidas tracksuit in the boardroom wasn’t too far-fetched. Minor lawbreakers – called gopniks – also wore the same clothes, inspired by their peers.

Of course, gopniks dressed in cheap counterfeits flogged in markets. This has given birth to lots of memes making fun of “Adidos,” “Abibas,” and other fake companies.

If you see something named

The fall of tracksuits

One Russian user wrote this on LoveHate.ru back in 2008: “You can’t go dressed like this to a theater or to a wedding but as an everyday outfit – why not?” But time passed and the popularity of “everyday” sweatpants declined.

That's how that guy's wardrobe possibly looked like.

In October 2017, Pavel Gorchev listed on Quora.com types of people who now wear tracksuits (except for those actually doing sports): Gopniks, gangsters…and people riding long-distance trains.

Here to stay

Yes, many Russians do change into shell suits on trains – even if they’re not gopniks. Viktor Wachstein, a professor of social sciences, explained it like this: “A tracksuit today is a half-public uniform, and a train compartment is a half-public space. That’s why they suit each other, probably. And also, because it’s just comfy to wear a sweat suit.”

This is why tracksuits will probably always have a place on Russia’s streets. Also, as Twitter user Victor Guberniyev put it, “Cos life in Russia is endless running with obstacles,” so maybe it’s always useful to have a tracksuit at hand.

Jokes aside, obsession with tracksuits is common now only for very low-class people in Russia. But it's an infinite source of fun for everyone else. Just look.

The ancestor (Alexander Pushkin, the most famous Russian poet) and the descendant (some gopnik).

A guy in a tracksuit can enjoy a walk in a museum. Usually, though, they don't.

You can't even imagine what this guy is playing and probably it's for the best.   

Sometimes Adidas goes even with high heels. (In fact, it doesn't at all but who cares, it's Russia).

In Russia, you can put three stripes on a car...

...or on a door...

...or even on your cat. But please don't! It's animal abuse. Your cat wouldn't do this to you. 

This article is part of the Why Russia series, in which Russia Beyond answers the most popular questions about Russia

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.

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