2021 Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or Post-Soviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university, and must be completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Virginia Carter Olmsted McGraw
Title: “Soviet by Design: Fashion, Consumption, and International Competition during Late Socialism, 1948-1982” (UNCChapel Hill, History)

This lively study takes readers on a rich excursion through the world of Soviet fashion worlds both popular and elite, from design studios to small-town stores, and from Communist Party offices to international catwalks. While walking us through the constraints and opportunities of a command economy, Olmsted McGraw convincingly shows how the Soviet state understood fashion as a central mechanism for unifying society as well as for showcasing the legitimacy of Soviet government abroad. Alongside efforts to take us outside of Moscow and even more challengingly, beyond women’s wear as the keystone of fashion as an industry, she offers excellent readings of material culture across changing political economies and international scenes. Using a range of empirical resources, from hand-drawn clothing designs to the archivally-sourced minutes of planning meetings, to files kept at the GUM and TsUM department stores, to published debates over designs, and through close readings of decades of popular Soviet journals as well as the memoirs of the designers who were showcased on their pages, Olmsted McGraw illustrates the struggles that so deeply challenged the planned economy with an abiding conceptual rigor. Pretty much anyone who wears clothing will find much of value in this impressive scholarly work on the efforts of Soviet consumers, artists, and industrial planners to remake the world of fashion in socialism’s image.