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Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan - what was popular at the time?

The use of civilian clothing in the military conflict changed throughout the ages. In fact, not that long ago the army uniform did not exist altogether - everyone would turn up for the battle in whatever he was wearing that day! But as the regular military forces became a thing and as the textile industry became stronger, standing armies started to wear uniformed clothing. Until recently. After the end of the Second World War, many soldiers in various conflicts would have to get back to the civvy street garments. Although sometimes it was done purely for fashion, in most cases there were practical reasons. Namely, the improved comfort or, more often, the need to warm up.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan
Civilian workers of the Soviet Army were a good source for extra pieces in wardrobe

In Afghanistan the civilian clothing were used quite often, even though it was not particularly welcomed by the higher officers. In this article we will explore what pieces of clothing were commonly used by the Soviet soldiers and see if any of these can still be found and used for the reenactment purposes.


Civilian hats in Afghanistan

The use of civilian headwear in Afghanistan should not come as the surprise. Many people think, that Soviet winter hat was extremely warm. And they are right, but only when talking about civilian ones, made from real fur. The army hats were... sad, to say the least. Made from synthetic material, which got a nickname of "fish fur" in the forces, the hat had very poor insulation properties. These would be enough for some peacetime activities around the barracks, but completely unsuitable for week long operations. Saying all that, the officers' winter hat, made from the genuine fur, is actually a cozy and comfortable piece of equipment.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan

The Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan tried to acquire regular civilian boonie hats. These were popular among soviet youth at the time and were not hard to get. Of course, what was available in a soviet shop was not necessary present in Afghanistan, but there were ways to get the hats - mainly from those returning from vocations and occasionally by post. Overall these hats seem more like an officer privilege (because they were the ones who would get holidays). These type of hats are still around on vintage markets.



Fake Adidas and other sneakers

We had a really big article on sneakers just couple of days ago, so if you are really into it - check MOCKBA blogpost here. The footwear was by far the biggest problem for the Soviet contingent in Afghanistan, hence it was the most popular civilian item in the 40th Army. Just after couple of month of the extensive use, the issued boots were no good. Soldiers had to make do and sneakers become a real life saver.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan

In most cases, the sports footwear was either bought on local markets, looted of the enemy or received by Komsomol organizations. There were even cases when officers of smaller units would organize a centralized purchase of the big amount of footwear for their soldiers. Period correct sneakers are quite cheap, though not all that common, especially in good sizes.


Sport suits

Sport suits were not common in the Soviet Army and were quite praised among civilians, at least before late 80s. It was a very fashionable clothing, which played out mostly in the 90s, when these became widely available thanks to opened markets and direct imports from countries like Turkey.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan
Typical fashion in 90s. Yeah, don't ask

Of course, in Afghanistan, having a sport suit was a luxury of the highest level, hence it was mainly reserved for the officers. It wouldn't surprise me if some soldiers managed to get them from the local markets, but these suits would, of course, wait for the demobilization.

Officers would wear these suits mainly on the base, for gymnastics of even for everyday use, where this was not forbidden by the higher command. It was not unusual for the rules to be less strict on smaller bases or in smaller units, like Spetsnaz groups. Getting a soviet looking sport suit is still achievable - people keep digging them up from their attics.



Ugly sweaters

Just like the hats, sweaters were important not as a fashion statement, but as a practical piece of clothing. Soviet Army did not have pullovers for general issue. The famous "camel wool" pink sweaters, commonly seen on photos from in Afghanistan, were part of the mountain equipment and were not supplied to everyone.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan
Soviet officer looking at a potential sweater

It is interesting to note, that wearing a civilian sweater became quite common in the Soviet Army in the mainland by the late 1970s. So, apart from warming up, this was kind of a tradition for soldiers of later periods of their service. Getting a sweater for reenactment is, perhaps, the easiest from any other civilian clothing - after all, almost any ugly sweater looks kind of suitable for the period. But even a proper Soviet is not a rarity.




Check out what civilian clothing was used by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan: T-shirts and underwear

Having something else in the wardrobe, apart from a regular light blue singlet and a striped telnyashka, was, of course, preferable. At the same tie, it was not preferred by the Army itself, hence getting such items was not easy or common. Situation was, again, different in Afghanistan - thanks to local market and lack of traditional discipline.

Civilian clothes used by Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan

Soldiers and officers would acquire different t-shirts and would use them both on operations and for everyday life. It is hard to blame them - given the temperature in Afghanistan in summer and lack of water for washing, changing undershirt more often was definitely a luxury.



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