Russia and two of its ex-Soviet neighbors are set to impose a ban on certain types of lace panties, sparking public fury and even a lingerie-themed street protest.
Coming under a complete ban this summer in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus are lace or net knickers that have a high synthetic content, due to a new hygiene rule.
The rule is set to come into force in the Russia-led customs union of the three countries and has prompted plenty of amusement and newspaper photographs of women’s bottoms, but also fears over a return to Soviet-style regulation of everyday life.
“Lacy panties are heterosexual propaganda to adults,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets wrote, referring to a recent Russian law banning so-called gay propaganda to minors.
“Bureaucrats are poking into women’s knickers,” the Express Gazeta tabloid said.
“What? I’m emigrating,” Russian pop star Viktoria Daineko wrote on Twitter.
Other bloggers mockingly posted pictures of shapeless knee-length undergarments.
“Coming soon to all girls in the country,” one said.
Underwear retailers raised concerns that much of their sexier lingerie will fall under the ban, while other observers saw a return to Soviet-style arbitrary rules and lack of choice.
In Kazakhstan’s former capital of Almaty, three women protested by putting lacy knickers on their heads and attempting to lay them at an independence monument last weekend.
“They have robbed the people so much that we can only give away the last thing we have,” said one of the protesters, Zhanna Baitelova, a journalist at the Assandi Times newspaper. “Now they’re even deciding what kind of underwear we should put on.”
The protesters — two journalists and an art critic — were promptly arrested, found guilty of petty hooliganism and ordered to pay fines of about US$100.
In Belarus, opposition Belarussian People’s Front party leader Alexei Yanukevich also lashed out at the rule.
“They are literally stripping us Belarussians down to our pants!” he said in a statement released by the party.
“First they’ll put our women in pantaloons, then they’ll put us in wadded jackets,” one commentator who gave his name as Vasya wrote grimly on the Belarussian independent news Web site Charter 97, referring to prison uniform.
Not everyone agreed, saying the ban had health benefits.
“We are talking here about almost 100 percent synthetic underwear and if it’s really harmful to human health, then of course I think this will be better,” Consumers’ League of Kazakhstan chairwoman Svetlana Romanenko told reporters.
Last year, Russian stores complained to the Ministry of Trade and Industry that up to 90 percent of synthetic underwear could disappear from stores due to the ban, which sets minimum absorbency for garment material at 6 percent.
The InCity brand wrote an appeal saying that the most popular synthetic material in its panties has only 3 percent absorbency, asking Russia to intervene to change the wording, but this month it emerged that the ban would go ahead on July 1.
The Russian underwear market is worth about 4 billion euros (US$5.5 billion), with panties accounting for about 60 percent, the Russian union of textiles and light industry said. Russians prefer to buy imported underwear, which makes up 80 percent of sales.
Strongman Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko acknowledged at a meeting with small business owners this month that the nation might not be able to fulfil the Customs Unions’ rules.