Disclaimer: Some of you might remember this article from a few years back when we still lived at Viceland. Unfortunately, when we moved to VICE.com it disappeared, so now we've dug it up. Enjoy.
For the last few years, prisoners in Romania have been able to dress however they want as long as they maintain minimum standards of decency. This got our Romanian counterparts wondering: What do chicks wear when they're surrounded by the awfulness and heartbreak of prison life? VICE Romania decided to pay a visit to the country's only women's prison, Târgșor, to check out the fashions behind bars.
There's a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I reach the iron gates. What I discover inside feels like a weird combination of a hospital and a monastery. There's a church in the courtyard complete with flowers and a graveyard-like silence. But inside it smells like sweat and the noise is infernal. The bunk beds look almost cozy, like a student hostel. The only thing that makes the place resemble a prison are the bars on the cell doors, but even those have canteen curtains, through which you can hear the women bitching.
Here, an iPod and some earphones mean escape. Unlike in the movies, there are no obvious group leaders, and the officers told me friendships between prisoners rarely occur, but when they do, they’re really tight and exclusive. There are a few lesbian couples, but having some protection is their main motive. Scandals and fights break out easily. The girls are assigned different detention regimes, in different wings of the building, depending on how nasty the shit they’ve done is. The women serving the hardest punishments only get to feel the outside air once a day. The others can learn tailoring or reading and writing, and can pass time watching movies, reading in the library or at the hair salon, where one of their fellow inmates provides the styling, eyebrow plucking, and manicures.
The 660 prisoners live in 8- or 16-bed cells. Because of the lack of space, they’re allowed to keep a limited amount of clothing in their room. The rest are deposited in a storage room, from which the prisoners can take a new outfit when they take the other one to the laundry. Detergent is available for sale at the prison’s shop, where they also sell bad makeup.
One of the prison officers guided us through the cells and gave us a few tips on who the good girls were. We chose 8 to photograph, their sentences ranging between 1 and 20 years for murder, theft, deception, and drugs trafficking. We brought a pile of clothes, but also asked the prisoners to wear some of their own stuff and style their own looks.
FLORENTINA, 22, CONVICTED FOR THEFT
Vintage top, Adidas skirt, vintage jewelry
Flori has had a talent for theft ever since she was under the age of criminal responsibility. At the time of our visit, she had served 16 months of her current sentence.
“I like to dress funky. I love white and pink and comfortable, casual clothes. I go to the salon, get my hair dyed and straightened, have it cut into claws, and the ends thinned. Cut-up jeans are my favorite. Obviously I don't cut them up myself, I buy them like that.”
SIMONA, 27, CONVICTED FOR ECSTASY TRAFFICKING
Adidas dress, Levi’s jeans, Puma shoes, Patch watch from Ollie Gang Shop
Simona was studying accounting, and, as a hobby, she’d sell pills to her friends. She was the final link in a much bigger network of dealers when the whole setup got busted. She initially got 13 years, but the sentence was later reduced to 5. Music is her only escape, so we sent her a few CDs in the mail. She says she'll never return to clubs, as she wants to stay clean and start a new life from scratch.
“I used to wear sneakers, baggy pants, and shawls at parties, but I couldn’t keep up that style in prison. I still dress casually in sports pants and T-shirts. Here, when you look good, they tell you you look bad, to denigrate you. There are a lot of envious bad vibes, but I tell the other girls I don’t care.”
GABI, 32, CONVICTED FOR COCAINE TRAFFICKING
Vintage tank top, Only leggings from Outwear, Outwear earrings
Gabi graduated in management at Bucharest's ASE—Economic Studies Academy. In her first year at the prison she tried every narcotic she could. Quitting was hard, but she's clean now. She’s been here for almost two years, with another 6 to serve for being caught with 100 grams of blow. We shot Gabi in the love room, where the girls are allowed to meet their significant others, or VICE, in Gabi’s case.
“My style depends on the situation. I’m afro-punk now, but some days I go for casual or combined styles. You have to be decent here, but it’s still good you can be yourself. I still miss the freedom of wearing whatever I liked. I often borrow clothes from Simona, and my sister buys me whatever she’s buying for herself. My roommate Moriko does my hair almost every day. I don’t like kitsch and sequins, but that's popular here. Trends here vary between dollybird mixed with gypsy and extreme bad taste.”
CORINA, 24, CONVICTED FOR COMPLICITY IN FRAUD
Only dress from Outwear, vintage headdress
We wanted to shoot Corina in the church. The prison guards were into it, but the priest wasn't, so we shot her under the steeple. Her fellow inmates were screaming “prostitute!” through the bars on their windows.
“The prisoner cutting hair in the prison salon is awful. Two of my roommates went to see her. If she'd put a bowl on their heads it would’ve turned out better. My sister-in-law, Angie, does my hair. We’re inseparable. We've hung a piece of rope by the window in our room so we can dry our clothes. If we dry them in the courtyard they'll be stolen.”
IOANA, 18, CONVICTED FOR COMPLICITY IN THEFT
Adidas dress, Levi’s jeans, vintage shoes, Patch watch from Ollie Gang Shop; vintage top, vintage jeans, Puma shoes; Levi’s vest, vintage leggings, and shoes, vintage earrings, Outwear necklace, Only belt from Outwear; Levi’s T-shirt, Adidas leggings, and shoes
Ioana used to be a huge hip-hop fan, but ever since she’s been in prison she's had to listen to whatever the other prisoners are into.
“I choose my jewelry according to the way I dress. The big trend here is mixing sporty and elegant feminine stuff. All the girls dress like that. I like round, golden earrings, lots of crystals, and big pieces that match. I dress the same way in prison as I would at home, but since I’m here there's no one to dress for."
CLAUDIA, 34, CONVICTED FOR HEROIN TRAFFICKING
Levi’s vest, vintage leggings, and shoes, Levi's cap, vintage earrings, Outwear necklace, Only belt from Outwear; Levi’s T-shirt, Adidas leggings and shoes.
Claudia ended up at Târgșor a year ago after she was caught in an incriminating video that showed her husband selling heroin. Her sentence runs for another six years.
“I’d rarely dressed in a skirt before, but when I did, I got dolled up: I’d put on earrings, two rings, a necklace. I love gold, but I’m only allowed to wear silver here. I only wear shorts and tanks inside the prison and I just wear a bra around my room. Of course, there’s a lot of envy. No one visits the ugly girls. Fights can break out over the smallest thing. The last happened because a girl came into a room and stepped on the carpet with her shoes on.”
ȚUȚU, 36, CONVICTED FOR MURDER
Carhartt tank top, vintage jeans and accessories
Țuțu’s real name is Sorina, but this is how people address her. She's 5 years into a 20-year sentence for murder. She tells us she’s 28, her skirt size is “mini,” and her blouse size is “pink.” She kept mumbling “Jesus,” was very emotional, and asked us to turn around so she could change. Something about the red top seemed to make her feel hot and she started showing us some really sensual moves with the ironing board.
“I like red a lot. A nice red, glittery miniskirt with matching tank, then I'll walk around as if I'm on a catwalk. I even do that in our cell. In the past, I used to be a stripper. I don’t like yellow, but I do like leggings. My man has to be clean, elegant, and wear perfume for me, and I don’t want him hanging around in bars after 6 at night. He has to ask me if he wants to go out.”
ANGIE, 31, CONVICTED FOR DECEPTION
Puma tank top, Levi’s jeans, Vans belt from Ollie Gang Shop
Angie is Corina’s sister-in-law. She was an Olympic swimmer for 11 years, and even has 4 bronze medals. She misses exercise because unfortunately the prison’s gym closed down after some “apes” broke the treadmill. She married and left for Greece where she found work as a wedding photographer. Had three kids, but now her mother takes care of them. When they come to visit, they play on the slide in the photo.
“I miss my kids and peace most. It’s a jungle here. But I miss sneakers, too. Not wearing them, but buying them. When I go to court or on visiting days I like to wear really high heels, leggings, and a dress. I like Dior, Nike, and Puma too. I don’t wear makeup. The makeup the prison shop sells is shit. You can get some from home if it's hidden it in the fruit your visitors are allowed to bring. You learn that the first month here. As long as you're not smuggling drugs they're not that bothered."
Photos by Vlad Brateanu
Styling by the prisoners and Dana Anghel