This article considers how the study of youth cultural practice in Eastern Europe informs theoretical and empirical debate about youth culture. It charts the trajectory of academic writing on East European youth cultures and suggests the region’s state socialist past (which made social inequalities relatively insignificant at a time when, elsewhere, youth cultural studies were dominated by class-based readings) combined with the explosion of inequality in the post-socialist period (by which time class-resistant post-subcultural theories led anglophone academic discussion), makes it an interesting vantage point from which to reconsider academic paradigms. Drawing on empirical examples of youth cultural practice in (post)-socialist Eastern Europe, it argues for a perspective that integrates structural and cultural factors shaping young people’s lives. It suggests moving forward western theoretical debates – often stymied in arguments over nomenclature (‘subculture’, ‘postsubculture’, ‘neo-tribe’) – by shifting the focus of study from ‘form’ (‘subculture’ etc.) to ‘substance’ (concrete cultural practices) and attending to everyday communicative, musical, sporting, educational, informal economy, and territorial practices. Since such practices are embedded in the ‘whole’ rather than ‘subcultural’ lives of young people, this renders visible how cultural practices are enabled and constrained by the same social divisions and inequalities that structure society at large.