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Nazi "Chic"? German Politics and Women's Fashions, 1915–1945

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This article explores the Nazis' failed attempt to fashion a female image that would reflect, support, and extend numerous state ideologies and policies. It begins in the era of World War I, when the French fashion industry was Germany's foremost competitor and the main target of German fashion polemicists and nationalists. It then examines the 1920s, when the German fashion industry made remarkable advances and fashion, both ready-to-wear and couture, became one of Germany's major exports. During these same years, however, conservative critics began blaming the Jews, rather than only the French, for designing and producing the "degenerate," "immoral," and "whorish" fashions bought and worn by German women. The bulk of the article focuses on the Third Reich in order to study several crucial subtopics. These include cultural nationalism; gender ideology and its visual constructs; anti-Semitism; the aryanization of the German fashion industry; French-German cultural relations; the ambivalence with which top Nazi officials approached the issues of female clothing and image; female agency in the face of great pressure to conform; and women's self-fashioning as the German home front became a war front and the Nazi state crumbled to a devastating close. Throughout the first decades of the twentieth century, fashion in Germany was a hotly contested site where culture, society, gender, economics, and politics all intersected. In the Third Reich, fashioning women became a serious matter of the most complicated sort.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: February 1, 1997

More about this publication?
  • Fashion Theory takes as its starting point a definition of “fashion” as the cultural construction of the embodied identity. The importance of studying the body as a site for the deployment of discourses has been well established in a number of disciplines. Until Fashion Theorys launch in 1997 the dressed body had suffered from a lack of critical analysis. Increasingly scholars have recognized the cultural significance of self-fashioning, including not only clothing but also such body alterations as tattooing and piercing.

    Fashion Theory provides an international and interdisciplinary forum for the rigorous analysis of cultural phenomena. Its peer-reviewed articles range from foot-binding to fashion advertising.

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