While I was writing about war time fashion in Britain I wondered how the issue was approached elsewhere. And I considered what it must have been like in Germany.
Obviously the people behind the Nazi project were very aware that presentation was central. If you are going to get the whole nation following you as you attempt to take over the world, your rallies and shock troops need to be carefully dressed. The huge Nazi eagle statue, the colourful swastiked banners and the mass turnouts were all carefully choreographed for the participants and onlookers alike. The music, the speeches and the display of military and national strength all built up a feeling of invincibility.
Obviously at heart the Nazis were a militaristic movement that promoted its aims through invasion and annexation as much as through political or economic means. Therefore a look at Nazi style is inevitably about uniforms. But uniforms created for all – from Nazi youth movements to the Gestapo – to help create a climate of national superiority and unity against the enemy. Everyone wanted to wear a uniform to gain respect and feel important and valued.
Each arm of the military was carefully colour coded.
Initially the existing Weimar Republic army uniforms, in grey-green wool, were modified by including five buttons, forest green collars and pleated pockets. As the war wore on the pleats were sacrificed and the fabric included more viscose and recycled fibres. The original jackboots were made from brown peppled leather that was darkened with black polish. The boots shrunk in length as the war continued, ending up as ankle boots instead towards the end.
The brown shirts were a paramilitary group established to protect Nazi party rallies and other activities. Based on Mussolini’s black shirts brown shirts were chosen as a large batch, made for wearing in the African colonies, were available cheaply. For other uniforms – for nurses, university students, and sportsmen – this 1937 Nazi guidebook lays it all out.
The SS uniforms were made from black wool, with jodpur type trousers, that were fastened with eyelets at the calf to ensure a close fitting beneath the boots.
The use of leather – for the maxi length Gestapo coats, through to Lederhosen, to jackboots, all spoke of an aggressive, highly masculine aesthetic.
Yet the reality was often less than favourable. Towards the end of the war the German army was fighting in Russia and northern Europe in the coldest, harshest conditions. Their clothes were not made for these circumstances so everyone at home was urged to help produce garments to warm and protect the troops.
Here are some items on show at the Imperial War Museum, London.
What about the women?
The official role for Nazi women was to stay at home, produce lots of blonde babies from under her Madonna petticoats, and go to church. The sun-kissed poster, idealising life on the land, country living and fresh food, sustaining Mother as she calmly focused on producing the Fatherland’s master-race. In reality she would be reality weaving some straw snow boots from straw, or stitching together a grain sack and a skinned rabbit skin. Of course some women needed to work – in the factories, hospitals and gas chambers. Here notorious torturers and murderesses wore neat suits, blouses and caps, modelled with revolvers and whip.