The Influence French and German Fashion Share

Today, a short look at the influence German and French fashions have on one another. I think a topic like this is important here because my primary goal of this blog it to offer a look at German fashion (and also the fashions of other countries here and there ). Why German though? Well, I feel there is a distinct lack of it available and yet it is so very important to look at. There is so much out there about Nazi atrocities, officers, battles, and the like but what about the average German woman and the clothes she wore or dreamed to wear? I feel that woman is somewhat forgotten and I hope to remedy that here over time. 
Insert from a German Fashion Magazine

There has been much scholarship concerning the influence of France and Germany but only one has really tackled fashion as a main theme: Irene Guenther. In her work Nazi Chic? Guenther delves into how French fashion influenced German fashion and how German fashion tried to influence the fashion of other countries through their export only fashion. There is no doubt that both countries, Germany and France, played with each other’s realities concerning fashion and today I want to take a very brief look at how these countries influenced fashion, particularly each others.

Back during the First World War, France and Germany were at odds with each other not in a military sense (they were) but in a fashion sense. Each country was trying to secure themselves as a fashion pinnacle for their people and be influential to the outside world. France had already won that war. Considered the height of fashion, chic, and the goal to emulate, France then (and even today) was the empress of the latest fashion. France was also the home to countless fashion houses, famous designers, and clothes desired by many. What was on trend there was on trend for the rest of the world. As the fashion capital of the world, her neighbors tried to emulate her while one in particular tried to overcome her. Germany tried to become the empress of fashion and be the place wanted to be emulated. By the 1930s and well into the 40s, Germany strived to cement their own kind of fashion and to become the center of fashion influence.
Inset from a 1930s French Patten book: Éclair Coupe Paris

What was French fashion? What did the French woman look like and why was she and her image so incredibly desirable? The French woman was depicted as very feminine according to Guenther. She wore soft silks, tailored wools, her hair was always polished and overall she embodied the word chic. If one wanted to look fashionable, current, and in tune with the world, you had to emulate the fashions of the French girl. And the German girl you ask? She was depicted as the opposite. As a result, the German girl, and the girl of many other countries, desired to emulate the French girl. Which leads us to why the German girl, despite Nazi ideology and rhetoric, chose French fashion over German at times. 
Insert from a German Fashion Magazine
In the 1940s with the rise of Nazi Germany, Germans kicked up their efforts to define more clearly a sense of truly German Fashion free from all outside influence especially French. Why had Nazi Germany raised their efforts to secure a place in the world of fashion though? Simple. Nazi Germany aimed to become a racially pure and elite country and part of that equation was taking the throne of the fashion industry. By holding the fashion industry in the palm of their hand, the Nazis could a great amount of influence and further define their sense of nationalism.
Inset from a 1930s French Paten book: Éclair Coupe Paris
With German women wearing German fashion, it builds the German economy and it also boosts support for German everything and anything. Having German women wearing French fashion on the other hand does not do Germany much good. Not only that but it makes Germany look bad in the eyes of the Nazis. Under Nazi control, were German women wearing only German fashion? Based on Guenther’s findings on page 213 in Nazi Chic? , “ . . .at least 200 German women . . .were very well-fashioned on the German home front.” Well fashioned with what you ask? French clothes. With that said, some women, mostly the wives and girlfriends of Nazi officials benefited from French clothes, lingerie, perfumes, stockings, cosmetics, and the like. In fact, many German women actively sought French clothes and fashion advice. France, despite all of the Nazis efforts was incredibly desirable and still quite influential.

So, if German women were wearing French clothes, were German women ever wearing German clothes?? Yes, many women wore German clothes. . .chances are clothes they made or fashioned themselves or else clothes that were made in German stores or fashion houses. German women were probably inspired by French fashions in a stray magazine or two and they were also inspired by the various German magazines on the market offering the latest silhouette (which were probably inspired by the latest French designs . . . . maybe . . . ). Sadly, the countless dresses and products offered in the German magazines were unavailable in Germany! Those German magazines featured garment and products meant for export! Export! Why in the world would Germany offer such beautiful products not to their own women but to women outside of Germany? Very simple. . . Germany wanted to look fashionable and current to the rest of the world, the outside world. Germany wanted to their best foot forward and to encourage and convince women in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and even Spain that Germany was now the fashion center of Europe.

As a whole, German women wanted to look good (very much like all women). Part of looking good though meant adhering to French fashion influence regardless of what the Nazis said or the standards provided. Although Germany tried endlessly to secure their position in the fashion world as the top, they could not shake the age old image of the French girl. Through decades, the slim, polished French girl, that image so fragile yet so powerful persisted. But, the Nazis were the pinnacle of contradiction and they too wanted their women to look their best.  . .that may be why Hitler never stated in stone precise standards for women’s fashion . . . He too wanted women to look their best in any method they could (which included a little lipstick here or hair bleach there). His girlfriend, Eva Braun was a known cosmetics user by the way. Although Germany tried to define their own sense of what German fashion was and to ensure all women wore German clothes, many women cared less. Women wanted to look their best no matter the country they lived in no matter what country dictated the most desirable look.

No matter the time, France and Germany shared an influence over fashion that both shared and both aimed to take over completely. Of course each believe only one could reign supreme, I think the only reason why French fashion is so iconic and desired is because of competition with other countries. As Tim Gunn once said" One day you're in, the next you're out" was true then and still is today. Today, to stay current once has to be desirable and modern and chic. For German fashion, I think that there was a German fashion because they had someone to compete against.

Sources/ Further Reading:
Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich by Irene Guenther.
1940s Fashion: The Definitive Sourcebook by Emmanuelle Dirix and Charlotte Fiell