Friday, February 1, 2019

Dressing the German Civilian

Every once in awhile I get an email from a reader about help getting a kit together for making a wardrobe for a German civilian impression. . .The reasons are all different but the questions are all the same: What kind of dresses should I look for? What hair styles? Looks? Trends? Where can I find accessories and clothes to improve my look and make it more authentic? How do I start to build this impression? For this post I want to take some time to really devote to answering these questions because I have learned that aside from this blog, some scholarly texts, and some images on Pinterest, there is not too much out there on German civilian women's fashion from the war years as a whole (or any years really) like there are for American or British fashions.

Funny enough, when I started researching women's fashion in Nazi Germany, there was not too much out there and I had to rely on a couple of main scholarly texts one by Irene Guenther and then those by Lisa Pine and my collection of German patterns that had taken me years and strikes of good luck  to acquire. After I had completed my research project, I figured that I could not be the only person wanting this information so I started this blog to fill in the gaps and give German women and their fashions some sort of representation. But, anyway, back to the purpose of this particular posting: to give some advice on building up a super simple wardrobe for a German civilian impression for a woman. Now, before going on, this is not an all exhaustive post about dressing for a civilian German but I hope that it will serve as a foundation to help you get going. Consider this a kind of starting block to be built on later. . .

When building a wardrobe, always consider first who are you representing? A maid? A socialite? A nurse? A mother with many children? A secretary or factory worker? Who are you and what do you want to represent?? Before shopping and collecting your wardrobe pieces, do your homework first and find out the items that you will need. No matter who you choose, each impression will be different and require different things . . .  For example, a maid will need an apron and sensible foot wear while a socialite may not. . . . . .
Consider too the needs or requirements of your unit . . Always consult them for the basic standards and kit requirements. . . I would say they ought to be your place to at least start where they can give you some guidance. . .But, don't let their advice be your only research, do your own as well. But, no matter anything, we all have to start somewhere and that is normally at the bottom and with utmost simplicity too. For now, I want to look at a super simple kit and outfit starting with underthings and then ending with some outerwear (because lets face it, weather sucks sometimes), accessories, and then putting it all together. 

These recommendations to follow are my own opinions based on my research using both scholarly and primary sources. My primary sources being my own collection of original patterns, magazines, as well as photographs from my own collection and a little bit I was able to find in the public domain (aka Google). Keep in mind that these are general guild lines and for every "rule" there are some exceptions. . . Before choosing an exception to the rule in your wardrobe, I highly recommend choosing the rule first as your foundation. Wardrobe building is like making a big building, you need a solid foundation to build upon first.  . . . Ready? Good. Let's Start with a brief intro. for a basic look and then get into the details. . .

Women in Nazi Germany were torn between balancing the look of the modern sophisticate and the traditional country resident. Nazi politics favored the more traditional image with women dressing in traditional attire, free of all cosmetics and blonde, tanned and healthy. The contradictory image was a woman sporting the most fashionable looks, curled and styled hair and looking like an image from a magazine. The real image? I believe that it was somewhere in between. I believe women in Nazi Germany managed to dress in a manner that balanced the goals of the Nazi regime and their own desires to look fashionable. These women also managed to dress using as little resources as possible especially as the war dragged on. When looking for inspiration to create your look I really recommend photographs. Magazines are fine for color schemes and high fashion but how many women really had access to these looks? Especially with the war cutting off precious resources that were already scarce to start with. Photographs show real women wearing real clothes and what better research material than that?

Looking through photographs of women from the time, and images of women in the NS Frauen Warte (a leading women's publication in Nazi Germany), and other magazine and book publications women wore outfits  which included  frocks, suits, and blouses as well as clean simple traditionally inspired pieces  . . and then clothes from everything in between!  . . . One theme that Harald Kleinschmidt points out in his work Nazi Germany is that girls were taught to dress simply, be clean, maintain their clothes, and appear healthy, clean, and polished. I think that this is important to remember when making your own impression for a German civilian.

I am sure you are ready to dive into the details here but let me get into my own German civilian impression before first. I attended my first WWII event in September 2018 and had a great time. When dressing and wardrobe planning for this event I was split on what to wear due to weather - I can't stand to be cold! I originally intended a suit but ended up going with an original German velvet dress, original tan wool coat, and navy blue tilt hat. For footwear I chose seamed stockings,  brown pumps and snake skin bag. For hair, I kept it simple with curled hair secured in a fine hairnet.
This was my chosen look for a few reasons and one being how could I not wear my first German dress to my first event with a German impression? Second, the color combination I loved and third it was practical as it ended up being a little chilly but not too much . . the dress had short sleeves and when layered with the coat it was ideal. The fourth reason was that this was a nice simple look that I knew would not cause waves. . . Another look that I intended to wear was a suit but some loved it and some did not . . . some thought it was too fancy for a German impression but that I think is a topic all on its own. Since this was my first event ,I did not want to ruffle anyone feathers by picking an outfit that straddled the fence. . . . . One thing that you will learn about this particular impression is that there are a lot of opinions out there on what German women did wear, should wear, and everything in between . . . Some opinions are backed by facts and others not too much . . ..  I would recommend no matter what you chose to do, as long as you do your homework and back up what you have chosen to wear then you will be just fine.

For now, how about a simple look from the skin out for a German civilian Impression:

The proper underpinnings can really take a good look and make it spectacular.  I know because as a Civil War reenactor, I learned that having the right stuff underneath makes a huge difference on what you wear for the public. For some 1940s German underthings, I recommend:
Sample of underthings from
Der Goldene Schnitt
  • Bra
  • Tap Pants
  • Slip
  • Stockings (or ankle socks)
  • Garter Belt, Girdle
Bras for the 40s were incredibly simple were not nearly as padded or supportive as what you can buy today. . .But, these bras do keep the girls in their place and supported quite well. . . German gals could have made these at home or purchased them and you too can do the same. Der Goldene Schnitt offered patterns for girls to make their own if they wanted. . . Look for cottons or even fine silks. Tap pants too could be made at home or purchased and patterns for these too were available for the home sewist, same for slips. Again, look for fine materials like silks, cottons, and even linen. Girdles and Garter belts were meant to keep nylon or silk stockings (seamed of course) in place and also to help maintain a trim figure. These were meant to fit snuggly. When acquiring your underpinnings, you can buy them or make them. I have done both. I prefer to purchase my supporting undergarments like bras, girdles, etc. but that is just me. For my slips and tap pants, I enjoy sewing those as they are so simple to make. Another option are plain ankle socks in a neutral, looking at photographs, these were a casual option and a utilitarian one as well. More on leg wear later on . . .

Some Simple Outfits

Once you have the basic foundation undergarments, move on to the outfits of which you only really need one or two and then some accessories, which we will cover later. I would recommend two outfits: a simple dress and some simple separates. . .When in doubt, choose simplicity above all else. For dresses, look for:
  • high necklines, square necklines, or shallow V necklines. Nothing plunging or too revealing.
  • short puff sleeves or long tight sleeves. Those are the two most common sleeve styles and although there are some variations, stick with the basics for now.
  • A line skirts with hems that extend to just below the knee or else mid calf.
  • fitted  or more "tailored" styles are more common with German fashions, especially dresses,  when compared with American or French styles. . . I think this has to do with some of the Victorian influence that German fashion has but it could also be due to many other reasons too. Another could be simple: The War. War time shortages meant carful cutting of fabric so to not waste a scrap.  Blouses could be casual and relaxed fitting. I reccomend taking a close look at photographs for fit and keeping in mind possibly construction of the garment for achieving this look.  
  • For trim, stay clear of it, that is the safest bet. Great clothes can be ruined with poor trimmings. If you do choose trimming, try to stick to self fabric trimmings (trimming made from the dress fabric itself), ribbon, or even some appliqued pockets or do your research! German fashion was very creative but always research first and then do (or buy). Documenting whatever it is will ensure accuracy and give you some confidence in what you have as well.
Blouses from Der Goldene Schnitt
1941 & 1940
 When it comes to separates - blouses, skirts, and jackets, these follow many typical 40s fashion trends so I think buying a simple blouse and skirt would be a safe choice. One trend that I find really fascinating for German blouses is that they could be incredibly elaborate but again, do your home work first if in doubt. . Or ask! You can't go wrong with asking around. Some key things to remember about your clothes for a German impression:
1) Simplicity

2) Clean

3) Well pressed and well maintained

These three trends or themes come up often about women's fashion in Nazi Germany from both scholarly texts and primary sources. Women took great pride in their clothes and for many reasons too. I think the biggest reason was because these clothes had to last and last a long time given the rationing and shortages which you can read more about here . There was also a certain pride in well maintained clothes. Now I can see someone challenging those three points especially if you are portraying a refugee, and if you are on the move for days at a time with only the clothes on your back then yes ,your clothes may look a little shabby. . .Same if you are a hard working country girl who has not had new clothes in a long time . . . Here, some wear and tear would not be out of place. . .Bottom line, think about who you are portraying and think what looks or would look realistic? Exercising some creativity in this department would not be a bad idea as long as you have the research to back it up.

Can I use originals? When it comes to the 40s, there is a distinct advantage in this era over Rev War and even American Civil War and that is original clothes from the period can still be found and worn for events. What can be more authentic than wearing original pieces? Finding original pieces from Nazi Germany is possible and these clothes can blend right in with American, French, and British pieces. I recommend buying from a reputable dealer if you must have original German pieces but otherwise, real vintage 40s pieces can be found and can work for you. Be prepared to pay up for authentic German too by the way.

I recommend going in with a budget, knowing your measurements, and being able to sew too help get good deals. . .Look for pieces that may need a little loving, those are often discounted. Accessories like bags, hats, and gloves will be more readily found than other pieces and can be one size fits all. When looking for original clothes, alterations may have to be done to ensure they fit correctly of course and that is up to you if you want to do that. For me, I have no problem altering a hem line on an original dress or taking in a seam or two to make it fit better. I will not deconstruct the whole garment though because at that point, I many as well as make a whole new garment with vintage fabric and notions. Aside from using original pieces, you can also sew your own wardrobe using German patterns, many can be found right here on this site!

For more on German Fashion and Dress, Check out these past posts of mine:

Another topic that I think ought to be covered here in this category are the outfits mirroring the traditional folkwear  looks. These looks were seen and worn but not all the time and not by every woman either. . . From what I can gather it was personal preference that dictated when there were worn or for special occasions. There were many patterns for these in Der Goldene Schnitt but very few in the Frauen Warte which is riddled in irony considering the Frauen Warte was considered the leading fashion magazine for women in Nazi Germany. Even the magazine Deutsche Moden Zeitung has mentioned these outfits very little. The regime would have preferred every woman wear these but what the regime wanted to see happen and what actually happened . . well I think we all know how that story goes.

Coats from Der Goldene Schnitt
I am sure we all know that at events, it can rain ,snow, sleet and hail . . It can also be plain bloody cold too so investing in some outerwear can be a really wise decision especially if you do events all year. Thankfully, German coats follow typical 40s fashion trends and there all kinds of styles to pick from boxy and roomy to trim and sleek. When selecting a coat for your German impression, this may be easier to do than finding clothes because there are many modern and 80s does 40s winter coats available that are definitely passable. If choosing a modern or an 80s does 40s piece, consider your standards of authenticity. If you have high standards or have to follow high standards, then consider a true 40s vintage coat or a good reproduction instead of a modern or an 80s look alike piece. Another option for dealing with colder weather events and outerwear is to avoid them or stay indoors like I do. Furs were seen in many images of women from fur jackets to fur accessories but were super rare. .  . .Keep in mind that coats and outerwear were special and prized commodities in war torn Nazi Germany. To get a new one, you had to prove beyond a doubt that your old one was too far gone to be useful. You were also not allowed to have more than your fair share of coats which meant really only one coat per person. So, if you go without one and someone points out "hey! Why no coat? Its cold out." Then you can give them a little history lesson . . . Coats could be solid in color, plaid,  have one button or four. Choose from an assortment of collar styles.

After getting a basic outfit and maybe a coat, accessories can help maximize what you have. A basic set of accessories I would recommend would be:
  • bag
  • gloves
  • hat or silk scarf
  • solid foot wear
  • apron - for a maid, mother, or domestic setting
  • Collars, cuffs, etc to update a dress or blouse

A selection of German jewelry from my collection
When it comes to accessories, finding original German pieces is possible especially since accessories are kind of really one size fits all for the most part (thank goodness, yes?). For head wear, I would recommend a good sized silk scarf over a hat any day. They are way more versatile, cheaper to acquire, and are more practical. . .They are also easy to get right. A good scarf tied just right too can hide hair that is not styled correctly. When it comes to head wear, I think German women's head wear is more masculine is styling and shape than American or French pieces in my own opinion. Looking through period images, tilt hats were seen in Germany as in the U.S. and France. . . Most hats were quite simple with a slight hint towards the 30s for a couple of reasons . .   Either it's a 30s hat or a 30s hat  refashioned slightly. 1943 saw a push for women to use creativity in headwear to keep wardrobes updated. 
When selecting jewelry for your German impression, look for simple pieces that have nature themes. The edelweiss was a popular alpine flower and was used commonly in German traditional pieces. Thankfully these edelweiss pieces can be commonly found and for not too much money. As a whole, I would recommend staying clear of large or fancy pieces and choose simplicity or nothing at all. Some German jewelry as had a bit of an Art Deco feel too from the 30s and the 20s. When selecting jewelry think about your overall impression because you may not even need it. Pearl's and beaded necklaces were seen as well as simple chains with charms or pendants. 
a little celluloid bird pin.
I wore this with my red velvet German dress
 Foot wear - same deal but I recommend looking for something simple and basic like an oxford in black, brown, or a neural. You can totally wear a pump/ heel as well and black or brown are the top two choices and then after that white or ivory. Colored shoes like red, green, and navy for example do get a second look and are questioned but if you can document it, then you can go for it (just remember to document it well before use!!). From experience though, choose something you don't mind to get a little dirty. In my two German photo albums, the foot wear is incredibly simple and plain. Honestly, I think some of the ladies in the albums wore the same footwear over and over that suggests one maybe two pairs per person during this period. Foot wear can even be homemade! Shoes became such a rare and prized item that eventually magazines offered instructions on how to fashion old rope and scraps into semi functional footwear. One point of concern - NEVER GO SHOE LESS! Some went without shoes in Nazi Germany but at an event to go without shoes is dumb and dangerous. Don't be dumb or dangerous. Love your feet.

For leg wear, things get a little  sticky here depending on who you talk to . .. Looking at photographs, women could wear a couple things - small socks or stockings (sheer or opaque). If you have sandals for a summer look, then omit the stockings and socks . . . Looking at photographs, I see many women who are wearing small white or off white socks and these look to be really plain and simple. I think you could probably find these at Target or Meijer/ Wal - Mart. . . Next are stockings . . .Period stockings were seamed. There are seamless stockings but those are late war and were just coming into vouge in the U.S. . .The soonest ad I have seen for seamless ones was for 1944 in a US publication. These stockings would have been a nude or skin tone neutral color. Another option are opaque stockings or thicker cotton ones . . I have a pair of originals. These are brown in color, thick, and are knee high. . . Again, I am sure you could find something similar at a Target . . . . (Actually, a cheater option can be opaque plain tights . . .No one needs to know they are tights . . . shh). What about the colorful or high contrast seams in stockings? Stay clear of those.

Hair and Beauty
When it comes to this department, there are some advantages to doing a German impression over an American one because for German fashion, simplicity is BEST! Many images of German women show them sporting simple hair styles with center parts for traditional looks or even side parts or no parts at all. Hair was curled, confined and for the most part kept off of the neckline or shoulders. I do see many German hair styles that look very smooth (as in hair left natural and not curled) but they are confined to a bun or a roll of some sort. Of course, there are some exceptions to this rule but for the most part keep it confined, keep it simple and stay clear of those victory rolls! Let the American counter parts rock those.  
  • For a German impression, simplicity is by far the best advice I can offer. . .Stay clear of the lavish victory rolls and chose something that is simple. Simplicity too can be done more easily than complexity so don't be afraid of doing hair if you are not talented in that department (like me). The most that I have seen have been waves towards the front in replacement of rolls.
  • Stay away from nail polish, heavy make-up. Choose a more natural look. Some make up is o.k. but keep it natural and keep it light if you must wear it.  There were some women in the Nazi elite who did wear their cosmetics but think about the average woman. How readily could she have had access to those goods given the war and rationing? Another advantage to doing German here to is that since makeup is not too necessary, it is one less thing to pack! Politics of the time called for minimal make up too.
  • Blonde hair was highly desired in Nazi Germany and many women colored their hair blonde to achieve this look. Were all women sporting blonde hair then? Absolutely not. There are many images of women sporting hair that appears to be brunette or some shade darker than a blonde.
  • Tans were popular for women, they represented a healthy look and showed that one was active during the day doing physical activity.

  • Being well rested was an ideal for German women and girls because it showed health . .  so get a good nights rest.
Putting it all Together
Once you have all the pieces you think you will need, it comes down to putting it all together. This I think is the hardest part because here you show off all your hard work of collecting ,sewing and research (Unless you are using mine, I kind have done all that hard work for you but please do your own too for the best results.  . . . Seriously though, do your own homework!). Showing off your impression too can be really intimidating, I know, but I say the best advice I can offer is to just get out there and meet as many people as possible! That was the best advice I got from a CW event before Rockford . . I ran into a WWII reenactor and when I asked for some advice that's what I got. . . Does it work? You bet!
To start, again I recommend simplicity. Choose a simple look that is clean and well pressed. Top it off with plain and well dressed hair and if you do have a hat, aces to you. . Many women have been shown out and about hat less so that is an option too . Select simple sturdy foot wear and simple seamed stockings or else little white (or light) socks. If you started with your underpinnings then you already have the correct figure and shape.

Sources/ Further Reading:
Nazi Chic? Fashioning Women in the Third Reich by Irene Guenther

Der Goldene Schnitt, 1941

Der Goldene Schnitt,  1940

Der Goldene Schnitt supplement, 1942

Deutsche Moden Zeitung 1941 and 1943

2 original German Photo albums in my own collection ( will be shared on this site hopefully soon)

Collection of original garments and items ( will be shared on this site as well in full hopefully soon!)

Edited 09/28/2019


  1. Wow, lots of helpful info for reenacting and learning about German fashion.

    I wondered what you wore to your WWII event when you have so many options--great choice the German velvet dress and navy tilt hat.

    Best wishes, Dee

    1. I'm glad you liked it. It was hard to decide! I certainly had the options. I jumped around between suits, dresses, etc and chose the red velvet look because there was something that was really nice about it and u had a feeling it would be well recieved.