Hitler is probably the world’s most influential fashion figure. He had a plan, and it backfired. He had intentions to whiten the world, and he did so- not with death camps… but with hipsterdom. One chooses to conform or rebel and Hitler wanted conformity through dictatorship. But is hipsterdom rebelling or conforming? Are there was to rebel without being a ‘such a hipster?’
Once World War II broke out, fashion stood still. Sure, nobody strut the street naked, but times were changing and fashion was less relevant. It was all about rationing: food, funds, and fashion. In the United States, laws regulated yardage, hemlines, styles, and fabrics of the mass-produced garments. Minimalism mirrored the times – not like in the 90s, but in the age of Hollywood glamour, American sportswear was born. The fashion capital moved from the then Nazi occupied Paris, to New York City and Los Angeles.
Women join the workforce as men were off to war. For the first time factories were run by women. Change is constant, with major crisis comes major change. Just like World War I brought out the roaring 20s, the second world war brought two kinds of dictatorship: fascism and fashion.
The second world war broke out on September 1st, 1939 when Hitler invaded Poland. Hitler meant to exterminate Jews (among others) and in the process, he brought fashion to its knees. There was “not much time for fashion. Pure function was the rule of the day,” (Murray 108).
What was wartime wardrobe? It’s no coincidence that come World War II, militaristic influence fled into the industry. In fact, fashion fascism was an ever-looming theme until the war was won. “Governments controlled all apparel manufacture. In America, price controls were enacted in 1943, and prices were frozen at that level. Style restrictions and rigid measurements were also imposed,” (Murray 108). According to Murray’s Changing Styles in Fashion, yardage was also restricted. According to Murray:
“Under L-85, as the law was known, there was a total ban on turned up cuffs, double yolks, sashes, patch pockets, attached attached hoods, [among other things]. Skirts could be cut with just many inches of circumference. Coupons were needed to buy shoes made of leather. Handbags and costume jewelry were heavily taxed. The fledging nylon industry vanished overnight, and with it the adorned hosiery that had replaced silk and rayon. Rubber disappeared and zippers were in short supply,” (Murray 109).
American designers were clever to find ways to deal with yardage, material, and silhouette restrictions. Basic pencil skirts and close-fitting suits became all the rage- but this fashion dictatorship must have been uncomfortable.
That said, it was the golden age of Hollywood. People flocked to the movies to escape. Where would we be without the glitz and glamour from the big screen? Though many movies made life look marvelous, it was a tough time; while movies showed sweeping dresses, the uniform of the World War II was primarily a tailored, form-fitting silhouette- or literally a military uniform.
In an interview with an eighty nine year old woman, the interviewee said,
“We wore Sharpie coats… it was like a twill, like a white coat, People would write their names on them. Saddle shoes [too]… We painted on our legs, we had to make a mark up the back [mimicking a seam]. We used to wait in line at Filene’s… Down the street and around the corner to get stockings,” (5/11/13 Edson).
What’s the deal with Sharpie coats? What came first: the Sharpie or the coat? Why conform so blindly to feel you must paint your legs and even go as far as to paint a faux-seam?
In an interview with a seventy two year old woman, the interviewee said,
“The ladies wore pom poms on their head. The skirts were pretty long [about calf length]. No kid would ever wear pants to school. Never, ever. The boys wore knickers. [Because of the war] they couldn’t get silk. There wasn’t a lot of cotton. My grandmother used to make us skirts out of grain bags… The ladies wore house dresses,” (5/11/13 Rindone).
Who cares what you look like when nobody’s around? Maybe it is that house dresses were ‘in’ when men were out of the country.
Times of trouble and turmoil turnover chances to change. The occupation of France “Paris fashion functioned in a curious limbo,” (Batterberry 330). Haute couture was slim-pickings. The fashion capitol switched from Paris to New York City and Los Angeles. Patriotism was the name of the game, and fashion reflected it. Like any war, militaries were furiously inventing weapons and defense- and fashion reflected that too. Synthetic fabrics were introduced. Though on the whole people were reluctant to accept man-made textiles into their wardrobe (and furniture, etc.), synthetic fibers were in high demand in the forties (Murray 111). “Costume historians and psychologists maintain that after any cataclysmic event, fashions change radically, usually becoming more seductive. They reason that this is nature’s way of ensuring the continuity of the human race,” (Murray 110). A change after D-Day was inevitable. And so it goes… Dior became the new dictator of fashion, “snatch[ing] the crown back from America,” (Murray 109).
Christian Dior showed his first collection on February 12th, 1947 and women sucked in to fit into “The New Look” which brought boning back after its decline in the twenties, revived the petticoat at the waistline, lifted and rounded the breasts, and made the shoulder pad passé.
“Christian Dior’s reputation as one of the most important couturiers of the twentieth century was launched in 1947 with his very first collection, in which he introduced the “New Look.” Featuring rounded shoulders, a cinched waist, and very full skirt, the New Look celebrated ultra- femininity and opulence in women’s fashion. After years of military and civilian uniforms, sartorial restrictions and shortages, Dior offered not merely a new look but a new outlook,” (Charleston).
Perhaps Dior was trying to exemplify the female figure, since the boys were home from war and the baby-booming was about to begin. Maybe Dior, the Dictator was trying to reverse the damage of his predecessor Hitler by increasing the population the same amount Hitler decreased the populous. If “this is nature’s way of ensuring the continuity of the human race,” (Murray 110), Dior did a good job. Especially since our boys overseas had every chance to get gay with each other and give up on their wives back home in dowdy house dresses.
Dior quickly became the dictator of fashion- and in doing so, conformity was king. However, wherever and whenever there’s a mainstream… there’s a counterculture.
Before, during and especially right after the war, Parisian writers, poets, philosophers, musicians, and artists ate existentialism right up. Soon enough, the Beat Generation would be a full- scale rebellion to the mainstream. If it wasn’t for the reign of Hitler, though, would the existentialists have been so existential? According to Batterberry, “To be Beat meant: leather jackets, jeans, and workman’s shirts- and black,” (Batterberry 354). Is this a correlation or a causality? Is Batterberry saying that beatniks, hipsters, and hepcats would be squares if they didn’t wear the official Existential wardrobe?
Perhaps people ought to rebel against fashion dictators on all fronts- people are not the clothes they wear. Who’s worse: Dior for making women squeeze into uncomfortable waists or Hitler for mass murder? Hopefully your answer is Hitler, but they both had something to do with fashion fascism. Both Hitler’s survivors and Dior’s models look malnourished. Hitler hoped to gain power from killing people; Dior gained profit from killing animals for his fur.
Who is the current dictator of fashion and where is fashion going? A Jew named Marc Jacobs is arguably the most powerful face in fashion. The fashion capitol is both New York City, and Paris, and as the wars in the Middle East are wrapping up, let’s keep a keen eye on current trends (or not). After all, conformity is so mainstream, but let’s not rebel to be a recycled, watered-down re-appropriation of the term ‘hipster.’ Instead, let’s push it forward into the realms of the avant-garde. That is, until Kim Jong-un drops his bomb on us. After all, change is forever, fashion is constantly changing, and rebellion in a conformist way is totally hipster-y. But everything under the sun has been done… so let’s call the whole thing off.
Batterberry, Michael, and Ariane Ruskin. Batterberry. “Wartime: The Tightened Belt.” Fashion, the Mirror of History. New York: Greenwich House, 1982. 329-33. Print.
Charleston, Beth D. “Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.” Christian Dior (1905-1957). N.p., n.d. Web. 9 May 2013. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/dior/hd_dior.htm>.
Edson, Peg. “Interview With An 89 Year Old Woman.” Personal interview. 11 May 2013.
Murray, Maggie Pexton. “The 20th Century.” Changing Styles in Fashion: Who, What, Why. New York: Fairchild Publications, 1989. 107-11. Print.
Rindone, Carole. “Interview WIth A 72 Year Old Woman.” Personal interview. 11 May 2013.