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Women in Weimar Fashion

Women in Weimar Fashion: Discourses and Displays in German Culture, 1918-1933

Mila Ganeva
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Women in Weimar Fashion
    Book Description:

    In the Weimar Republic, fashion was not only manipulated by the various mass media -- film, magazines, advertising, photography, and popular literature -- but also emerged as a powerful medium for women's self-expression. Female writers and journalists, including Helen Grund, Irmgard Keun, Vicki Baum, Elsa Maria Bug, and numerous others engaged in a challenging, self-reflective commentary on current styles. By regularly publishing on these topics in the illustrated press and popular literature, they transformed traditional genres and carved out significant public space for themselves. This book re-evaluates paradigmatic concepts of German modernism such as the 'flâneur,' the 'Feuilleton,' and 'Neue Sachlichkeit' in the light of primary material unearthed in archival research: fashion vignettes, essays, short stories, travelogues, novels, films, documentaries, newsreels, and photographs. Unlike other studies of Weimar culture that have ignored the crucial role of fashion, the book proposes a new genealogy of women's modernity by focusing on the discourse and practice of Weimar fashion, in which the women were transformed from objects of male voyeurism into subjects with complex, ambivalent, and constantly shifting experiences of metropolitan modernity. Mila Ganeva is Associate Professor of German at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-809-5
    Subjects: Sociology, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    M. G.
  5. Introduction: On Fashion, Women, and Modernity
    (pp. 1-18)

    This is a book about women’s fashions and the various ways they were displayed, worn, created, and discussed in the public sphere of Weimar Germany. It focuses primarily on the years 1918–33 and limits its scope to Berlin and its sartorial practices, because, as the two statements quoted above suggest, it was there and then, in the German metropolis of the 1920s, that the most dazzling spectacles and spirited debates about women’s fashion took place. During that long decade Berlin’s numerous department stores regularly staged lavish shows in their display windows (Modenschau), organized frequent contests to determine the best...

  6. Discourses on Fashion

    • 1: The Fashion Journalist: Flâneur or New Woman?
      (pp. 21-49)

      A Glance at the two thick volumes of the 1930 Reichshandbuch der deutschen Gesellschaft (a high-brow, illustrated “Who’s Who?” of German society of the late 1920s) will reveal, among the handful of women featured, two representatives of the world of fashion — journalists Ola Alsen and Elsa Herzog.¹ In sharp contrast to all the other photographs in the volume, the studio portraits of Alsen and Herzog show the two women almost full-length; both are stylishly dressed, smile coquettishly at the imaginary audience, and reveal an almost narcissistic pleasure in the spectacle of fashion that they are part of. The photograph of...

    • 2: Fashion Journalism at Ullstein House
      (pp. 50-83)

      On january 29, 1933, on the eve of one of the most fateful days in German history, the day on which Hitler was appointed Chancellor, the huge banquet halls of Berlin’s Zoological Gardens were hosting the annual Press Ball. As described by Hermann Ullstein, a participant and one of the most influential figures of the German press, this was the culminating event of the capital’s social life. All halls were packed with “illustrious peoplee . . . : ministers of state, politicians, members of Parliament and the press, artists, poets, and the intellectual leaders of both the theater and film...

    • 3: In the Waiting Room of Literature: Helen Grund and the Practice of Fashion and Travel Writing
      (pp. 84-110)

      One of the essays in Franz Hessel’s 1929 collection Spazieren in Berlin includes a kaleidoscopic image of Berlin’s press district (Zeitungsviertel) and introduces the flâneur in one of his quintessential roles: as a free-lance contributor to some of Germany’s popular illustrated magazines and daily newspapers. The flâneur as author spends hours waiting in the reception areas of the publishing conglomerates in the hope of drawing the attention of the editors to his “charming short pieces” (reizende kleine Sachen). Here is how Hessel characterized this group of aspiring writers who shared the same fate in the waiting rooms of the press:...

  7. Displays of Fashion

    • 4: Weimar Film as Fashion Show
      (pp. 113-150)

      Cinema presented the most spectacular site for the display of Weimar fashion. Film and fashion, in tandem, not only satisfied the audiences’ desire for entertainment and visual pleasure but also managed to seduce female viewers into believing that their own fantastic transformations were somehow possible. The main agents of that seduction were, of course, the actresses of the 1920s, who in effect doubled as models, presenting the new fashions on-screen as well as on the pages of illustrated magazines. In a 1919 interview for Elegante Welt, Danish star Asta Nielsen, who had just resumed filmmaking in Germany after the war,...

    • 5: The Mannequins
      (pp. 151-170)

      The focus on fashion in Weimar culture brings up numerous direct and indirect references to the mannequin — as living person or inanimate female body — who displayed the latest styles in all kinds of venues: department stores, shop windows, fashion shows, and tea parties. One person looking at the Berlin mannequin was the inquisitive flâneur. In a 1929 picture story entitled “Eine gefährliche Straße” (A Dangerous Street), published in Das Illustrierte Blatt (Otto Umber provided the photographs), Franz Hessel voiced the common mixture of fascination and anxiety triggered by the sight of dummies in the display windows. Walking down a Berlin...

    • 6: Fashion and Fiction: Women’s Modernity in Irmgard Keun’s Novel Gilgi
      (pp. 171-191)

      The spectacle of weimar fashions took place not only on the silver screen, in display windows, on the pages of the illustrated press, and in the numerous fashion shows, but also in the imaginary realm of literature by women writers. In works such as Irmgard Keun’s novel Gilgi — eine von uns (Gilgi — One of Us, 1931) and short stories in women’s and fashion magazines, we can find some of the most engaging presentations and discussions of fashion as a mirror of women’s conflicted experience of modernity. For Weimar women involvement in fashion, very much like involvement in modern life, meant...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 192-196)

    When architect august endell wrote this observation in 1908, a few years after moving to Berlin, he seems to have anticipated and welcomed the rapidly expanding presence of fashion and fashion spectacles in public life in the bustling metropolis. Within the next two decades fashion became transformed into a mass experience in which not only the select few but also middle-class and working-class women participated as both consumers and producers, observers and the observed, commentators and readers. As many women started working outside their homes for the first time, they were earning money and buying off-the-rack clothes or purchasing patterns...

  9. Appendix I: Biographical Information on Fashion Journalists and Fashion Illustrators
    (pp. 197-202)
  10. Appendix II: A List of German Feature Films about Fashion from the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s
    (pp. 203-204)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 205-226)
  12. Index
    (pp. 227-240)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 241-241)