How the Nazi Party influenced the German fashion industry

July 27, 2013

"Elegance will now dissapear from Berlin along with the jews" said Magda Goebbels, wife of propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, upon observing many of her favorite Jewish designers dissapearing. And she was right. When, in 1933, the Nazi Party came to power, it was done with German fashion. Hitler saw Haute Couture as a manifestation of the "Jewish conspiracy". The fashionable hedonism of Hollywood had no place in the National Socialism. However, German fashion was already been a locus of contentious debate in Germany long before. The "Garçonne" style that became popular after the first World War was railed against. Conservative critics said it was 'Jewified', 'masculinized' and "French-dominated".

With vituperative commentaries the critics said that French fashions were unhealthy for German women. Morally and physically. And thus, when in 1933 the Nazi Party reigned, it was clear that from then on only by Aryan hands made fashion was good enough for women of the Third Reich. Racially appropriate clothing depended upon the elimination of the French and Jewish influences from the German fashion industry.
In may 1933 an Aryanization organization named Adefa (Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutsch-arischer Fabrikanten der Bekleidungsindustrie) was established. Their aim was to purge jews from the fashion industry on all area's. They reached their goal by January 1939; all Jewish fashion designers were gone. Also founded in 1933 was the Deutsches Mode-Institut and their mission was to attain fashion independance from French influence. They wanted to create a unique German fashion. But it never succeeded.

German women were discouraged to wear anything foreign and were warned that their engagement with foreign fashion would mean their downfall. The Nazi Party saw trousers, make up, perfume, hair dying, perming, dieting, eyebrow plucking and smoking as 'enemies'. Few of these things were forbidden by law. Instead of the above mentioned 'enemies', the National Socialism promoted natural beauty, service to the nation and the role of women as wives and mothers. The Nazi Party wanted to see their women with natural hair in buns or plaits and healthy skin free of makeup. According to the party, "real beauty should be internal, derived from good character and proud of motherhood, not appearance". The traditional German dress (Tracht) was promoted. However, Tracht was never taken up in great numbers but nevertheless, German fashion showed many traditional influences such as dirndl skirts, embroidery, and Bavarian style millinery. Converting women into stout Black forest maides was not such a great succes. Women continued to dye their hair, perm it and they kept painting their lips throughout the decade. Magazines continued to feature Parisian styles and the sale of makeup didn't decrease. The sale of peroxide even soared.


Even though by 1939 the German apparel and textile industry had completely Aryanized, the German fashion industry was already in trouble before the war had even begun. Clothing rationing also started in this year and Germany was the only country that charged more coupons for larger sizes. Hitler hoped Berlin to be thé world fashion hub once his militairy aims had been fulfilled. With the fall of France in June 1940, Joseph Goebbels backed the creation of a new all-German fashion publication, named Die Mode. It was only intended for export. That meant the German woman could read about it, but not obtain it. Between '41 and '43 the publications grew thinner and the shortages so acute and the situation dire. Burlap sacks were unwoven and rewoven to make underwear, sweaters and socks. Also, those who had lost someone to the war altered the clothing of the deceased one into clothing for themselves.

German schoolgirls

Auschwitz had a warehouse dubbed 'Canada' where the clothing that has been taken away from Jewish inmates were thrown in to. The wife of camp commandant Rudolph Höss became aware of these goods and took items from 'Canada' along with two female prisoners whom were forced to design clothing for her and the Höss family. While wearing fashion made by Jewish hands was considered degenerate, at some point it became a prized posession when Frau Höss established a sewing room detail where Auschwitz inmates were required to produce two custom made pieces each week for the female SS guards and the wives of SS officers. In return they got a piece of bread.

At the end of the war and when the camps were deliberated, the women who had survived the horrors of the camps and who had the strength stormed the SS headquarters of their camp and took the tablecloths to make a dress or skirt. 

Images found on Google. Please claim if yours.

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  1. Lindsay,
    do you own that clothpiece from the Adefa what you have showed on the picture above?
    Greetings from André Visser.

  2. A lot of people when they think of vintage fashion often forget how much elegance was around prior to the Nazi reign. I've done years of research on WWII/Nazi Germany, etc... so thank you for this post it was most informative.

    The Fictionista

  3. "Berliner Modelle Gesellschaft" also created fashion after ´39, but for "export only"."Frankfurter Modeamt" designed expensive party gowns, but only for members of the "Bund deutscher Mädel".
    There´s a book called "Nazi Chic?-Fashioning Women In The Third Reich", could be interesting for you.

    1. I have indeed seen that book :-)

  4. Interesting read! I had no idea the Nazis were so influential in fashion during this period. Thank you for sharing this, Lindsay! xx

  5. Quite informative post, dear.
    ".. women with natural hair in buns or plaits and healthy skin free of makeup." as you wrote is something I'd love to be able to comply, however, my relation with Mother Nature always needs a bit help.


  6. I have a book out of the library that's titled Wartime Fashions: From Haute Couture to Homemade 1939-1945. It's such an interesting book to learn how the fashions changed over the years of the war. Women were so creative when it came to their clothes and of course such beautiful silhouettes!

  7. Girls fashion and their age are always inversely proportional. You have fantastic stuff on this blog that keep the girls young and beautiful with you fashion tips. Being a fashion artist I really appreciate your efforts and work.
    Love from Royal Lady


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