In the late 1930s and all during WWII, clothes with an Alpine (or Bavarian, or Tyrolean) flavor were very popular. This has always struck me as being a bit odd, especially after it was clear that the US was going to war with Germany, and these clothes were so reminiscent of German folk dress.
In his book Forties Fashion, Jonathan Walford explains that in the 1930s, the Nazi German leadership activly encouraged the wearing of Germanic Folk Costume, and the dirndl-wearing blonde German ideal commonly appeared in German propaganda images. The use of Alpine-inspired details even appeared in Paris in 1936.
In looking at American fashion magazines, I’ve seen Alpine fashions featured as early as 1935. Most often I’ve seen clothing from the Austrian firm, Lanz of Salzburg, used. Lanz was started as a maker of traditional Austrian folk costumes in Austria in 1922 by Josef Lanz and Fritz Mahler. By the mid 1930s they were exporting clothing to the US, and in 1936 Josef Lanz opened a branch of Lanz, Lanz Originals, in New York.
As the US moved toward war with Germany, these clothes continued to be popular. Interesting, Lanz advertised in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour throughout the war, but in their ad copy, there is never any reference to the fact that the clothes are so similar to German folk dress. From a 1943 ad:
Lanz faithful, classic suit of long-wearing, all-wool tweed, with warm boxy coat to match. Colorful applique adds that gay spice for which Lanz is famous.
But why did this style continue to be so popular in the US? I’ve not been able to find an answer to the question, and would appreciate hearing from anyone who can shed some light on the matter.
I do have some theories. First, “ethnic” fashions of all kinds were gaining in favor in the late 1930s. Magazines did features on South American clothes, and Mexican and tropical prints were popular. The dirndl skirt was used with lots of prints, not just with Alpine embroidery.
Also, these fashions were already in women’s and girl’s closets. It stands to reason that in a time of shortages that a garment that would “go with” what the shopper already had would be desired.
If you want a deeper explanation, then you might consider the theory that enemies tend to copy their foes in dress, a form of cultural imperialism.
Whatever the reason, Lanz and other companies produced some really cute things. I realized that I have a sort of mini-collection of these 30s and 40s Germanic fashions:
This label is from the dress at the top of the post. Mid 1940s, made in the US
Early 1940s Jacket, with its label below
Made in Austria embroidered gloves
Unlabeled Jumper with embroidered trim. This style jumper was very popular during the war.
Embroidered and appliqued belt, late 1930s
This vest was bought in a London department store, and is labeled Swiss Style. Love the Edelweiss!
Posted by Inky:
beautiful things Lizzie!! thank you for the back story on this fashion trend.
Posted by Debi:
Fabulous outfit photos! thanks for posting!
Posted by Sarah:
What a terrific collection you have, Lizzie! This is certainly a fascinating and puzzling trend, especially given the historical context. But the clothes themselves are so pretty and appealing, I’m not surprised they were popular.I once posted a photograph of a German family taken in 1937 on Flickr and noted their folk style dress and its connection to Nazi ideology. Some of the commenters were quite adamant about how wrong I was to even suggest such a thing, so it clearly still hits a nerve. I’ve learned to tread cautiously!
But just checking now, I’ve found a review of a book about women’s fashions during the third reich which also confirms that the folk dress style was indeed promoted by the Nazi regime:
I’m sure you know that Switzerland was neutral during the war, of course, but the regional/folk clothing does share stylistic similarities with its German neighbour.
Posted by Lizzie:
I appreciate the comments. Yes, these clothes are appealing!Sarah, I heard Irene Guenther, the author of the book you linked to, present her research at the Costume Society of America convention several years ago. Both she and Walford present plenty of evidence to show that this was a deliberate part of the Nazi propaganda message. What I hate most about the internet is that people can state opinion with no facts with which to back them up, as in the case of your rude flickr posters.
It was hard for me to even come up with a name for this style, which is why I tried to include all the regional names. I’m sure that are plenty of differences between actual Bavarian costume, and that of Switzerland and Austria, but it is lost on most people outside the region who only see the similarities.
Posted by Sarah:
I think some people might have taken offence and assumed that I believed contemporary wearers of German folk/regional dress had Nazi views, which was not my contention at all!And I only pointed out Switzerland as a result of my super-cautiousness! I can see how it would be tough to come up with a generic name for a multitude of folk/regional dress styles which spans three separate countries without doing a disservice to the distinct qualities of each. Er, Germanic [e.g. German speaking areas] folk/regional costumes? See, that doesn’t work either!
Posted by becca:
Lizzie, loved this article. I am always on the lookout for Tyrolean inspired wear. It’s a big favorite of mine. Our kitchen is even decorated with small cuckoo clocks and German smokers. Of course, I realize that the movie was not made until the 60s, but seeing these lovely fashions remind me of Maria von Trapp’s stylish clothes.
Posted by Shay:
Another reason Lanz was popular may have been that the clothes were very pretty and very well-made.
Posted by Lizzie:
Shay, the well-made part was most certainly part of the appeal. I can remember my mom telling me several times that during WWII her family always bought the highest quality clothing and shoes they could find, as these things had to last a while. Great point!
Posted by samsara:
Hi Ms. Lizzie, thanks for posting all these great examples of tracht. This is a subject that I have wrestled with at some length–so I have a lot of answers, but I’ll try to be brief.I went to school in Germany in the mid-80s. As I understand it, tracht is the term for all folkloric clothing (from dirndl dresses to lederhosen to those knee socks they wear with lederhosen) worn in Germany and Austria. (I’ve never been to Switzerland, but I think they call it tracht there too.) My German is very rusty, but I think tracht comes from the verb “tragen” meaning to carry or to wear.
Becca: Yes, “The Sound of Music” is full of tracht. Even the play-clothes made from the drapes!
Until WWII, it was popular to wear tracht on holidays in the country, and for hiking and other outdoorsy stuff. Kind of like sportswear. There is a famous photo of Freud and his daughter Anna both wearing tracht here: http://jwa.org/node/4145 In the early 20th Century, the Alps had Jewish resorts. And when Theodore Herzl or Gustav Mahler hiked around the Alps, it was probably in tracht. (There’s an interesting article about tracht-wearing, Alps-scaling Jews and the German re-appropriation of tracht also in The Forward: http://www.forward.com/articles/108426/)
Ah, yes, tracht-wearing does indeed have the very dirty history of being actively promoted by Nazis. It was part of their aesthetic. There’s no getting around it. In a post-war context the German Government supported folkloric clothing in subsidies: buying tracht was reimbursed by law up to 14% (until 2004). In the mid-80’s, as I experienced it, wearing tracht was a sort of badge of conservative (to right wing) thinking and focused mostly in the south. It still had that connotation. But by the late-90s tracht was being rehabilitated as kitsch and young Berliners with liberal politics could be seen wearing it in techno clubs. I haven’t been to Germany since 1998, so I’m not up on current trends.
Posted by Maggie:
Neat little fashion history lesson–but I just wanted to say how awesome your little collection is!!! 😮 I LOVE embroidered vintage stuff but I think my favorite is that cute belt you got there. The first dress and jumper and great too! Wow.